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Posted May 08, 2021

Jim Amrhein

By Jim Amrhein

Reflections From a Changed American Riverbank

On this weekend, 35 years ago, my family lost the glue that was holding it together, in many ways. He was my eldest uncle a highly intelligent, light-hearted and temperate soul who produced a nearly endless supply of the one commodity our family needed more than any other: Laughter.

But suddenly in the spring of 1986, he was gone, and so was the laughter. Hed been just 36 years old. I was 17 at the time. I wont say how it happened. Nor will I devote my next 10 articles to telling you all the ways in which he was unique and special and wonderful, which I could easily do

I mention him now because of what happened to me one evening earlier this week.

I was fishing on a creek in western Maryland that had been a perennial favorite of my uncles and mine, back in the day. I hadnt wetted a line in that stream for well over 20 years. But the memories came flooding back as strong as the rain-fed waters swirling at my feet.

Reminiscing between casts, I started to notice how different the place is now than it was when he and I had frequented it. Yes, it was the same creek in name. And it was still flowing along the same track. But having been away from it for so long, it had changed in so many small ways that it seemed like another river to me.

The consistency of the bottom in certain once-familiar spots, the slippery flora that now covered the rocks, the eroded banks and overgrown access trails even the temperature of the water for early May all seemed different from what they used to be. I was catching different kinds of fish, too.

And all of this made me reflect on how much America itself has changed, bit by bit, since my uncle and I were last here. Just like this creek. A little bit of change at a time, but a lot altogether. This reflection then crystalized into a question

If my uncle were all of a sudden here again, what would he make of this place?

Not this creek, but this country.

I began to imagine that instead of dying, my beloved uncle had been in a coma these 35 years and could wake up any time

This made me wonder: If he somehow suddenly returned to this life, in this moment, how would I put todays America into perspective compared to the country he knew back in the Reagan era?

After hugs and tears and expressions of love, I guess Id start with the good news

Russia lost the Cold War, and nobody got nuked.

Medicine has made great strides, across the board. AIDS, for instance, is no longer a death sentence for most. Its now a manageable condition.

Remember those personal computers that were starting to catch on in the 80s?

Well, theyre everywhere now. And through something called the Internet

You can use them to get just about any information, buy anything you want, meet new people anywhere on the planet, and communicate with friends, family, work colleagues, or the entire world with nothing more than a few keystrokes.

Then Id pull out my iPhone

Weve all got these mobile phones now, too, see?

They dont need wires or anything just like those communicators in Star Trek. You can take pictures and film video with them as well. Very handy.

Plus theyre mini-computers that can do all that other stuff I just told you about.

Because of these, theres practically no such thing as a pay phone or phone booth anymore. And theyre great for emergencies, obviously.

But they also mean everybody can reach you, anytime they want. Which can suck.

Marijuana is also damn near totally legal now in a bunch of places. Its too early to really be able to say if this is a good thing, in an absolute sense

But a lot of folks see it as being one in the win column for liberty. I do, I guess.

Guns and hunting are still technically legal, at least for now. But theyre getting to be hated by more and more people, so Im worried about their future.

There were also briefly 10 planets in our solar system, but now there are only eight.

Theres also now a 13th astrological sign (or maybe not, they argue about it).

And a new kind of high-tech drilling technology has made America the worlds top producer of oil and gas for several years running.

Theres more good news than just these items, naturally.

But I doubt Id be able to come up with much more of it on the spot

Inevitably, though, the discussion would turn to whats not so good about America thesedays

Of course, whats good or bad is a matter of perspective.

But the only perspective Im capable of faithfully representing on the fly is my own. So thats what Id do. And Id probably start off with something like

First things first: The entire world right now is in the grips of a deadly viral pandemic that originated in China.

It started a year and a half ago, and its killed nearly 600,000 Americans and several million people worldwide.

Our governments response to it has been all over the map. On the one hand, President Trump

At this point, Im betting my uncle would stop me for some confirmation.

Yeah, that Trump the New York real estate big-shot. He was elected president in 2016 and just left office in January.

Anyway, Trump was big on cutting through red-tape and getting things done

And he facilitated the fastest vaccine development campaign in world history. Less than a year after the virus spread beyond China, we had three vaccines.

On the other hand, he botched the messaging and undermined his own experts, which created some doubt about those vaccines

So not everybodys taking them, which is terrible, cuz the data prove they work.

Meanwhile, the states sort of separated into two camps: Lock-downers, who used strict closure and isolation measures to keep people away from each other

And stay-openers, who used common-sense safety precautions to try to keep their economies, schools, and societies functioning as close to normally as possible.

By the balance of the numbers, it seems like the stay-openers were mostly right.

And speaking of China

Theyre the biggest global threat to the U.S. by far. China is now as big and powerful an adversary as Russia ever was. Bigger, really, because of their giant economy.

Its all our fault, too.

Were the ones who facilitated their acceptance on the world stage and in global trade at every turn because we wanted to buy lower-priced stuff from a place where labors dirt-cheap and they dont care about pollution.

Today, Americas heavy industry and manufacturing sector is a shadow of its former self because of China. Were mainly a service economy these days.

An overwhelming percentage of the goods on store shelves in America come from the Peoples Republic nowadays.

In just a few more years, theyll overtake us to become the worlds biggest economy. And all that trade money is funding their obvious ambition to dominate the world.

Meanwhile, their horrible pollution and atmospheric emissions are killing the planet by warming its climate, or so the theory goes.

This is where Id bet my uncle would remind me that back in the 70s, everyone was buzzing about another impending ice age.

Yeah, well now its global warming theyre all worried about, Id reply.

So worried, supposedly, that President Biden

Yeah, that Biden, the same guy you remember from Delaware. Hes 78 now and finally in the White House, after three attempts.

Hes about to shoot Americas entire economy not to mention our liberty in the foot with a bunch of needless regulations, taxes, and mandates that wont cool the planet one bit

But that will accelerate global warming (if its even a real thing, the science isnt unanimous) by offshoring even more U.S. manufacturing to ultra-polluter China.

In fact, if Biden and the Democrats get their way, well all soon be forced to drive electric cars we dont want in the name of the environment.

And guess where the bulk of the worlds batteries are now made: China!

Oh, and remember that new American drilling technology I mentioned? The one that put the U.S. on top of the global oil and gas game?

Well, now President Biden is aggressively trying to shut that down and put us right back in bed with OPEC

How thats supposed to help the planet, Ill never understand.

Maybe its because of all the U.S. jobs thatll be lost. Those people wont be driving their gas-powered cars to work anymore, so itll save some tailpipe emissions.

At this point, my uncle would probably mention that all those tankers steaming across the sea to bring us foreign oil produce a lot of emissions, too.

And Id agree but beg him not to get me wound up on the climate-change thing. Then Id continue

In 2001, Islamic terrorists used hijacked airliners to attack the Twin Towers and The Pentagon, killing around 3,000 people.

A fourth plane was supposed to hit another target, most likely The Capitol, but the heroic passengers fought the hijackers, forcing it to crash in Pennsylvania.

Weve been embroiled in numerous conflicts in the Middle-East and Asia ever since.

Race relations in America are worse right now than I can ever remember. Theres violence and looting in the streets these days pretty regularly

Also, because of the extreme or criminal actions of a few bad-apple cops, the police as a whole are now vilified and viewed with suspicion by many people.

A lot of high-profile Democrats are actually calling for the police to be defunded, or even disbanded in some places.

Socialism and communism are no longer taboo, either. Among younger Americans, theyve actually got majority or near-majority support, as governing concepts.

In fact, there are several members of Congress now who are openly socialist.

And formerly unthinkable leftist policy positions like free healthcare and college, or giving everyone a baseline income handout for NOT working are now gaining traction, or already coming to fruition in various ways.

Oh, and speaking of the unthinkable happening in America

Our freedom of speech is now heavily regulated. Not by government, but by these giant technology companies in charge of a thing called social media.

Stoked by the boom in personal computing and universal connectivity (remember this do-everything phone right here?)

These forums and platforms are where millions of people socialize, make plans, spread information, conduct commerce, and comment on life, politics, issues, etc.

Theyre like giant public squares except that they only exist on the Internet.

Modern life would literally grind to a halt without social media. And until relatively recently, these forums were strongholds of liberty and free expression

But more and more lately, theyve become dominated by censors and bullies.

All the tech oligarchs that run them are leftists, you see and they muzzle people that threaten or resist the Democrat regime, especially after what Trump did.

He used social media to great effect to get his message out both before and after his election, and for spreading the alarm about the rise of socialism in America

But because of that, you can hardly say anything even mildly conservative anymore without getting censored, bullied into silence, or outright banned.

They call this canceling.

The point is, Id tell him: Were still fighting Communism, just like 35 years ago, except now its coming from within

Another downside to this new social-media-driven culture

Its making a whole lot of people especially younger ones into insecure, deluded, hyper-sensitive narcissists with a radically inflated sense of self.

I believe thats why rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental illness have been on the rise in recent years, especially in the under-25 set.

I also think its playing a role in a whole lot of other problems, from the epidemic of drug use to the alarming increase in mass shootings in America

Not to mention sexual confusion.

Then Id explain how the age-old notion that there are just two human sexes male and female is becoming outmoded.

That sort of binary thinking is out the window now, Id tell him.

These days, there are a whole bunch of different genders, orientations, and sexual identities to contend with.

Theres also lot of drama in some places about which bathrooms to use and which sports teams people of various gender identities get to play on

And which pronouns youre supposed to use when talking about those identities.

Its crazy-town stuff and really confusing to keep it all straight.

Then Id explain how things are getting a little confusing on the money front, too.

There are these crypto-currencies now that were envisioned as an alternative form of money. Theyre not issued, authorized or backed by the government

Theyre just bits of code stored in a massive computerized ledger on the Internet.

Their value can fluctuate radically, and quickly, too. Thats why a lot of people treat them as an investment instead of using them for money.

At this point, Id probably be running out of wind. But Id persevere, telling him about how elections are becoming increasingly contentious with many people viewing them with suspicion, even to the point of violence

Id tell him about how rank partisanship and political polarization in America have increased to the point of dysfunction

Plus, how generalized political correctness and wokeness now rule the media and are paralyzing the public dialogue, discourse, and debate.

But then Id likely finish up my rundown with something like

Also, those cheeseburgers we used to love to eat for lunch every weekend?

Meat is in the crosshairs of the leftists in charge now, here and globally. Because they say cow farts contribute to global warming

Yeah, seriously. Cow farts.

So I dont know how much longer burgers and steaks are going to be around, either.

I guess the bottom line is that theres a lot of stuff going on that doesnt make much sense to me and some of it doesnt seem very American, either.

And a lot of the changes weve seen over the years dont really seem much like progress, either. Just sort of pointless.

I hate to say it, but Im starting not to recognize this place anymore.

Then, after a moment, I can imagine adding

But forget it. Because you know what?

The fishing is still pretty good in most of our old spots and Ive still got your rod and tackle pack. So what are you doing next Saturday?

In my minds eye, I can see him smiling at that

And at me, like he used to when I was just a boy.

How badly I wish this wasnt just a fantasy.

There isnt much I wouldnt give for just one more day with my uncle

Regardless of whether the America we spent that day in felt exactly right or not.

Sentimentally Yours,

Jim Amrhein

Jim Amrhein

Freedoms Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

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