Chapter 1: Introduction

You may have noticed that things aren’t going so well for America lately, neither at home nor abroad. You’re not the only one to notice this! What you’re seeing, everyone else is seeing too. The land of the free and home of the brave, the shining city on the hill, the greatest superpower to ever exist looks less and less like any of those things.

Proto-economist Adam Smith famously said (allegedly), “There’s a lot of ruin in a nation,” by which he meant (allegedly): Big, powerful nations can withstand a lot of rot. Which is true, but there are limits. He said this while living in part of the once-great British Empire, which ruled the world and had the power to force the Chinese to buy endless troy ounces of opium but is now known mostly for Boris Johnson’s ratty hair and endless attempts to leave the EU (what if we ask really, really nicely this time?).

Now America is the old lion on the Serengeti, and all the other contenders are looking at us the way a member of the Donner Party eyes the chubby stable girl—a stable girl who still possesses more nukes than everyone else combined, but still . . .

At home, things are going either very, very poorly or exceptionally well, depending on who you ask or how willing they are to be honest. Breakup! is about confronting unpleasant realities, and one of those is that what’s happening right now in America is actually working quite well for a lot of folks, and especially for People with Power. I’ll explain why that is, though you may already have a guess.

In general I’m not going to spend much time on the things you almost certainly already know. If you thought everything here in the US was going swimmingly, you almost certainly wouldn’t be reading this to begin with. 

What will you find ahead? I won’t recap the table of contents you just glossed over, so instead here’s a sampling of topics to whet your appetite:

  • How the Covidians found their scapegoat 

  • Overcoming the Daniel Craig dilemma

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson’s brilliant display of regime compliance

  • What Twilight author Stephenie Meyer can tell us about our future

  • Why you should be cautious about declaring your love of lederhosen

  • How to become your own state actor

  • Why Theseus told his ship mates to come in dancing

And here are a few of my favorite quotes (spoiler alert for key ideas!):

  • “The crazier the statement, the more it serves the purpose of demonstrating fealty.”

  • “Journalists at most of the media outlets you’ve heard of aren’t journalists, they’re referees at a Harlem Globetrotters game.”

  • “Who gets the dog? Who gets the kids? Who gets the ten thousand nuclear warheads? All good questions.”

  • “Look up the culture of riding dirt bikes and ATV’s in Baltimore. Highly dangerous. Completely illegal. Impossible to snuff out.”

  • “Our top dog is, to put it in the most charitable way, a very sleepy Saint Bernard. Who has trouble going up stairs.”

  • “There’s less overt diminishment (e.g. calling people “cockroaches”), but there’s more dehumanization by hyperhumanization and shift of focus.”

My promise to you: no whining, no stale ideas

If you’re worried this book might be more of the same old complaining about media bias or recycling of stale recommendations (get out and vote!), here’s my promise to you: This book contains zero whining about unfairness. No hand-wringing. It’s filled with hard truths, original insights, and practical suggestions for how to understand this chaotic moment and make the best of it.

The “You are an adult” rule (trigger warning!)

Throughout this book, I’ve included documents, quotes, and cartoons from people who may be bad people, and not just bad from the modern, “anyone who messes up my pronouns is literal Hitler,” perspective, but also from more level-eyed, “I would most certainly not want to bring this person home to meet my mom,” perspective. If you read on, you acknowledge that you are an adult and can handle hearing from bad people. From here on out, any offense taken is on you, not me. 

Breakup! is for everyone

One final thought before getting to the content proper: If you are reading this as a self-identified member of the progressive Left (or PL; and yes, I do love using acronyms!), consider this book not as a challenge to who you are, but as an invitation to rethink some of your assumptions. Right now you’re winning, even if you don’t think so because your leaders haven’t yet delivered Medicare for All or there’s still that one fat chick on The View who isn’t to the left of Mao. Hegemony looks nice in theory, and it can be nice in practice, but only a very select few get to reap the benefits of absolute control. The rest are absolutely controlled, and that means you, with almost absolute certainty. Leftist revolutions tend to be very hard on those useful idiots who help the leaders take power, and if it’s not clear to you who the useful idiots are, then you’re among them.

Beyond that, attempts to corner the market in power not only tend to fail, but often fail with a trail of dead bodies in their wake. Is this really what you want? However much you think you have the upper hand, no matter how much you might despise their beliefs, you might just want to let those “deplorables” go their separate way.

Who am I?

There’s a good chance this is the first time you’re seeing my work. If so, nice to meet ya! Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the host of The Mattasher Show, a radio program that began life (and lives on) as a podcast called The Filter. Occasionally we do live shows in Key West.

This winter, assuming all goes well, I’ll have a show airing on PBS stations throughout the land. We’ve already filmed six episodes; you can find the trailer at MorayBay.com. I highly recommend watching. It’s a great trailer! As of this writing, we have a contract for distribution to affiliates. Fingers crossed for a great rollout.

In terms of personal background, I’ve had a number of lives. My degree is in statistics (exciting, right?). It took me a mere eight years and five majors at three universities over the course of two decades to secure. I lived in Toronto for a dozen years before moving back to the States in January, or more precisely to the Florida Keys. I’ve also lived in Seattle, Chicago, Oregon, Bolivia, the woods of Northern Ontario, and briefly in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

I’ve worked in tech and journalism, data science and the world of online publishing. My crappy jobs as a kid (and they really weren’t that bad) were bagging groceries, mowing lawns, and working construction, though mostly I was trusted to tear apart, not build up. Make of that what you will.

People with Power (PwP’s)

ne more note before we begin. We seem, collectively, to be stuck in an endless cycle of idiocy when it comes to talking about power dynamics and coordinated efforts. Accusations of “It’s a conspiracy theory” are rebuked with “But conspiracies happen” and back and forth until everyone’s eyes bulge and brains melt into a puddle of goo. For the purposes of this book, I’m recognizing the (hopefully!) uncontroversial fact that some people, and some groups of people, have more power than others and that they act in coordinated ways. Sometimes openly, sometimes not so openly. In other words, teachers unions and the NSA exist. That’s it.

Who are these PwP? They include elected officials at any level, government workers generally, members of the professional managerial class, tenured academics, members of the media, and celebrities of any kind.

Note that, as you’d expect, not everyone within a group has the same level of power, and some groups have much more power than others. When attempting to determine if an individual is a PwP, ask yourself this: if they were accused of a crime, how likely would they be to languish in jail while waiting on a trial?