The age of American nihilism

August 18, 2020
T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee


In this election year of 2020, America is tearing itself apart. It’s more than the Trump versus Biden election. I’ve never seen this country as divided as it is today, and I went through the sixties!

The coronavirus, the resultant lockdowns and their economic repercussions, the repugnant murder of George Floyd, and the social upheavals it spurred have rocked America to its core. With COVID-19 infections continuing, ours is a country in chaos.

We need to protect free speech and the right to protest peacefully. With the notable exception of Minneapolis, most of the participants of these demonstrations have been after a peaceful reconciliation of race relations in this country. But too often these protests have quickly devolved into violence, vandalism, and mob rule that have been beyond the control of the peaceful demonstrators.

With incessant attacks on our historic monuments, the push to defund the police, and the resulting spike in gun violence in our inner cities, America is on the verge of consuming itself.

Today’s heated political discourse seems dominated by “ists.” Whether it be “racist,” “sexist,” “ageist,” “extremist,” these pejorative words are indiscriminately hurled as epithets at anyone who doesn’t agree with everything their snarling speakers stand for. For example, anyone who dares say “all lives matter” is immediately branded a racist.

But there’s one word that best personifies the purveyors of today’s social unrest.

 It’s called nihilism

Webster’s defines nihilism as “a belief that conditions in a social order are so bad as to make destruction desirable” or “a revolutionary doctrine of destructiveness for its own sake.” The term was derived as a 19th century Russian political philosophy advocating the violent destruction of social and political institutions to make way for a new society.

If that doesn’t epitomize what’s happening in America, what does?

The protests following the senseless murder of George Floyd have too often been taken over by antifa, anarchists, and nihilists determined to tear down America any way they can. Whether they be in Portland (now approaching 80 straight nights and counting of rioting, vandalism, looting, and arson), or New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, or right here in San Luis Obispo, peaceful protests have too often devolved into orgies of anarchy.

Led by the self-avowed Marxist leaders of the formal BLM organization who have now declared war on the police, these largely generational demonstrations are populated by impressionable young people full of energy and passion, yet devoid of the wisdom of history. But these would-be peaceful protesters are unable to stop the anarchists from hijacking their demonstrations with violence.

The nihilism of city governance

What’s worse is that the ayors of these cities have been aiding and abetting this mayhem, siding with rioters over their own police departments and their suffering small businesses. Rather than protecting the health, safety, and welfare of their constituents, they’ve been recklessly promoting lawlessness while defunding the police.

And with what results? Scores of black-owned businesses torched in Minneapolis. Gun violence is up 117 percent in New York City. Police officers were attacked at night in Portland with 59 of them injured, three of whom were permanently blinded by lasers.

Murder rates and mayhem are soaring in Chicago. The CHOP “Summer of Love” episode in Seattle resulted in three shooting deaths and another night of violence that injured 20 police officers.

Then the Seattle City Council voted 7-1 to defund the police department without consulting the chief, resulting in her immediate resignation (can’t blame her). While arrests of offenders are up in these cities, they’re quickly released and rarely prosecuted by their district attorneys. What message does that send to urban terrorists? It’s open season on our cities.

Finally, some of these Mayors who welcomed this chaos into their communities are having second thoughts. Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, Jenny Durkin in Seattle, and Ted Wheeler in Portland are calling for the arrest and prosecution of the violators, albeit months too late. Now it’s too late to put the genie they released back in the bottle.

Nihilism and the presidential race

It’s hard to imagine how Joe Biden must feel about running as a Democrat for president when the Democratic Party has become the poster child of anarchy in so many of our formerly great cities. Too many of the mayors who manage these cities have sat back and watched the burning and looting of their communities. At best, these city leaders have tolerated the mayhem in their communities. At worst, they have directly participated in their destruction.

Biden’s running for president when Democrats mayors are looking like the harbingers of urban doom can’t be a good place to be. He may be thinking that this chaos is hurting Trump more than him. It’s hurting the BLM movement far more than it is hurting Trump.

In the face of this chaos, Biden and his vice president candidate Kamala Harris would be wise to seize the bully pulpit in the 80 days remaining in this race to come out against urban violence and dare these city leaders of their own party to end it. Unless they disavow what their party’s mayors aren’t doing to defend their cities, Biden could find himself striking out for the third time.

We are now living in an age of American nihilism, one that looks like it won’t be ending anytime soon. That prospect tells us that we should all be concerned about the very future of our democracy.

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Gurnee, yada, yada, yada.

THE COUNTRY HAS FALLEN APART UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF TRUMP. Not a democrat, not a republican. Just a no bullshitter.

My Mom was born in Poland in the 1940s. My grandmother was raised in a polish orphanage in the 20s. You want to talk about the philosophy of Nihilism, the modern “candy a%# era you speak of does not qualify. We are the biggest, dysfunctional group of cry babies to ever inhabite the planet

Did you see the all the body cam video of George Floyd? Did you see how he claimed to be having problems breathing before they even touched him? Did you see the results of the autopsy? How can you call it a senseless murder before there is even a jury verdict? Other than that, your columns are always spot on. Thanks for your great contributions

This is nihilism on steroids. Social destruction and lawless anarchy have become acceptable by our media and tech overlords. Narcissism is encouraged by our political leaders as a way to get them more power. The rule of law is on the verge of being overturned with mobs running loose threatening our cities and complicit mayors and council members encouraging them. If voters don’t stand up and throw these leaders out in November, we really are seeing an end to the experiment of the Republic. As we have gotten further and further from the Judeo Christian basis of 10 commandment law we are rooted in, and we are awash in a debris flood of moral relativism. Less and less can we count on our neighbors to share basic moral and civil agreement. Last call for civilization!

At least three of the Ten commandments were violated by Trump:

Second Commandment (Exodus 20:3-6): “You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself any graven image.” Donald Trump has spent his business life erecting altars to himself. His name, emblazoned on every building he builds, altars to Trump.

Seventh Commandment (Exodus 20:13): “You shall not commit adultery.” Need I say anything? Trump is a chronic adulter.

Eighth Commandment (Exodus 20:13): “You shall not steal.” Trump stole over $250,000 from his charitable foundation “to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses”, WaPo. Further, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that over 5,000 students across the country were defrauded out of about $40 million by Donald Trump and Trump University. Former students argue that they had been “lured by false promises into paying up to $35,000 to learn Trump’s real estate investing secrets from his hand-picked instructors.”

Spotter, I hope you will join with me in voting Trump out.

Yeah, and Democrats never do such things.


“I did not have sex with that woman”

Clinton foundation, $250k for a 20 minute speech at Goldman Sachs.

Mazin, hate to break it to you, but hubris, corruption, and all the other maladies of the human condition are not the exclusive purview of the Republican Party.

I gave up wishing any politician was as pure and virtuous as the rest of us out here in voter land. After all, I’m not voting for a spiritual leader, but someone who checks the most boxes on my “what’s most important “ list:

Economy- Trump wins easily on that one

Supreme Court Appointees- Originalist judges

Strong national defense- As a vet I get this

2nd amendment- it’s number two of the 10 for a reason and it’s not about duck hunting

Anti Communist- Yes, the CCP, (not the people) they are evil and totalitarian and will probably move on Taiwan within the next 10 years to squash freedom just like they did in Hong Kong an Tibet and to the Muslim minorities that they use for organ harvesting. This is especially true if Beijing Joe gets elected. This could be really messy(remember Eisenhower’s warning)

Got rid of NAFTA!!! Yeah! Put the American worker first!

Border security- Does anyone in their

right mind really believe that what this country needs to prosper is a whole bunch more of really desperate, uneducated, poor people.? And, don’t you think a nation, any nation, has a right to manage who steps onto their soil? Why is it when Sweden, New Zealand and Australia manage their borders its OK but when Trump does it he is labeled, RACIST!

Get us out of the Middle East! Just brokered an historic agreement between Israel and UAE.

Energy Independence

Put America and its citizens first, always!!

But I do wish he would just stick to the job, put the phone away, stop saying some dumb things, and take the high road more.

Mr. Gurnee, if you could use a good laugh right now, all you have to do is read the comments to your article. I am thoroughly enjoying them!

I am enjoying them, they’re hilarious. Talk about some rants!

Gotta tear it all down to build it back up. When everything is broken, you have no other choice.

You have no other choice? Everything is broken? Really?

Retrumplicans are awful quiet on this one. Lots of down-votes but not much commentary. Maybe it’s starting to sink in. The man destroys everything he comes into contact with – always has. If you didn’t know this, the 2016 primaries should have been proof enough for you. As voters it was your job, before you stepped in the booth. You blew it.

A waste of energy to comment on such ignorance and emotional drivel.

Haters gonna hate

I think you just commented.

Why do you support Trump? His extramarital affairs, serial business bankruptcies, university scam, constant lying, dictator fawning, tasteless wealth flaunting, with no sense of remorse or penance. Sincerely devoted Christians occasionally pick poor pastors, but this guy?

Erasmus, do you see how this obvious hypocrisy leads youth to the other definitions of nihilism?

“A viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless.”

“A doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths.”

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