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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Keith, and WHO is the Weltschmerz, i.e., world class diminutive …?

Good one, mazin. People voting it down, because they want to pretend that we actually have a leader, no matter how completely ill and incompetent he is. No matter what it does to our country, they are willing to die and cause others to die to prove their loyalty to him. There were Germans in the final days of Hitler who were just like this. And Hitler was ready and all for bombing his own country, people and all, back to the stone age just to teach the allies that he could have the last word. Luckily, he didn’t get that chance, but weapons are far more modernized now. Something to think about there.

Good to know Francesca! My grandpa taught me to never trust anyone from Sweden because they grew red potatoes…

Keith, just because you cant see a trees roots doesnt mean they aren’t there. You see surface issues you disagree with that are systemic grievances from an unjust society and its foundation. The roots of America are rotten, but oh it made pretty flowers for a short while. This land isnt our land, it’s the damn indigenous, and they need to be its sole stewards as they cared and worshiped it. And your Capitalist industrialist 1% ideology doesn’t serve regular people well. You know, 3/4 of us who fight for our place here, unlike your generation of free Gov handouts in the form of cheap University, housing etc. Boomers. Your generation failed America and the world promoting your imperialist nationalist Capitalist agenda. Cheers to the heat wave, and thanks for it Keith.

Wow. Yet another right wing talking points rant. What I would like to know is just how being anti-fascist became a bad thing in America.

I was born shortly after we participated heavily in a world war to defeat that ideology. At that time it was defined as CORPORATISM. When a corporation took over publishing the dictionary, this definition was removed. But it way too closely defines what has taken place gradually in America over the last 50 years. Both parties have been complicit in the sometimes incremental and sometimes precipitous slide to the extreme right.

Eisenhower, one of our outstanding leaders, ran on a Republican ticket that was far to the left of Senator Bernie Sanders, who right wing parrots now call a “communist”, obviously ignorant of the definition of that word.. The policies of that day, such as a 90% top tax bracket, financed the development of the strongest and largest middle class in history and an infrastructure that was the envy of the world. Our health care was non-profit and mostly affordable, on the way to becoming Universal, like the most successful countries in Europe, with noticeably higher standards of living now enjoy.. Our veterans were well cared for and well educated. None of them were on the streets in cardboard boxes, reduced to begging or dying needlessly for lack of medical attention or mental health services. Instead of being tucked into personal accounts in the Caymans, money was reinvested into businesses, businesses were expanded and salaries were raised to insure the best workforce. This stabilized households and funded education and an ever improving safety net to improve our entire culture and standard of living.

The rise of corporatism in this country has just about destroyed all of that and then some. We have allowed corporations to have the “rights of personhood”, but none of the responsibilities. They are allowed to contribute to elect (hire) whomever will give them the highest return in political favors, kickbacks in the form of subsidies and tax breaks (to the point where some companies making profits in the tens of BILLIONS are not taxed at all) and legislation that releases them from responsibility for environmental damage the rest of us must clean up or die from.

That, folks, is CORPORATISM. “Citizens United”, which is legislation that facilitates this usurpation of our democratic republic is taxation without representation. Corporations are allowed to take money that is earned by all the workers and invest it to suit themselves, rather than the individual worker choosing what seems in their own interest and that of the which they live. Rarely do profits of the company get reflected in those of the workers, those doing the actual labor. Their labor precedes profit, therefore, in the eyes of Abraham Lincoln, one of our most famous Republicans, is superior. But corporations are allowed to ship their jobs to slave labor in foreign countries, further degrading our workforce and their opportunities for self improvement.

As for those statues, I have always hated them. I support their removal by whatever means necessary. Why would we ever want to elevate individuals who participated in the attempt to destroy the Union, resulting in the worst loss of American lives in history, in able to own people as slaves? why elevate what amounted to a foreign invader that slaughtered massive numbers of our Indigenous People for profit? Both prime examples of Fascism, Profit over human rights and life. It is equal to putting up a statue of Hitler and expecting Jews to approve. They were erected in timely and direct opposition to legislative progress in the Civil Rights movement, as a backlash of the white supremacists against equality in this country. The fact that many of us do not realize this is a direct result of white privilege.. The idea that holding anyone back, preventing them from reaching their full potential for their own good and the good of this country? Well, that is just plain stupid. To build a statue to it? To truly unite this country, our heroes need to be seriously reevaluated going forward.

Speaking of anarchy, the far right antigovernmental groups looking to start a second civil war are really glossed over up there. You know, the gun toting sloutches who show up and demand lockdowns be converted into virus spikes and show up at BLM marches to instigate mayhem in order to escape blame for their actions, discredit BLM and even cover up murder of LEOs. I see little complaint on the right when they stood, screaming inches away from health care workers in front of hospitals. in the faces of Doctors and Nurses who barred their way, or loomed over legislators with semi automatic weapons. And we have our homegrown Nazis, also, presumably OK, now labeled “alt-right”, who are not asking for equality, but supreme control. Rather to blame “anti-fa”, a classification, rather than an actual group, that is historically nonviolent, unless you count WWII.

If you want to examine who is tearing this country apart, you need look no further than those who are enabling corporate interests to strip rights, resources and livelihoods from the rest of us and degrade our environment. Also those who hammer partisan talking points, often devoid of fact or policy, such as talk shows and corporate owned news outlets, which is most of them and includes FOX. Or cook up internet conspiracies that amount to unhinged cults.. And those who have the ideation that they have been ordained by God or whatever reason to rule over or be in any way superior to anyone based on race, religion, gender, or means. And those who put party loyalty over that of our country. That, in itself is treasonous.

It is our actions and what is in our hearts that defines us. We are all Americans. We should go from there.


A Proud Anti-fascist

“Speaking of anarchy, the far right antigovernmental groups looking to start a second civil war are really glossed over up there.” Do you know who Minneapolis Minnesota umbrella man was? YOU WERE RIGHT! I thought a leftist, but he is a member of the Cowboy Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison group. Even acknowledged by Fox News!

Then there were the white power revolutionaries who shot a fed and a local LEO assassination style in Oakland during a BLM protest and tried to pin the murders on BLM. But with all the cameras, the dudes got caught. The fact that all we get from the commentators on this site are down arrows only proves that the truth threatens their fragile construct around their own superiority. Why else vote down a post on history that is accurate and non-partisan? There have been several acts by people attempting to shed a bad light on BLM by causing damage and chaos, which is somehow pissing the commentators off just to have it brought to their attention. The fact that many of them are members of various police forces is not something they can begin to assimilate, even when they are shown clip after clip from across the country of peaceful protestors, well within their rights, being suddenly and viciously attacked.

That is why I left out the part about Abraham Lincoln having correspondence with Karl Marx. I didn’t want their dainty heads to explode. They actually know nothing of Karl Marx, it is just an insult word to them because that is how they have been trained. (or paid) to respond.

Then we have the guy below who is incoherently attempting to insult me by calling me by the SLO Mayor’s name, as if it were a slur. That is just sad. I guess they want to try to hound her to her death as well, just like they did with Adam Hill. Used to use his name the very same way. Once they successfully helped to pick him to actual death, they were oh so sad….. all condolences. But here they go again! What kind of people do that? They are certainly too cowardly to put their name on it.

So how do we “fix” that? Some people are just too set in their ways and too threatened by reality to see how destructive their behavior is, even to themselves.

“Karl Marx an insult word”… I agree, .hmmm, kind of like the far left and many of today’s Dems calling Trump, Bush, of a host of conservatives Hitler, Nazi, Gestapo, etc…

SLO county is predominately white. The City of SLO is predominately white. COW POLY is predominately white. What do you expect people to say about Gurnee’s blog?

“I was born shortly after we participated heavily in a world war to defeat that ideology.” – F. Baloney.

Sadly Baloney, AKA: Heidi Harmon, you were born.

Well, let’s see…. name calling and denigration, incoherent reactionary rhetoric. And so, so far off the mark. Very weak response, but I guess the best you could do. I’m sure you are trying to do your best to do your part to bring the country together.

What can a mayor, or anyone, do for a population paid $7.25 per hour Federal Minimum Wage, 60 hour work week, equals $1,888 per month (7.25*60*4.34=$1,888)? At $7.25 you can barley cover employee payroll withholding -$200, food -$600, and shared shelter/utilities -$800 leaves you $288 DOLLARS.


The USA is a great place, and compared to the Republic of Slaughterhouse, it is a winner. BUT educating yourself out of poverty is a joke. All this Horatio Alger, pulled up by the bootstraps, stuff is a cruel put down JOKE! And If you have a baby? The mother will wish it was never born. This is real. It is out there. This why people do drugs and kill their babies.

This is why Bernie has the fight for $15. BUT Bernie needs to subsidize the employer, because you know WHAT? Some people are so poorly trained, so lame, your lose you hide paying them $5 per hour.

You negatively vote THIS? You know who is watching, and your greedy ideological hide maybe … pseudo-christian.

Nihilistic could certainly be used to describe the vibe at some of the punk gigs/shows I got bruised up in as a kid back in the 80’s. Then we quickly grew up, and realized what an incredibly lucky thing it was to be a citizen of the greatest nation on planet earth. The majority of America would agree with this piece IMHO

unless you’re indigenous or a minority right? Some Reservations in America have no electricity or running water, lucky huh, to have your culture decimated. God bless Nez Perce and Chief Joseph of now North west Idaho still suffering on, their bleak reservation on the Snake River has been ruined by white Imperialist Nationalist Capitolists. If you fly fish as a privileged person, you’ve truly heard of the Snake River.

Unlucky would be most fitting, as indigenous here in cali would fall into the “conquered ” category unless we are talking about opening a casino or 10 . When people treat others with genuine respect upon initial greeting, there are no minorities-

We are in very “Strange Times”, too much has been given away, monetarily as well as our ability to right the errors. Know this, the Banks are posturing their way of doing business so that a lock down will be easy. Then there is our recent policy, allowing people to look for their personal debt resolve as a problem to be funded by all. Never mind those who waste, live above their means or won’t take a entry level job, they get the same fix at the expense of all. “Strange Times”? I’d be very frugal now and pack your jowls because very lean times are coming, “Strange Times” is only the palatable transition verbiage. There is no free money, free grants, scholarships, etc., all is just a gyration to appropriate money as a luxury job for someone but the luxury economy is screeching to a halt just like the belief in economic perpetual motion.

Piercing, incisive, exceptionally brilliant encapsulated summary of the current debacle. The question is, will the powers that be, be able to restart the Ponzie scheme? If so, we need to be engaged. But, will we be able to adjust and shift at the right moment? Easily payable debt during a time of inflation is a hedge.

“Live above their means” How about the Trump $1 trillion annual deficits PRIOR to COVID? The IMBECILE doofuss is a mall hound, make up pretty boy, spendthrift, as are his GOP ‘ding dong’ pseudo-conservative enablers.

“In this election year of 2020, America is tearing itself apart.”

Question: Keith, WHO is President?

Answer: The imbecile, holding an upside down bible (curious symbolism), forcing a police action for a photo opportunity.

Nihilism, “destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility”.

Sounds like Trump’s opposing funding of the Postal Service in order to prevent timely ballot processing, and thus the constructive program of a democratic election during a pandemic.

USPS Hoax. Postal service handles exceptional mail events every year before Christmas with announced deadlines, so voting is no different. The weak link is the County Clerk’s ability to process an increase in the last minute votes by mail in time. The urban centers that are democratic controlled are putting extra burden on their democratic County Clerks with universal vote by mail, which is setting-up County Clerks to fail.

No, 20 states are filing lawsuits towards Trumps administration to further suppress the election in his favor. Stop watching Fox, what happened to Beck, Gretchen, Megan and Bill. Oh yeah, I know. It was Gongs theiving wife, not him. If the VA uses the USPS for drugs, its safe, so stop spreading FAKE NEWS, or do you hate our dieng poisoned Vets whom I take care of at the end of their life over and over? Republican donor Post Master General just did a reverse course to save your tax paying butt several billion, ignorance. Hoax, just like Aids and Ebola,condoms and hand washing plus masks huh?

Thanks for taking care of our vets. My WWII vet dad died this year at age 95 in a north county convalescent home from respirator failure, so it’s close to home. 20 blue state attorney generals are conspiring to promote something that is a non-issue with USPS to whip-up their voters. The Post Master suspended changes, not reversed course. “…when we get the urge to judge someone, that urge often comes from something that we see in other people that subconsciously reminds us of things we don’t like about ourselves.” It also closes the door to empathy.

Your welcome, I’ve taken care of Nam and the last of our WW2 vets, empathy is key to humanity. But our USPS has been a political pawn since the founding of a Post Master General to disenfranchise poor and minority voters, and this time is no different. I’m sorry for the loss of your father during this time, I sympathize and empathize in the deepest sense. Let us agree to disagree and embrace as neighbors with freedom of speech, and hopefully facts to guide us. The USPS is expected to fund debts other entities and states get away with and displace it on the tax payers. But the USPS Is a staple of honest American jobs you can take pride in, that allows all walks of life to work at, including under privileged, I defend it tooth and nail.


Trump administration offered $25 billion for USPS as part of a larger deal. Chuck and Nancy say NO because they think it will give them a political advantage.

It took a national response to stand up to Trumps historic hate for public run entities vs privatized. He used USPS as a damn Pawn, he historically said he hates the damn USPS and Veterans who depend on it. The USPS is the sole distributor for the V.A medication folks, wheres big Pharma to help their pusherman!?! Wheres the help from big pharma to save their delivery,Those Capitalists!!!! The V.A! in a capital chess game. 30 million people are at stake here. The house is attempting to end recess to vote to the Senate on this; funding etc. And the “postmaster”, super PC incorrect name, to and is testifying to a panel. Trump verbally, on occasions to many people and countries, asked for election meddling, but he had to back down when he tried to mess with our God Blessed USPS and my Right to Vote By Mail. Merica.

Fake news, not true, except on those networks of truth and impartiality, MSLSD and CNN.

Point of fact, the USPS has been in financial trouble for years, And what did Joe and Barack do over eight years to address it? ZERO.

In my opinion the USPS needs to raise their rates.

Yes raise rates, and tax the hell out of Bezos and UPS for handling said parcel. No more Tax breaks for Billionaires!

I would agree mostly with that. The US taxpayer, in my opinion, is subsidizing Amazon. Fees for Amazon packages should be raised or better yet, Amazon should be required to purchase a bulk rate and pay up front every year a substantial sum, check made payable to USPS.

But if they increased the cost of a postage stamp for normal mail by even 25 percent, what would that do for making the USPS a more sustainable entity?

I’d like to see someone impartial do some financial analysis of that sort of thing.

The USPS is being expected to fund pensions in advance decades farther than private enterprises. That is causing the problem. Furthermore, the USPS is a SERVICE, not a for profit enterprise. It is kept affordable as part of the way we provide service to the population. Veterans get their meds, seniors their social security and on and on. It is a SERVICE. We do not seem to expect the Air Force, for instance, to turn a profit. Far from it. Rural areas are especially dependent on the Post Office. People even bank thru the Post Office. This was once extensive and could be again.

By the way, if the sorting machines are removed and the mail boxes, people are not able to do business thru the post or vote. I bet the corporations that are not getting paid are going to be a bit cranky about this.

Picking on Trump is another waste, while he is trying to regulate the hand-outs, so that people have an incentive to work, Pelosi is saying the hand-outs are not large enough. There are job opportunities posted everywhere but nobody wants that work or pay because the free for them money is too good. It won’t be fixed until English is the spoken language in the fields of broccoli.

No, thanks to this administration and its enablers, Biden and Harris would NOT be wise to disavow what is happening now on the streets of so many cities. This is what four years of Retrumplicanism has given us – this is the new playing field – our new normal. Have Retrumplicans ever disavowed the ardent support of our country’s most vile racial hatred groups? No. Retrumplicans won’t even disavow their leader, a president that has asked foreign adversaries to interfere with our most prized institution – our free and open elections. They won’t disavow sexual misconduct, rampant nepotism, compulsive lying, the loss of thousands of lives due to the mishandling of a pandemic. It goes on. That’s how they became Retrumplicans and that’s how we’ve gotten where we are. Misguided? What is more misguided than the actions of the Christian Right, white nationalists, and GOP legislators over the last four years? Should this enemy of democracy somehow manage to steal this election (and he’s doing everything in his power to do so right now), the nihilism seen on our streets now will pale in comparison to the nihilism that’s coming. It will be horrific and there will be four years of it and America will not recover. Thanks, Retrumplicans.

Bingo, dawg!

Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans support protests against racial injustice

Keith, have you considered that your “wisdom of history” is just disagreement with the cause? If so, just say that. Just say that you think things are fine and don’t agree with the protestors.

You really aren’t the first reactionary to discredit a movement because it’s “violent” or “Marxist” or “any other term I think is bad”.

Sorry, you’re just not saying anything new here.

Jan, Karl, Harpo or Zeppo, I forgot which Marx we are talking about.