Skip to main content

There are an increasing number of days I want to unplug from everything and move to the country.

I don’t imagine this idly. I have little doubt my quality of life would improve immeasurably if I was less connected to current events, if I quit Twitter, quit Facebook, got a dog and dropped out. What would I be missing?

I’m not a doom-and-gloomer by nature. I have been, most of my life, a glass-half-full optimist. But looking around the world today is depressing. And frightening. And we don’t have to gaze much further than our neighbour to the south to feel thoroughly despondent about where we are heading.

Margaret Wente: Time to #deletefacebook

What’s happening in the United States was unimaginable even two years ago. Donald Trump is making an utter mockery out of the U.S. presidency and yet some polls show that more than 40 per cent of Americans think he’s doing an okay job. How can that be? Remember when the Monica Lewinsky affair nearly led to Bill Clinton’s demise? Mr. Trump is embroiled in scandals with porn stars and ex-Playboy models and it’s, like, no big deal. So what if he might have tried to buy a woman’s silence for $130,000?

Mr. Trump’s presidency is such a gong show that the whole porn-star thing is small potatoes. Of course, it’s going to be when you have a U.S. President who uses Twitter to threaten to nuke North Korea to smithereens. And when you have a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election appearing to implicate more and more people surrounding Mr. Trump.

In the meantime, school shootings are now an almost weekly occurrence in the United States. Adults don’t want to give up their guns, don’t want to make it harder for people to get their hands on AR-15s, so the answer is arming school teachers. Out on the streets, white cops are shooting unarmed black people. Racial tension is being fuelled by a white President who has no interest in building bridges, just tearing them down. Extreme partisanship and polarization has deformed American politics beyond recognition. The notion the country is the standard-bearer for democracies around the world is now a sad farce.

In China, President Xi Jinping has installed himself as leader for life. The world’s biggest country was an autocracy before this, but now it will be ruled by a strongman, a dictator with ambitions of global supremacy. This is the same person who has overseen the worst political crackdown in China in decades. Now, the country is a step closer to complete despotism.

Over in Russia, Vladimir Putin has effectively done the same thing. The only difference is he holds sham elections to maintain his iron-grip on power. (Mr. Trump even phoned to congratulate him on his recent victory.) Mr. Putin’s ability to rattle the world and destabilize geopolitical affairs is as great and threatening as ever. He smirks at questions about Russia’s role in the attempted murder of a former spy and his daughter with nerve gas. There is little doubt who was responsible for the attack on British soil, but what’s anyone going to do about it? A brutal thug in Syria has killed scores of children with chemical agents and virtually nothing was done about that.

Companies are stealing our private information to influence the outcome of elections. The fact is, we have no idea who is tracking our every digital move, who has their hands on vital personal material about us. It is beyond most people to understand data mining and pixel tracking and what privacy options really mean. Few of us read the lawyer’s fine print before pressing “agreed” and entering a social media world fraught with peril.

It is all starting to feel like some dark, dystopian nightmare that we see in movies, except this isn’t Hollywood. A deeply narcissistic, has-been reality television star has control of the nuclear code. There is a sense of dread and foreboding. We are living in times as dangerous and unpredictable as there’s been in 80 years.

The other day I got a message from my cellphone provider. It said that as of April my phone would receive emergency alerts from the government. They are intended to notify me of potentially life-threatening situations that need my attention. Is this what it’s come to? Directions on where to find the nearest bomb shelter?

I think the country soon beckons. It doesn’t solve the world’s problems for me, but it might just make me blissfully unaware.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe