The Unraveling of America and Academic Denial

A little story:

A couple months ago I was working with a European negotiating client who had a TT job offer in Texas. He had a secure position in Europe and would be leaving it to come here.

As part of the NA work I told him:

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask you to pause and seriously reconsider taking this job in the US, in Texas. It’s not an elite institution or a particularly great offer, and do you understand that you’re moving into a country that is, frankly, a shitshow. And you’re moving AWAY from a secure position in a functional country to do it. Do you understand how bad things are here?”

And then I sketched some facts and figures related to the pandemic, our healthcare levels, MAGA realities, guns in Texas, etc., and sent a link to some news story showing our emergent (at the time) collapse.

This client ended up throwing a fit, demanding a full refund for the work I did with him. He claimed I was “unprofessional” and “condescending” and….best of all… “demotivating.”

He wouldn’t take any of my offered resolutions, and Paypal is such that sellers rarely can win these cases even when we provide complete documentation of the services provided. So I had to give a refund.

This grates on me to this day, and I periodically send this client news stories of the accelerating collapse of the US, and Texas in particular, as COVID ravages us and exposes the deep, deep dysfunctions of American society, not just around health care, but also toxic individualism, MAGA paranoia, violent racism, and the Trump admin’s criminal neglect.

He never responds. I imagine he has me blocked. But I’m petty enough right now that I keep sending them.

I’ll be honest, it grates. There was no greater service I could give a negotiating client right now than to make sure they know JUST HOW BAD THINGS ARE IN THIS COUNTRY.

And what grates more is: I saw this EARLY. I gave him ADVANCE WARNING. Well before things devolved to where they are now. The pandemic had barely started. The Feds were not even in the streets yet. BUT I SAW WHAT WAS IN THE AIR; I SAW WHAT WAS COMING. And I shared what I saw with my client.

But denial and exceptionalism prevailed.

Today I woke up and read this article from Rolling Stone, The Collapse of America, by anthropologist Wade Davis, and thought of this client yet again. Of course I mailed it to him. It speaks from the broad, comparative scope that Anthropology does best.

The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society. No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.

How can the rest of the world expect America to lead on global threats — climate change, the extinction crisis, pandemics — when the country no longer has a sense of benign purpose, or collective well-being, even within its own national community? Flag-wrapped patriotism is no substitute for compassion; anger and hostility no match for love. Those who flock to beaches, bars, and political rallies, putting their fellow citizens at risk, are not exercising freedom; they are displaying, as one commentator has noted, the weakness of a people who lack both the stoicism to endure the pandemic and the fortitude to defeat it. Leading their charge is Donald Trump, a bone spur warrior, a liar and a fraud, a grotesque caricature of a strong man, with the backbone of a bully.

Odious as he may be, Trump is less the cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent. As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. The republic that defined the free flow of information as the life blood of democracy, today ranks 45th among nations when it comes to press freedom. In a land that once welcomed the huddled masses of the world, more people today favor building a wall along the southern border than supporting health care and protection for the undocumented mothers and children arriving in desperation at its doors. In a complete abandonment of the collective good, U.S. laws define freedom as an individual’s inalienable right to own a personal arsenal of weaponry, a natural entitlement that trumps even the safety of children; in the past decade alone 346 American students and teachers have been shot on school grounds.


It won’t make any difference. Denial is woven into the fibers of academia, and it won’t budge just a mere matter of national collapse.

For the rest of you: please don’t turn away your eyes. Make your choices this year based on reality, not fantasy, even if your advisors or peers are pushing fantasy.


The Professor Is In now offers Going Postac resources on an ongoing basis as we confront this crisis. Tomorrow (Tuesday) is my Going Postac In a Pandemic webinar. Find it here:


Thursday is my newly expanded Starting Your Own Consulting (or Other Small) Business. Use code WEBZONE10 for 10% off.


If you’re reading this later, know that the recording is available here on the Recordings page:


And…. everyone: stay safe, stay angry, and stay focused on what’s real. As painful as it is, we need to stop staring into the myth of US exceptionalism… in academia as well.

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The Unraveling of America and Academic Denial — 5 Comments

  1. My guess is that your client met a love interest online, hooked up after the interview, and found out the crush was real and looked like their online pic.

  2. What in the world do you hope to accomplish by sending this guy “I told you so!” articles? He clearly doesn’t want to communicate with you, and it’s a little creepy to keep trying to contact him. He might have been in denial about COVID, but it sounds like he had the right idea firing you as a consultant.

  3. Respectfully, given the critique of “American exceptionalism” here, maybe it would help to write some advice about applying to jobs in Europe, Asia, Latin America or other parts of the world, rather than continuing to fixate on the collapse of the US job market? Since March, most of the ads I’ve been seeing in my field are outside the US, so this seems like the one area still open to ac-job seekers, but I don’t see a lot of advice about it… I saw you published some blog posts about the UK several years ago, but nothing more recently. And my sense is that these jobs will be even more attractive in the coming years, seeing the much more competent way in which many of these countries have handled (and in some cases, basically beaten) Covid. Maybe there is (or could be) someone on your team with expertise on non-US jobs?

  4. I’m very curious – did he go to Texas? Did you ever google the organisation and see if his name is on the website? (If someone told me something I didn’t like, maybe I wouldn’t thank that person and maybe my initial reaction would be crappy, BUT I would be very likely to think seriously about the advice, and maybe even act on it……) 🙂

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