Serial Season 2 Episode 7+8 Recap: Ugh. But, Like, Who Even is John Galt?
Welcome to National Ave’s weekly Serial recaps. This recap covers Episodes 7+8 of Season 2, “Hindsight.”
American folklore is highly individualistic. Ruggedly individualistic, to crimp a phrase from Herbert Hoover. There’s an element of the American psyche that treasures the image of one man, equipped with nothing but, I don’t know, a buck knife or something, grappling against the elements, forsaking the traditional comforts of “weaker” men, blazing a trail through the wilderness, raging against a Goliathian enemy trying to impose its will, defying the odds to spread liberty through out the land, regardless of the cost.
That’s our romantic vision of what the American Revolution was. Young, scrappy, hungry, upstarts who managed to spurn British rule and got no help from nobody (except the French, but shhhhhh). Manifest Destiny, lonesome pioneers adventuring through the wilderness to fulfill America’s sacred rite to ownership of the land across this continent. Our imaginations of The Civil War, the Spanish-American War, even World War II, this narrative pervades American history. Even those Oregon jamokes who ended their “stand” in that hut on a wildlife reserve last week, this is the tradition they thought they were upholding, righteousness in the face of oppression.
It is certainly an appealing fable. The thought that you, just you, simply by virtue of being and believing in America could possibly pull yourself up by your bootstraps and change the world is, admittedly, a beautiful one. All you need is a pure heart and the right intention, and anything is possible.
It is also, obviously, incredibly toxic. First off, it hinges on a type of masculine chauvinistic thinking that has marginalized women for centuries. But besides that, not everybody is going to change the world. Not everybody is special. Not everybody’s thoughts and actions reach the level of grandiosity that our version of history tells us they should.
That’s how you end up with those poor, deluded fucks in Oregon, who were willing to freaking DIE for their ridiculous cause, who thought that the history books would underline, highlight, bold their names, who believed that they were the last vestiges of a better America. They so desperately wanted to feel important, to assert their significance, so they took drastic steps to try to get people to listen. It worked for George Washington. It worked for Teddy Roosevelt. Why shouldn’t it work for them?
And that’s how you get a Bowe Bergdahl, a guy who grew up with these grandiose notions for his future, of what being in the military and being an American soldier would be like, that he couldn’t handle the disappointment of reality not matching the visions in his head. This dude was just not mentally equipped to cope with actual Army life not meeting his expectations, so he walked off.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m mocking Bowe. While I of course still think what he did was ridiculous and that he absolutely should not have done it, given his lens on the world, it must have been really hard for him to level with the reality of his situation, of actual people and their flaws, of their failure to live up to his stringent ideology.
Because the truth is we as a country have a hard time living with that sort of failure. Donald Trump, of all people, asserted on a Republican debate stage that the Bush Administration lied about the justification for invading Iraq, which is 100% objectively accurate. And yet that feels like some sort of heresy to massive swaths of people in this country, the thought that maybe we aren’t as pure as we would like to believe ourselves to be.
In the CNN Town Hall last night, a South Carolinian man practically begged Trump to retract his statement because he “respected” our last Republican president greatly, and didn’t “believe” he lied. This man looked like he was searching for something, like the possibility that his faith in President Bush may have been misplaced would be a traumatically disorienting experience. He wanted Trump to admit to being wrong so that he didn’t have to confront the possibility that he himself may be wrong.
These stories we tell ourselves are comforting. They’re something to hold on to in a random and chaotic world. Bowe Bergdahl believed that if he just stuck to his values, no matter what happened, everything would turn out alright. Perhaps he could transform the Army, mold it in the image he had been taught by the books that loomed large on that high shelf he had to climb to reach. In the name of those values, nothing he could do could possibly be wrong, or ill advised, or insane, because his values were so pure.
You can call this blind faith. You can call this misguided. You can even call it arrogance. No matter what you call it, it is undeniably, inextricably American, and it’s how we build men like Bowe Bergdahl.
-“You’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole.” So perfect.
-Of course Bowe is into Ayn Rand. That’s so on brand.