Our American Farrago

America is in a farrago right now. Don’t bother to look it up. From the Latin, “farrago” was adopted into the English language in the 1600s and initially referred to a mixture of different cattle feeds. Today, common usage refers to a confused mixture or a jumble of disorganized, haphazard, or even nonsensical elements — a distant cousin of FUBAR.

Welcome to America in 2021. Consider these elements of the American farrago (pay attention now!):

—We don’t need to wear masks anymore, but wait! Maybe we do. The CDC says we’re close enough to herd immunity not to need them, but with the rise in the Delta variant (1 in 5 cases in the U.S. come from this new variant), the World Health Organization says it’s time to mask up again indoors. Isn’t Covid over? You’re not sending me back in there again! I like eating at restaurants and hugging people!

—The governor of South Dakota is deploying a platoon of National Guard to the Southern border to address the farrago down there (funded by a “GOP megadonor”). Because you know that all of those undocumented immigrants are targeting South Dakota, which is only 1,500 miles away; isn’t the first thing you do when coming to America is visit Mt. Rushmore?

Shame, shame, shame!

—The Washington Post is advising us (by “us,” I’m referring to my cisgender, Caucasian affinity group) to form “White Accountability Groups” and drill down into the roots of our embedded racism and white supremacy tendencies — but not before enduring a personal “period of shame” to atone for all the sins of racism committed since 1619.

—VP Kamala Harris recently visited the border to tell undocumented immigrants, “Do not come.” She repeated it for emphasis (and the cameras). Meanwhile, in California (which is much closer to the Southern border than South Dakota), Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature have agreed the state should spend up to $1.3 billion to provide health care for undocumented (i.e. illegal) immigrants.

By the way, California is enjoying a budget surplus right now of more than $100 billion, due in large part to tax revenue from capital gains generated by soaring share prices of tech companies, which, naturally, many political leaders in Cali would like to see broken up.

—Finally (because we don’t have time to catalog every instance of farrago), here’s a big one: Democrats, after months pushing for a “go-big-or-go-home” infrastructure bill got what they wished for — a $1.2 trillion bill to pay for improvements to roads, bridges, the grid and broadband access. But now, the Progressive Caucus wing of the Democratic Party (93 members) are threatening to torpedo the infrastructure bill if Congress doesn’t approve additional spending ($6 trillion if Bernie Sanders gets his way) on “social infrastructure.”

Let’s unpack that last one a little bit. In a farrago, it’s easy to lose all sense of situational awareness, what military strategists call “the fog of war.” So it is that some progressives are seriously talking about a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package not being enough to “meet the moment.”

Here’s a little situational awareness. According to the Center for American Progress, the top 10 infrastructure projects funded by the federal government in the 20th century are:

Ellis Island

Panama Canal

Hoover Dam

The GI Bill

The Marshall Plan

Interstate Highway System (1954-1991)

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)

Apollo Space Program (1961-1969)

Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Human Genome Project

All of those projects together, which spanned nearly 90 years, represent a combined total investment of about $900 billion in today’s dollars. Let us do the math for you — that’s $300 billion less than the proposed infrastructure bill that Progressives are threatening to torpedo because it does not “meet the moment.” And again, at the risk of repetition, Bernie Sanders is running some skunk works over in the Senate mapping out a $6 trillion cradle-to-grave spending bill. The national debt has become like crazy Uncle Ernie up in the attic — let’s not talk about him while we’re having such a good time.

No so fast, Joe, we need a few trillion more.

Think about it. Those 20th century investments were made deliberately, methodically and incrementally over a long period of time. That sense of time and deliberation are some of the first casualties in a farrago. Thus, we have Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declaring, “Frankly, we really need to understand that this is our one big shot, not just in terms of family, child care, Medicare, but on climate change.” She’s saying that because she fears that the mid-term elections may bring Congress back to its home base of center-right, robbing the Democrats of their thin margin of control. So, yeah, let’s put future generations in financial bondage so we can “meet the moment.” That makes perfect sense in a farrago, when all situational awareness has evaporated.

So, just to recap, the biggest threat to an historic infrastructure bill is not the Republicans, but the Democrats; California wants to use the tax windfalls generated in large part by tech companies to fund health care for undocumented immigrants, while the Vice President is telling immigrants “Do not come, there is nothing for you here”; we don’t need to wear masks anymore, but only if we don’t mind contracting the more lethal Delta variant of Covid; South Dakota is reaching out to fortify the Southern border; and White people today are culpable for sins committed by other White people 300 years ago.

Oh, and this late entry into the farrago chronicles: the New York City mayoral election, run by a Board of Elections that has been plagued for years with dysfunction and nepotism, has imploded. The city employed a ranked voting system, but apparently has no idea how to run it. The new mayor of a city that is considered the financial and cultural capital of the world may not be known until mid-July.

There is some good news. Farragos are temporary. The mixed-up cattle feed can be sorted out; election ballots can be recounted; we can address the real issue of racism in this country without forcing White people to endure a personal “period of shame.” Our better angels are always waiting in the wings. Be patient (but not complacent) and don’t lose your situational awareness. This too, shall pass.


  1. It is true the farragos will pass, but also true to our American way, those plaguing us today will be supplanted by others that are every bit as perplexing. I have been watchin this cycle since taking my first reporting job at age 22, which was 59 years ago. On the plus side, farragos made my journalism days interesting, entertaining and well worth the ride.

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