ASoviet citizen goes to the dentist. He lies back in the chair. The dentist tells him to open wide.
“But I’m afraid to open my mouth,” he replies.
The old joke has a new resonance in the age of lockdowns and masked pedestrians, cancel culture and self-criticism sessions when Americans are the ones fearful of opening their mouths. Fear is the common denominator. A nation has spent the year holding its breath. And waiting.
Americans used to laugh at Soviet anecdotes without really understanding them. Now Americans are too afraid to laugh because they are coming to understand them all too well.
Mobs stalk the streets of American cities loudly bellowing, “We can’t breathe!” Sometimes they shoot or stab someone who then actually can’t breathe. Or they set a building on fire and anyone breathing in the smoke quickly discovers what it’s like to really be unable to breathe.
When you actually can’t breathe, you can’t shout and you can’t tell anyone. The people who actually can’t breathe or speak are the victims of the ones shouting that they can’t breathe.
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