2020 will be noted in my autobiography as the “best and worst of times.” Continuing with Mr. Dickens, I can also say more broadly of the year past that “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, . . . ” (More on that anon.)
And now that 2020 is all said and done, I’m ready for 2021 to be a year of slow but steady improvement.
2020 was unlike any other year of my life. I reached the highest highs and the lowest lows. I really have no intention to use my Substack as forum to emote my “feelings” or to share the details of my personal life, but this past year was so extraordinary that it might be worth recording at least for the sake of my three children who might be curious in 25 years to see what their old man was up to during the year that changed all our lives.
The Best of Times
On a personal and professional level, 2020 was one of the best years of my life.
My book America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration that Defined It was published at the tail end of 2019 with Encounter Books. This was my first time working with an agent and the first time that I’ve published with a trade press. All around, the experience was excellent.
I must say that the book’s success has exceeded my wildest expectations.
First, some of the blurbs for the book were deeply flattering and more than I could have hoped for. The staff at Encounter put together an all-star cast of some of America’s best-known intellectuals and scholars, such as George F. Will, Harvey C. Mansfield, Thomas L. Pangle, Gordon S. Wood and a host of other academic luminaries. My favorites included:
Second, the book has sold very well. While not exactly a New York Times bestseller, the book has been a #1 bestseller at Amazon in several sub categories.
Third, I’ve also been pleased and honored by some of the reviews. Historian Brad Birzer of Hillsdale College published a review at The American Conservative that I will always cherish. For instance, Birzer wrote:
From the beginning of America’s Revolutionary Mind, Thompson admits his ambition to write not just another history of the Declaration or of the Founding, but to write an entirely new interpretation of the period, building upon and fulfilling what Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood began in the second half of the 1960s with their respective masterpieces, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and The Creation of the American Republic. To be sure, Thompson has succeeded in this lofty goal, and, if nothing else, this makes this extraordinary book even more extraordinary.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, Mr. Birzer concluded his review with this assessment:
So, here we have it—the first major reinterpretation of the American founding in over half a century. And, America’s Revolutionary Mind is not merely path-breaking, it is a gorgeous work of art. Every sentence, every paragraph, every section, and every chapter rings with Thompson’s own eagerness to share these ideas and with his own moral conviction that these ideas matter. . . . Thompson is not only rigorous in his research and his argumentation; he is elevating and leavening in his pursuit of beauty in his very writing as well. Rarely does such an author come along. And, even more rarely, does such a comprehensive and inspiring book come along. America’s Revolutionary Mind deserves to be read by all Americans and all women and men of good will.
Thank you, Brad Birzer!!!
Fourth, believe it or not, I have now done some 55-60 radio, podcast, and TV interviews for the book. The biggest and most listened to interviews were with Ben Shapiro, Dennis Prager, and Dave Rubin. I was honored to have Mr. Prager say this on air to his millions of listeners about my book:
The Dave Rubin interview has now been watched on YouTube some 270,000 times. I’ll take that.
In May, I published a controversial and much talked-about essay on “The Rise and Fall of the Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans” at The American Mind. The essay was a critique of two factions on the reactionary Right, the so-called TradCaths and the Bronze Age Pervert and his followers. I’m putting this essay into the “best of times” category (although it could have just as easily gone into the “worst of times” category given the amount of grief that it has caused me) because I had great fun writing it and then had lots of laughs reading the online responses, which were just a hoot. And I will confess to you that I was very pleased with having coined the unforgettable image of “Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans” and doubly pleased with the photo-shopped photograph that went with the essay.
In July, one of the most important events of my life occurred: I became a citizen of the United States of America. Even though I’ve lived in the U.S. for almost 40 years, becoming a citizen was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. From the time I read the How and Why Wonder Book of the American Revolution as an eight-year-old (now selling on Amazon for $768), I’ve always known that I was an American born in the wrong country. (No offense to my Canadian relatives and friends.)
Next in the “best of times” queue was the September marriage of my 23-year-old son, Samuel, to the beautiful Ally Bevers. After graduating from Clemson in May 2019, Samuel enlisted in the United States Army as an officer candidate and married his college sweetheart after completing Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning in Georgia. It was a beautiful (maskless) wedding in the hills of north Georgia. I now have a wonderful new daughter-in-law.
Last but not least, my wife and I bought and moved into a new house in early December. The new house is a serious upgrade over the old one. It’s a house that makes me happy every day, all day. And to bring this happy story to an end, our old house across town sold in 90 minutes, which was a serious improvement over the eight years that it took us to sell our house in Ohio. I share with you the view from my new office:
Which is to say that it’s an improvement over the old office . . .
The Worst of Times
2020 was also the worst of times for me. It truly was an annus horribilis.
The year did not start well.
Readers of my last Substack essay on “Civilization and Barbarism” know that the year began very badly for me when I got myself into a bit of a jam last January. After delivering eight lectures on “The Moral Foundations of a Free Society” at the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago, Chile, I headed to the airport in an Uber, and, long story short, my driver and I got caught at ground-zero of an anarcho-communist riot. Our vehicle was attacked and we were threatened with physical assault. Then we got caught between the rioters and armed soldiers with rocks flying over our heads from one direction and tear gas canisters flying over our heads from another other direction. It was not a happy moment.
In March I had double surgery for a potentially serious issue. The good news is that the surgery went well, and all that had to be removed was excised. The bad news is that one of the incisions became badly infected and took ten weeks to heal, which meant that I was largely immobile during that time. I started 2020 running six miles a day but spent most of the year post-surgery sitting around and morphing into Jabba the Hutt.
And then of course, COVID-19 hit the United States and swept across the fruited plain like a scene from The Walking Dead. Tragically, we lost two family friends to COVID and two other friends were hospitalized with severe cases. In June, both my wife and daughter were infected with the virus, which made home life somewhat distressing for a couple of weeks.
My wife and I have weathered the lockdown pretty well. I work a lot from home anyway, so my life, at least superficially, didn’t change that much. Still, there was great disruption with teaching online (initially at least) and organizing the administrative part of my job. Like the rest of the world, I’m pretty Zoomed out.
There was also the general stress of living in a COVID world. Life in the seams clearly changed for the worst. I’m sick and tired of checking, double checking, and triple checking to make sure that I have a mask whenever I go out. I’m sick and tired of driving 25 minutes to work and then realizing when I’ve arrived that I’d forgotten my mask. I’m sick and tired of talking with a mask on and my glasses fogging up to the point that I can no longer see the person to whom I’m speaking. I’m sick and tired of the silly elbow bump as the replacement for a handshake. I’m sick and tired of the COVID Karens, who want to reduce all human interactions to their level of paranoia. Most of all, I’m sick and tired of living in fear.
Without question, the hardest part of this last year was not being able to go to Canada to see my parents. This has taken a great psychological toll on me. My parents are now in their late 80s and it’s critically important that I see them, and soon.
COVID has robbed us of many of life’s pleasures, great and small. I do, of course, have strong views on how the federal and state governments should have dealt with this pandemic, but it’s probably best that I not share those with you. For now, I take comfort in the old adage that “what can’t go on forever, won’t!” This too shall pass.
Another distressing part of my life in 2020 was watching the country I love burn and be ransacked by political Vandals. Everything I experienced in Chile has been played out in America for the last nine months. Sadly, the riots and destruction continue with no end in sight. This country is fast approaching a very dark place. I have no hope that the Republicrat ruling class can fix the maladies we face. Again, like the COVID issue, I have strong views on the subject that I may write about in the future. For now, it’s still all too raw.
I will, though, leave you with one elliptical thought: America is now a house divided, and a nation that hates itself cannot stand. To say that many of our politicians are corrupt and that our government is broken is to state the obvious. But let us not forget that our politicians and our government(s) are only a reflection of who we are as a people. If we want better politicians and better politics, let us start with ourselves. The future of America is and always has been in the hands of “We the people.” We must start first by improving ourselves as individuals, and then let us improve or repair our relationships with our families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and communities. Let us rebuild from the bottom up.
So that’s it. That was my life in 2020. For better and worse, it’s now a part of my history.
Let us all hope that 2021 will simply be the “best of times.”
I’d like to end this 2020 wrap up on a positive note. I’d like to share with you my favorite video of 2020. I can’t tell you how much it cheered me up during the depths of the lockdown. I also think it’s a wonderful expression of the American spirit of liberty.
And best wishes for a great 2021.