What do we do now?

Don’t stop worrying, but don’t despair. No matter what. You’re reading this column after the election, and despite all the worries about a repeat of the Nightmare of the Living Chads, my guess is that you — who are now reading this — probably know what I didn’t know while writing it:

You know who the next president of the United States will be.

Thanks to the iron law of deadlines, I had to write this column before the votes were counted. At first, I thought this put me under a tremendous handicap. Then I realized that this was really a priceless opportunity.

Instead of analyzing what happened or speculating uselessly about what the winner is likely to do, this gives me the opportunity to note a few things that are going to be true regardless of who’s in the White House. Few will be writing about these things this week. But we should all be thinking about them a lot:

No matter who is president, we are in a complete mess in Iraq.

Judging from what I heard in the campaign, neither side seems to know what to do to end the war or get us out of there. George Bush, having delivered total failure, promised us more of the same. John Kerry said he’d find a better way to “win” the war. Yet I don’t see any way either option will work, or even be tolerated by the American people for very long. Even the small minority of experts who thought a year ago that the occupation might be successful agreed that in order for it to have a chance, we’d have to stay at least 10 years.

Does anybody think Americans are going to put up with having our troops in Iraq for that long? What are we doing there now, anyway? Liberating a people from the last battalions of a Baathist army? Rebuilding a nation? Hunting down the last desperate remnants of al Qaeda?

Nope. We are standing around getting shot in the back and blown up by people who resent our presence in their country. How can we fight that? Yes, we can wheel around their neighborhoods in our armored vehicles, and run over some houses, shoot some teenagers and send a bunch of others to Abu Ghraib.

But we can’t kill them all. Nor can we win. What are we supposed to win them over to, anyway? Town Hall democracy? Campaign finance reform?

Can you imagine what the mood will be in the United States if this is still going on in two years? The day will come, sooner rather than later, when the American people say very forcefully: Hey. We’re done. Like now.

The longer we wait, the greater the chances are that we’ll have to pull out hastily and leave the place a chaotic mess, apt to degenerate into ethnic-religious civil war, followed by a fundamentalist Islamic republic.

What we need to do is to pressure our leaders to start working for the future, now, by working with the international community. The United Nations has to come in, perhaps to set up a multinational federation with Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish sectors or zones, and develop a speedy transition process.

That way may offer hope. Otherwise, more than a thousand Americans, and Allah knows how many Iraqis (100,000?) have died entirely in vain, no matter how they pretty it up in the eulogies.

We face mammoth economic problems we’ve barely considered.

Nobody said very much during the campaign about the vast number of jobs disappearing from this country and being outsourced abroad, perhaps because neither party has a solution. Nobody talked about the high inflation that’s almost certainly coming because we ran up huge deficits to pay for Iraq.

By the end of this president’s term, the first baby boomers will be retiring, and while our government has promised to pay trillions in Social Security and Medicare benefits, etc., it isn’t at all clear where the money is coming from.

Millions lack health care. Every year, millions more of us face the certainty of paying more for health care and getting less. And buying slightly cheaper drugs from Canada doesn’t begin to touch the core problems.

You can bet that whoever is elected this week knows all that. What’s more, he knows how hard real solutions to these problems are. He’d far rather blast away, with words or cruise missiles, at Osama bin Laden any day.

Which is why we all need to keep our eyes on the prize. What, by the way, do we want? Mostly, a better life for our families, maybe even ourselves.

We owe it to ourselves not to let the big guy forget that. Or any of this.

So much for local control: Dozens of newspapers and magazines that endorsed Bush in 2000 switched to the Democrats this time. But among the very few that switched the other way were The Macomb Daily and The Oakland Press.

Why? Was there overwhelming sentiment in those counties that they were wrong about Bush, and that his policies are great for suburban Detroit?

Naaah. This summer, those papers were both sold by the now-extinct 21st Century Newspaper Group to the Journal Register Co., which is based in Connecticut, a bit outside our normal coverage area. “I was told in July that every editor would endorse Bush or nobody,” one editor says.

Showing as much profile in courage as editors commonly do, he adds, “I sure wasn’t going to be the first editor in the chain to endorse nobody.”

Not that Donald: A few years ago, Eddie B. Allen Jr., a talented young writer who freelances for this newspaper, asked me what I thought of his proposal to do a biography of the writer Donald Goines.

Frankly, I thought he’d never find a publisher, and that there were lots of better things to write about than Goines, who banged out a series of authentically gritty paperback novels like Whoreson and Dopefiend. Goines’s own life could easily have been that of one of his characters. He was, as the dust jacket says, “a pimp, heroin addict, factory worker and career criminal.”

Thirty years ago this fall, someone pumped a few slugs into Goines and his girlfriend in their Highland Park home. The crime, never solved, was treated by overworked police as one more drug-related killing, which it probably was.

So why should we care? Frankly, I didn’t — until I read Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Goines (St. Martin’s Press, $23.95). Allen makes us see the forces that shaped this rather amazing man, who lived in the violent world he wrote about, yet cranked out books that have won critical acclaim, have sold millions of copies and continue to sell well. (Rapper DMX recently produced a movie version of one Goines novel, Never Die Alone.)

Writing a sensational and lurid book about this subject would be a piece of cake. But what Allen does here is much more subtle. While not shrinking from his subject’s enormous flaws, he invests him with a kind of human dignity (always calling him Mr., for example) that makes it seem essential to understand Donald Goines if you’re to understand Detroit’s urban black experience.

That may be true. Years ago, a French reviewer said that Goines’ stories have “an almost ethnographic value,” and that after reading them, the average reader was apt “to feel you’ve become more intelligent.”

Which is precisely how I felt after having read Low Road.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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