American Doom Loop: Dispatches from a Troubled Nation, 1980s–2020s


Much of the contemporary crazy can be traced to the 1980s—America of the 2020s is living with the cultural shapeshifting rooted in that decade.

Americans lived in a different reality in 1980: Vermont was the only state that let residents carry a concealed firearm without a permit. Twenty-four states now allow this—and numerous other gun laws have fallen by the wayside. When police were accused of wrongdoing, the default answer from society’s arbiters—courts, politicians, newspaper editors—was: “The police wouldn’t lie.” Editors steered clear of stories about rape and sexual violence. The word “homeless” wasn’t in common use. The fabric of the middle class had not yet begun fraying.

America of the 2020s is living with cultural shapeshifting rooted in the 1980s. History, of course, is not a snapshot—it’s a film. To understand the United States today, we have to know the 1980s. American Doom Loop chronicles the first part of that moving picture, then brings the story forward.

As a newspaper journalist, Dale Maharidge had a front-row seat to this decade, immersed in disparate worlds. He was in the Philippines during the last days of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, witnessing the US lose a critical piece of its empire dating to the Spanish–American War; he traveled to Central America where the East-West conflict was playing out by proxy; he smuggled a Salvadoran family marked by death squads, driving them through trackless desert to the US border; he embedded with a group that was a precursor to the Oath Keepers; and he investigated police, who kept trying to get him fired.

Through it all, Maharidge gained an invaluable view of a complicated decade that offers insight into our society today.