The writer is a US-based author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Home Free: An American Road Trip, among other books.

I have worries and projects of my own that are not at all political, and I’d very much like to enjoy my private life, privately, and not have to go around all the time feeling angry and disgusted about the state of my country. But not feeling angry and disgusted is no longer a feasible option for any of us in today’s America.

By the time you read this, something will have happened to do with the embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is alleged to have sexually assaulted at least four women. The fight over Kavanaugh is the latest thing tearing America apart. As I write this, it’s impossible to say what the result will be. If Kavanaugh is denied the lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land that he clearly feels is somehow his by birthright, that will only be just desserts for his arrogance and boorishness, and for the hubris of the Republican senators who supported and enabled him. It will also be comeuppance for Trump, who nominated him. Pride goeth before a fall, as my late grandmother used to say.

If, on the other hand, Kavanaugh somehow ends up being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, it is sure to be by the thinnest of razor-thin margins, and only after at least half of the American public, including most women, have put firmly on record their disgust and disdain for the man himself as well as for the process that resulted in his confirmation. He will, in that case, become an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, but – whether the faction of Republican bullies understand this or not, or care – the Court itself will have been irrevocably damaged. Which will mean, in turn, that the rule of law, up to and including the venerable United States Constitution, no longer really applies in the United States of America.

This is new stuff for us middle-class Americans: the idea, now verging on the reality, that the entity we fondly call “America” might not be eternal and invulnerable after all, and that we ourselves might therefore by vulnerable and insecure in ways we’ve never before had to consider. It’s terrifying, though at the same time (speaking only for myself on this point) oddly liberating. I’m writing this on the weekend just after the extraordinary all-day Senate hearings in which Kavanaugh and the first woman to accuse him, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, both spoke and answered questions under oath, watched by millions on national television. There’s a lot to say about that drama, but it’s all been said; if you want to read it, just go to Twitter. I have nothing to add that would be of much value.

Which is why I’m stepping back to ask what seems to me a very important question: When the dust does finally clear, if it ever does, what will have become of the American republic and society?

I don’t have an answer, but I do have a starting point to suggest. Or rather, my 80-year-old mother does. “Make meaning in our own place,” she urged me at the height of Kavanaugh spectacle. “That’s what it has to be … which all of us are doing daily to the best of our ability.” My mom lives her own words, locally in the city of Colorado Springs – where I’m proud to say she’s a rather influential person – and in her professional field of primary education. A big part of our national problem is that America is a very big and powerful country, and we individual Americans have been too accustomed for too long to vicariously partaking in its bigness and power. I confess that when I was younger, I craved getting my share of that; I wanted to be a Famous Writer, with all that entails. Latterly I’ve come to understand that Fame comes through Media, and that – especially now that Media has morphed into Social Media – Fame is a poisoned chalice, because Media is the too-efficient transmitter of all that has become toxic in contemporary society.

So I’m coming to peace with the truth that there really is no way to fix America, per se. Instead all that I can do – or should do – is whatever I’m in a position to do, within my own fields of effectiveness and influence. I can write and otherwise communicate; I can literally tend my own garden; I can cherish my family and friends. Is that enough? No. But does it need to be? Maybe the problem is that all this time, we Americans have been thinking too big.

The center has failed to hold, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. Not that there isn’t damage or loss; there’s too much of both, including damage to our national self-regard and loss of cherished illusions. But we can’t undo the damage or recoup the losses. And if living life attentively, as I’ve tried to do, teaches anything, it teaches that there is life after loss. And there are perspective and wisdom to be gained, and those in themselves are good things.

The Roman Empire devolved into an archipelago of disparate polities that have remained in flux ever since. As Pakistanis know, the Moghul Empire continued to exist – officially – for 150 years after the death of the Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707. But increasingly its parts were ruled de facto by regional governors with only ritual reference to the imperial court in Delhi, until India’s new rulers, the British, belatedly declared the Moghuls truly defunct in 1858. In both cases, ordinary people had to do whatever they could in the ambiguous aftermath. It’s not our task now to strive heroically to hold the center together, like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Our task is to pick up some of the pieces and recombine them in creative, humane, and useful ways. As a Haitian proverb has it, the big guy does what he wants; the little guy does what he can. •