Gradually, then Suddenly

Larry Freudinger
3 min readNov 25, 2022


The great oak tree stood on a hill over the broad valley. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would stand there forever. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, the tree would not be uprooted. The giant would instead swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string.

He felt safe and free in the oak tree’s presence; it was a feeling that nothing could change or threaten; the giant oak was in his mind the greatest symbol of wisdom and strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. He saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked down its trunk as if into the mouth of a dark tunnel. The trunk had become an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside — just a thin dust being dispersed by the wind. The living power had gone, and the shape of what was left could not stand without it….

We are the rotted heart within the mighty oak that is the Constitution of the United States of America. That rot is the untempered pursuit of power and pleasure; the unrestrained pursuit of control to reach for our own utopian desires without accountability for the meaning of or the responsibility that comes with that power and control. That rot is the accumulation of too many poor decisions. Your bad decisions, my bad decisions, their bad decisions, our bad decisions.

If we don’t change the direction of our decisions, that lighting strike will come and the next day all that safety and freedom will be dust in the wind.

Americans must believe that they have the right, duty, and ability to govern themselves. They must remember the oligarchy of the elites that comprise the ruling class in Washington and Wall Street are delegated those rights and responsibilities from the governed for the purpose of protecting our safety, liberty, and our myriad pursuits. If Americans continue to ignore their abilities; continue to ignore their rights and duties as citizens, self-government is effectively dead even if the rituals are still observed.

What we’re witnessing today is a pattern driven by unchanging human nature and witnessed all the time for individuals but on generational time scales for whole societies. Tragedy often happens very slowly with the wiser decision path repeatedly not considered or foolishly dismissed.

The explanation of the figurative lightning strike that fells our American experiment will then parallel the explanation by Hemingway’s Mike Campbell of how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

But unlike one person who goes bankrupt, the collapse of the American system of checks and balances makes the entire planet go bankrupt. At the other end of that dark tunnel, our children and their offspring will then sit around speaking of the things that might have been.

…He stood there for a while staring at the hollowed out tree, saying nothing. Then he walked back to the house. He never spoke about it to anyone, then or since.”

H/T: Adapted from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.



Larry Freudinger

Just an simple old man and rookie writer making his way through the galaxy, trying to add value for the next generation.