Opinion: Apocalypse now, but not in Santa Monica

A Ferris wheel on a beachside pier at sunset
The Santa Monica Pier at sunset.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

In December, an atheistic, pro-choice, anti-gun, environmental activist — a.k.a. a resident of Santa Monica — asked me, “So how do you plan to ring in the last year of American democracy?”

Now, months into 2024, the world offers little in rebuttal to that grim forecast. And yet, despite a marine layer of dread at the beach, no Santa Monicans I know have made good on their threats to contact real estate agents in Portugal or Uruguay or Cape Town. I haven’t gotten to Step 2 on my plan to light out and live off the saturated fat of the land.

The fact is, even if 2024 exceeds its potential for national catastrophe, we’ll stay where we are. For one reason: We think we’ll be safe here. Santa Monica is a great place to hide from America. Just ask Whitey Bulger.


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As bad as we think it could get somewhere, we don’t foresee diners tipping Giorgio Baldi valets with one hand, an open-carry Glock in the other. Gynecologists at St. John’s getting read their Miranda rights for doing their jobs? Somehow feels unlikely. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Hate U Give,” George Orwell, Toni Morrison, Art Spiegelman and Anne Frank banned from the SaMoHi library? Uh-uh. No way. Never ever.

Then again ...

The most decimated belief of 2024 America is “it can’t happen here.”

Every 10 minutes, another book comes out about how it can happen here, or worse, how it is happening here. Soon every new bedside-table purchase will come with a complimentary copy of Yale professor Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny.” Brilliant book but, you know, not overly cheerful.

A poll indicated many Americans believe California is on the decline and some say it’s not even “American.” Columnists Mark Z. Barabak and Anita Chabria explain why it’s still the Golden State.

Feb. 18, 2024

As of now, the locals’ best way of rationalizing the “it can’t happen here” fallacy lies in redefining “here”: Santa Monica simply isn’t “here.” It’s a sanctuary city where we defiantly hole up in peace.

OK, not the most ambitious plan, right? Lying low in our green zone sounds pretty defeatist. But after nine years of rehearsing arguments we never have with people we never meet whose opinions we could never change, we’re just wiped. It’s dreary how many aging boomers in Santa Monica have their towels ready to throw in: “Maybe we’ll be getting out at the right time.”

So we’re keeping our friends close and our enemies out of sight, out of mind. We’re low-dosing Rachel Maddow and bingeing escapism; ignoring Quinnipiac University polls and demo-ing the latest in thought-canceling headphones. We’ve fallen in love with our bubble to the point that borderline agoraphobia has gone from an affliction to a remedy.

Used to be, we’d knock into each other on the street and strategize activism that would get more Americans seeing things our way. Leashes in hand, idle walks would turn into street discussions so fervent our dogs’ ears perked up at the name Raffensperger.


Now we’re thrilled to discuss when or if another atmospheric river will drench Los Angeles.

“We need the rain but not this much rain.”

“True. The L.A. County flag should read: ‘Nothing in moderation.’ ”

Often, departees, cash in hand from the sale of their $1-million bungalows, feel the need to express disdain for their home state, and even some anger too.

Jan. 20, 2024

Anything that distances us from oncoming traffic, foreign and domestic, is warmly welcomed. In an impromptu dog-walking klatch last week, I joked about how one of the things I love about Santa Monica is that when you see a man on a weekday wearing a suit and tie, you feel sorry for him.

One whatever-kind-of-doodle mom laughed and said, “Yeah. Being out in the rest of the world? Who needs it?”

And therein lies my big fear: We never get out there again. Complacency has a pretty filthy history that features an overflowing roster of good people turned infamous.

And herein lies my big hope: We give “it can’t happen here” a couple more days or weeks, and spring, with its infinite cliches — rebirth, renewal, recommittal and all that gobbledygook — blows into Santa Monica and shoves us east past dread, across La Cienega and into the fray.

Peter Mehlman’s latest novel is “#MeAsWell.” He was a writer and producer on “Seinfeld.”