Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire – [Part 1]
There are times when I am able to forget that I am living in a pandemic with social distancing and sheltering in place.
Right now is not one of those times. Although I participated in Zoom meetings before the pandemic, Zoom meetings have become my quintessential pandemic experience.
I forget the pandemic while wandering in the woods with my grandsons, absorbing the natural beauty that surrounds me. Being in the presence of boys three and five-years-old, I easily forget my cares and fears, for a moment, before they return to haunt my thoughts.
I am privileged to experience these moments of peaceful transcendence. Being in a position to briefly forget the challenges of a pandemic that is all too apparent in my daily life. Being able to pretend that the natural beauty that surrounds me, looking so strong and vibrant, is a permanent presence rather than an impermanent and fragile ecosystem, ultimately endangered by human activity.
Life in my house appears to be much the same, as long as I remain in my house. When I venture out, I see people maintaining distance from each other, wearing facemasks or bandanas. I am socially distanced, able to connect to some of my communities through computer conferencing though I remain estranged from others.
I know that my life is and will be forever changed by this pandemic. I can only imagine how this pandemic experience will affect my grandsons. I add this to the legacy that I give them – of a warming planet with rising sea levels becoming increasing hostile to supporting a human population.
I can reflect on the meaning of my experience because I have the mental band width to do so. I face remote and abstract existential threats, removed from my immediate concerns and everyday life. I am in a position to not worry about not having money to pay rent and feed my family. I am able to quarantine in comfort while so many others cannot.
Many struggle to survive day-by-day. People who lost their jobs or can’t afford healthcare. People who are homeless and cannot shelter in place. The pandemic brought all of this to the surface. It has raised my awareness about the inequality and injustice built-in to America’s way of life.
I am one of the lucky ones. Our household income dropped as Sarah’s Pottery Camps and Pottery sales at the Farmer’s market both shut down. We are lucky because we can access other resources to allow us to get by. Many can’t.
On a recent bicycle ride on a stunningly beautiful Spring day, I enjoyed cycling through downtown with sparse traffic. On Main Street, I passed a man who has a shoe-shine stand out on the sidewalk. He is often there. He took off his cap holding it out asking for help. I stopped my bike, dug my wallet out of my panier, and gave him a ten. He thanked me and said that he was 64 years old and he and his wife were having trouble getting by. I said, “I understand, I’m 65”, not really knowing why I gave my age. He asked when my birthday was. I said November. He told me his was in October. I wished him many more birthdays and went on my way.
I felt good to have done something but uneasy that I had not do enough. It felt good to make a simple, trivial, human connection. I live in a time when simple acts of kindness are acts of defiance to a system that marginalizes and dehumanizes too many of us.
After my ride, I returned to a home of comfort. I wonder where he would go that night.
During this Pandemic, I am occupying a new mental space. Affected yet not really affected. Isolated yet not really isolated. Shocked by the number of COVID-19 infections and death counts that have not touched me closely, yet. I offer some help and am disappointed that I have limits on the amount of financial commitment that I am willing to make. I remain safe while many are not.
I feel stuck with nowhere to go and unsure of what I should do. One thing that I can do, in my newfound isolation, is to try to make sense of it all.
Here is what I have come up with…
AMERICAN EMPIRE IN DECLINE
In the comfort of my quarantine, recently, I have been watching various YouTube documentaries on the Fall of Civilizations and Empires.
The Bronze Age, Roman Britain, Persia, Rome, Napoleon. This activity has not given me peace of mind. Looking at America today I began to think – I bet I know who’s next. Given the state of the world today, many factors are present that could lead to civilization’s collapse. Global pandemics, climate degradation, competition for resources, including food, and water. Wars for domination. The Climate Crisis. Racial and Ethnic violence.
Chris Hedges wrote:
"Empires fall a little bit at a time and then all at once. Over the last two decades, America has proven itself to be well along on that journey. The coronavirus pandemic has simply pushed our nation further along that downward spiral."
Writing in the Atlantic, George Packer described this woeful state of affairs:
"The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus — like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly — not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message. Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state."
America is not what it was, or at least America is not what it was in the rearview nostalgia of our collective imagination.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the time for Making America Great Again has past – and don’t forget, America was never great for everyone. It is time to move on, to re-imagine a future of inclusion and sustainability.
America is a Nation in decline. This is evident in the inability of Congress to do just about anything. It took a Pandemic to crack the partisan wall. Even then, Corporations get billions while mere citizens get twelve hundred bucks. Relief? I don’t think so, more like business as usual.
Two of the things that prevent us from crawling out of the muck rising around us, are the abandonment of Truth and the denial of Expertise. These are not new trends in American society. Under the Trump Administration, Truth and Expertise have achieved new lows.
Our recent experience with the coronavirus pandemic illustrates perfectly how compromising Truth and Expertise endangers our health, our lives, and our future.
First, I will look at Truth.
ASSULT ON TRUTH
Trump lies. Constantly. Incessantly. Shooting from the hip and making it up as he goes along. The sycophants that he surrounds himself with, Fox News, and Republican Officials, all scurry to reinterpret and explain his egregious statements.
Challenging and fact-checking Trumps tweets and pronouncements is exhausting. This is exactly the point. Trump has succeeded in wearing out Truth. Truth has become vapor ware – elusive, ephemeral. Once Truth is lost, so goes accountability. Facts become irrelevant. Reality open to whatever construction those in power determine it to be.
I am experiencing a re-framing of my expectations. I now expect most everything that Trump says to be a lie. I am becoming increasingly numb to misinformation. I don’t think that my reaction is unique. This is viewed as success by those who seek to misinform me.
Does it matter if Truth was long ago thrown under the bus? Just what is the cost?
Josh Gletzer wrote in Slate Magazine:
"… it matters that the president keeps lying. When Americans head to the polls in November to decide whether President Donald Trump deserves a second term, they will be voting for or against radically different President Trumps. In part because he lies so fluently and easily, some people will vote based on what Trump says he’s done, and others will vote based on what he’s actually done—and the gap between the two is perilously wide.
Many Americans—understandably—believe that Trump does what he says he does. If he says he’s suspending immigration, they believe he’s suspending immigration—even though he’s not. If he says he’s cutting off travel from China, they believe he’s cutting off travel from China—even though he’s not. If he says he’s “right now building a tremendous wall” between the United States and Mexico, they believe he’s right now building a tremendous wall between the United States and Mexico—although he’s not. (Nearly three-quarters of Republicans say they trust Trump’s information on the coronavirus, … —despite the stream of swiftly disproven falsehoods he’s issued on the subject.)
Democracy depends on accountability, and accountability depends on knowing whom we are holding to account and for what. And we can do so only by knowing what our elected officials have actually done. But Donald Trump has—it appears, and quite deliberately—inverted all that. He says he’s doing one thing, then he does another. He says there is a new policy, and then it doesn’t materialize. He tweets out his feelings, then his underlings get to work creating a new policy or rule that may or may not have any legal force. It may or may not ever go into effect. But some voters will go to the polls believing, reasonably, that he did something because he said he did."
I think that it is time to Make Truth Great Again, and Real.
No political party has a monopoly on the erosion of Truth. All of us have narratives to make sense of the world around us that can distort our ability to deal with facts that disagree with our carefully constructed narratives.
The deliberate and systematic assault on Truth has happened before in many places. Today, in America, the Trump Administration took it to much higher level.
As Truth and Facts spiral down the reality drain, they are accompanied by the decline in support for Knowledge and Expertise. We are reaching a point where any opinion, no matter how uninformed, has come to be considered equal to opinions based on knowledge and expertise.
Again, our recent experience with the Coronavirus outbreak illustrates the folly of undermining Expertise.
ASSULT ON EXPERTISE
Rachael Maddow blogged: It's unreasonable to expect a president to be an expert in everything. It's quite reasonable to expect him to realize that he's not an expert in everything.
As the Pandemic unfolds, Expertise has been continuously challenged, ignored, and rolled over.
Steve Benen, the producer of The Rachael Maddow Show, chronicled Donald Trump’s March 6th visit to the CDC in Atlanta…
"A reporter asked the president how American hospitals can properly prepare for a viral outbreak if they have no idea how many patients to expect. Trump's answer rambled a bit, before the Republican assured everyone:
"I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much about this? ' Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president."
Trump has also claimed to be the world's foremost authority on everything from terrorism to campaign finance, the judicial system to infrastructure, trade to renewable energy.
Now, our polymathic leader has "a natural ability" to understand epidemiology, too, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding."
Trump instituted daily Coronavirus Press Briefings so that he could make the pandemic all about him, taking credit for any successes and deflecting blame onto others. Controlling the media spin, something that he is an expert in. Desperately seeking a miracle cure to avoid accountability for downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19, Trump began promoting hydroxychloroquine as a preventive and a cure.
Contemptuously dismissing attempts of his own pandemic experts to reign him in, Trump ignored their caution and steamrolled ahead.