Tragedy upon Tragedy

It was mid-year 2020, and I could not pick a tragedy.

I reminisced about the days of yesteryear. Yesteryear, in this case, was a year ago. Last year’s top tragedy centered simply on corrosion of our national character. Day-by-day our highest ideals were becoming a mockery. The most destructive president in history was systematically tearing our country apart. I had serious doubts about whether our nation, in Lincoln’s words, would long endure. This was not an exaggeration, I thought.

The nation’s aspiration—Liberty—was becoming a self-destructive force as it devolved into a small, selfish notion. The aspiration of our nation’s founders was liberty from the tyranny of a king. Liberty stood for the ideal of self-government by the people and for the people. But the grand experiment of self-government required a certain amount of good faith, intelligence and compassion—qualities of character not demonstrated by the current president. The cult of “you-can’t-make-me” liberty was the tyranny of a corrupt faction that claimed “liberty” to do as they wished for their own benefit, the lives of others be damned.

Today this selfish notion of liberty, combined with mass advertising (which the founders could not have foreseen) and the instantaneous, subliminal reach of the internet (inconceivable to them), is sufficient to destroy us. Would I spend the last days of my retirement watching the last days of my country?

Ah, yesteryear! It was all so simple then.

The dawning of the age of coronavirus came as the first cases of a viral pneumonia, cause unknown, were reported in Wuhan, China, in December. The world soon learned that a novel coronavirus was causing the outbreak. There was speculation that the virus had passed to humans from contact with animals, possibly bats or pangolins, but now the virus was spreading from human to human.

The first coronavirus case in the US was reported on January 21. France reported three cases of coronavirus, the first cases in Europe. The coronavirus had begun a relentless replication that soon would involve the entire world.

The president declared in February that the coronavirus was under control in the US, but control was illusory, and nothing was done to prepare a real public health response. Believing that he could stop the virus at the border, the president in January barred foreigners entry to the US if they had visited China in the previous 14 days. In March, he barred travelers from European countries for 30 days. But the virus was already here. The tragedy had only begun to reveal itself.

A decree by the Italian government closed down the entire country in March in an effort to stop the contagion there. Italian hospitals were overwhelmed; convoys of trucks rumbled through the streets, carrying away the bodies of coronavirus victims.

The Dow plunged 2,014 points (7.8 %) on March 9, its worst day in 123 years. The number of coronavirus cases worldwide had reached 110,000, and the disease had taken 3,800 lives. Two days later in the Rose Garden, the president announced: “I am officially declaring a national emergency, two very big words.”

In my state, the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 23. On April 17, the president called for “liberation” of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, broadly encouraging his supporters to resist or ignore stay-at-home orders in their states.

The pandemic had already put 10 million Americans out of work. By summer, more than 20 million jobs would be lost and the unemployment rate would rise to its highest level since the Great Depression. Lost jobs meant loss of health insurance for 5.4 million Americans. There would be no vaccine to forestall the economic tragedy.

Before the end of April, more than 1 million people in the US were infected with coronavirus, more than 2.8 million worldwide. In May, the head of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program said the coronavirus could become “just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away.” It had already killed more than 200,000 people. On May 29, the president announced that the US would pull out of the World Health Organization. He blamed China for “instigating” the global pandemic.

Meanwhile, on May 25 the world watched as a white police officer in Minneapolis calmly pressed his knee on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, killing him (Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old girl who recorded the murder on her cell phone should be awarded a Pulitzer Prize). It was not the first time an unarmed black person had been killed at the hands of the police, and it would not be the last. Around the country and around the world, street protests broke out in response to the Floyd killing.

The effects of racist thinking was the nation’s oldest tragedy, and now a majority of white people supported the Black Lives Matter message. Was it possible that a cultural shift was taking place? Could we learn to honor justice over a tragic tradition?

By mid-July, the US led the world with more than 3.4 million people infected with coronavirus. The worldwide total exceeded 13 million. The coronavirus had killed more than 137,100 people in the US and more than 581,000 worldwide. New coronavirus cases were being reported at a rate of 200,000 per day around the world and more than 60,000 per day in the US.

There were indications that president was losing his marbles, demanding that schools “fully reopen” in the fall, rejecting the “very tough & expensive guidelines” of the Centers for Disease Control. The vice-president said: we don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools.” The White House press secretary said: “The science should not stand in the way of this.”   

There was no end.

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