Saturday, March 21, 2020

Race for the White House # 64

Surreal is the feeling of this past week and it is unlikely this will be going away anytime soon. I can only hope that I can look back on these posts next year or a time after that with a sense of relief that it has all passed and that we as individuals and as a society survived it and was stronger for the experience. Most likely, that will be what happens. From Civil War to Depression to World War and many other things between and since, America has always survived. There is no reason to think that we cannot defeat the "invisible enemy" of Covid-19 in relatively short time with hopefully as little loss of life and livelihood as possible. Needless to say, the whole world is in on this with us, and many places are facing far more danger. Still. the world ought to look to America for leadership and as an example of righteousness during this time. We can only hope that we will be worthy of such.

I always thought the 9/11 attacks which of course occurred many states away from me would be the most enduring external experience in my life. Now, it seems like it might be this. Of course, the death toll is still far smaller than the attack on America nearly twenty years ago and hopefully will never surpass it. However, I can look back with sentimentality for those days, when America seemed to be coming together with an understanding of what we were facing. We also had solid leadership at the helm of the ship of state. Can the same be said now?

Months ago, I planned to take this past week off of work. I had not taken a full week off in years. So, it was not exactly the week I was expecting.  However, I was also glad not to be in a large office complex in hopes that this virus spreading would reduce. Last Sunday, restaurants and bars closed in Illinois for patrons to sit inside at least. Yesterday, it was announced that the Land of Lincoln would become the third state to have mandatory "Stay At Home" orders in which all but essential employees would not be able to work. My original assumption was that would apply to me as well and I would be off work through at least April 7. However, the Executive Order was written with all sorts of assumptions, so my business will be open and after a week's "vacation" I will be returning to work on Monday, even as many colleagues will be working from home. Needless to say, I have mixed emotions about this, but should be grateful that I will be able to still get paid in order to pay my bills, and not have the same short-term anxieties that many others are now facing.

We were also told that someone in the building I work in has tested positive but everyone who had been in close contact with has been notified and will be back in the building. Late one night this past week, an ambulance pulled up to my condominium and through the window, I saw paramedics put on masks and protective coverings. I heard them enter my hallway. The woman they took away in the ambulance. wearing a mask, lives just a few doors down from me. Of course I do not know what might have been ailing her and of course will hope for a full recovery. These fears are very real for all Americans, who do not want to contract this virus and certainly do not want to give it to anyone else.

Precautions and vigilance are part of our everyday lives though it also seemed like  many people I came across this past week on the rare times I did venture anywhere might not have been as concerned as I was. On television, we saw images of young people partying it up on Spring Break beaches seemingly without a care in the world. Time will tell how much worse they will have made this pandemic. Sure, many of them who might catch it will be just fine in a week or so, but will it be worth the cost of empty seats around their family tables of grandparents for instance this Thanksgiving or Holiday Season?

Amid all of this, the Presidential election continues, although many states are postponing primaries now until later dates and as time progresses, more will start to wonder what exactly might happen if someone wants to try to delay the vote in November. Illinois did not cancel its primary this past Tuesday, despite warnings, and a very low turnout. I decided to do my civic duty and vote, mostly because I wanted to have an influence (ultimately unsuccessful) on a local race. It is already taken for granted that Joe Biden is on a clear trajectory to be his party's nominee and would win Illinois, Florida, and Arizona on "Surreal Tuesday." Of course that is what happened. Bernie Sanders remains in the race for now, but Tulsi Gabbard dropped out, and to the surprise of many, who thought the former Sanders supporter might go third party or even support Donald Trump, endorsed Joe Biden. The incumbent's last remaining challenger among Republicans, Bill Weld also ended his race, once Trump formally "clinched" renomination. I expect he will vote for Biden in the fall too. Nonetheless, the race is now down to three. From oldest to youngest, they are Sanders, Biden, and Trump. Lord help us all.

As for me, I did something I never thought I would do, and asked for a Democrat primary ballot, after having voted in every GOP primary since 1998, and wanting to have been old enough to vote in others before. Unlike Joe Walsh though, the former Illinois Congressman who ran against Trump up through the vote in Iowa, I saw no reason to vote for Biden on Tuesday. As I went to vote, I asked if they were cleaning the touchscreen machines after each person voted. They gave me an alcohol wipe to use and I found I was actually able to press the screen with it on my finger. So inside this church, with the protection of alcohol, I felt momentarily safe enough to write in Mitt Romney for President. This is the third time I have voted for him in a Presidential primary and can now saw I did so as a "member" of both parties. In the weeks ahead, at least some precinct captain will see that someone cast that vote. It is all sort of fitting though, I always knew I would either have to be under the influence of alcohol or the world would be on the verge of collapse before I voted as a Democrat. I was in and out of the polling place quickly. My unofficial time as a Democrat was approximately three minutes.

There is so much more than can be written and so many layers to this whole situation. Drastic steps are likely  to be taken by the federal government to give financial relief to Americans who are suffering in the short-term. I firmly believe conservatism is always right, but in times of crisis, we have to help others who are being harmed through no fault of their own. If that means we have to be temporary "socialists" in regards to sending checks to Americans, or ultimately bailing out some companies, then so be it.

Unfortunately, politics plays too big of a part in how partisans react to crisis. Too many people are anxious to find anything possible to use against Donald Trump and hope it defeats him in the end. Still, too many are far too willing to excuse anything Trump has said or done on this matter and hope that he can use it to defeat his opponents. Yes, we are all in this together, and I am sure the Administration is doing many positive things now to help our country. Still, that does not excuse what seems to be blatant disregard as warnings began early in the year nor the rhetoric of Trump himself, which continues to in many instances be shameful. Of course, one day the repressive Communist government of China will have much to answer to the world as well.

I do not want to spend too much time talking about Trump, but some things cannot be ignored. Yesterday, at the daily White House Press Briefing on this matter, he was asked what he would say to Americans who are afraid. That is about as much of a softball as a reporter can deliver in American politics. Every President from FDR to Barack Obama (but especially favorites of mine like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) would have knocked that out of the park and perhaps had a "legacy moment." Instead, Trump told the questioner he was a horrible reporter and should be ashamed of himself. For anyone who has striven to be President and succeeded, to not find it within themselves at that moment to dig down into their soul and speak words to reassure and energize a nation that is desperate for hope is astonishing. But for Donald Trump it is all about him. It always has been and always will be. Sure, he genuinely wants to prevent people dying or from being otherwise harmed. He is not a "monster", but he is the same huckster and con-man that he has always been. He wants all of the credit and none of the blame and operates on that mindset 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and he wants his underlings to back him up. If Dr. Fauci thinks that it is too early to make a declaration that a drug therapy will work, Trump will say his feelings matter more than the scientific opinion of others. The incumbent President is a small, petty man who has been in over his head from Day 1. We all want him to do his best to help us through this situation now, but the time to remove him from office will also be approaching. Of course, his opponent is someone with a lot to be desired as well. Still, for all his faults and inflated ego, Joe Biden would be able to speak to Americans at a time like this in a far better way.

Again, there is so much to think about in regards to what America and the world are going through right now. History will remember this as perhaps our "finest hour" or it will be said this is maybe when society was irreparably damaged. I am still far more optimistic about the former. Past generations of Americans were called on to go to war. This generation of Americans is largely being asked to sit on their couch and perhaps not hoard toilet paper. We need to do this not because statistic show we are likely to die by living our lives as normal, but because others will, the most vulnerable among us.

While the New Testament is not part of my faith tradition, I have been thinking about the "Parable of the Good Shepherd." I recently read a book about the late, great Jack Kemp and he often referenced this in his speeches. I think it is a very profound statement about the goodness of mankind and what America is all about. The shepherd leaves his flock of 99 sheep in order to find the one that is lost. That is what we are facing today. The vast majority of us, to varying extents to be sure, are being asked to leave behind our creature comforts or financial well-being, in order to save those among us who most need saving.

Living under this principle to some sense of extreme, even for a short time, may not be easy, but I cannot envision living in a society that would do the opposite. Whatever our personal religious beliefs may be, surely no nation or group of people who wished to be blessed by G-d, can forgo it. If only we had a leader in the most powerful nation on Earth, who was willing or even able to communicate it.


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