Tuesday, July 7, 2020

In a Time of Virus: Hell of a Year for a Fourth of July

I think a lot about that grotesque video of Donald Trump hugging and kissing a flag.  It's the act of an insincere buffoon putting on a show for other morons.  Of the 30,000 things he did that should have been a red flag to anyone considering where to place their vote, that image surely could have summarized exactly why this half-assed con-artist should have been left dealing with lawsuits and trying to sell his shitty products and run out of a presidential race on a rail.

That's the same flag people say they would "die" for (I am aware that's a symbolic statement, as much as the flag is a symbol).  But it's also the same piece of cloth that I recall people having serious discussions about creating prison time for anyone burning or desecrating (missing that whole First Amendment business, but, then, when haven't we?).

The United States is on fire enough that as other countries have flattened the curve, they've watched the US's nightmare of a response and put us on lists that suggest it may be years before Americans go abroad.  And I'm not sure that decision is just about COVID.

Twitter and social media have changed the world.  The carefully polished image of America that the post WWII planet received in exports of movies and television has been stripped away to show cops murdering and beating our citizens.  Lipitor customers stalk their front stoops with guns and their faces full of an insane combination of utterly unwarranted fear and rage as Black people walk by.  Our President gives increasingly unhinged interviews and speeches, and refuses to do a single goddamn thing to slow the course of a pandemic that is going to bury this country for years, or longer  if he wins the November election.  And all of that flows outward to nations who had their own dalliances with similar maniacs who seemed like a good idea at the time.

But, yeah.

This is supposed to be tracking what happened when we were under lockdown during COVID.

Time has officially lost all meaning as weeks flow together.  I couldn't tell you when anything happened in relation to anything else.  I have work deadlines I'm burning down to, and I can tell you what day of the week it is, but the weeks seem short now.  We're on top of the Fourth of July, and the evening before, as has happened for days, fireworks are going off outside.  Which is fine.  There isn't a fireworks display in Austin this year.

Some time ago, the governor - seeking to curry political favor, basically declared COVID to be kinda done unless you didn't want it to be done - and bars, restaurants and public facilities reopened.  Insanely, people went back to gyms.  This caused massive confusion about what was happening among people who do not read, and people flooded into bars, restaurants, etc... elbow to elbow.  Public officials kept repeating that young people will be fine if they get COVID, which is absolutely not true (and I now have a first-hand account related to me). and so folks packed in elbow to elbow.

To no one's surprise the numbers have been skyrocketing.  A few other politicians seeking to curry political points have blamed Black Lives Matter protests, but there's genuine data suggesting that the transmission at the protests has been very low.  They're outside, people aren't on top of each other, and you see a vast majority wearing masks.

I've lost track of how many days in a row we've hit new record highs, and even now, there are plenty who simply refuse to walk back their belief that we need to simply carry on, that taking care and being careful is cowardice.

In Texas, we're heading back to shutdown.  This week, the governor made it illegal to put more than 10 people in a space, and to not wear a mask in that space.  Parks, pools, all of that... all of it is shut down.  I imagine this time we'll stay this way for a while. The Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, who fortunately holds little power at the moment as the legislature is not in session, keeps appearing on Fox News to rant and rave about how we must simply open up, and let those who will die, die.

He sounds like a lunatic.  And any legitimacy that he's thinking of the wellfare of Texans, that he, in fact, cares about human life, is now null and void.

Of course, he's not alone.  And there are plenty who still believe it's a hoax or plot against them, but you have to cut them loose and know: they've chosen self-destruction.  Whatever thing they have inside of them that believes anyone giving a directive (aside from talk radio) is their mom's asshole boyfriend telling them to take out the trash -  that same instinct now a danger to themselves and others.

This was a holiday weekend, and there are stories of "COVID parties" - or simply parties - happening at all.  And my mind is blown.  I don't know how we convince people beyond the incredibly simple facts.  I don't know how you get people to stop and reconsider what it means to walk into a room with people they aren't with all the time.

So many people have died after leaving a trail of social media which rants about the COVID virus as hoax that even the darkest of gallows humor has worn thin.  Now it's simply one more example.

There's a madness about all of it that I can't account for, only the knowledge that we've seen it before and we'll see it again.  The history books will say how long it went on, and as students we'll skip to the part where the scientists solved it, and those students will just shake their head and believe that in olden times people were just stupid and they didn't know any better, and part of that will be right.  Same as we've always done reading about how disease spread in any prior era.

The economy is holding in a strange pattern.  Wall Street is creeping back up, unaccountably, except that the stock market isn't tied to reality - just as people are kind of realizing may be true of money, as well.  With the opening of bars and restaurants and stores, we added 4 million jobs.  All set to be lost again when we inevitably re-close, state by state.

We're weeks in, and marches continue across the country, sparked by the death of George Floyd and set to flame by the innumerable other names listed along side his.  The death of Breonna Taylor continues to haunt not just the nation, but the world.

The past weeks have seen the forcible removal of statues of Confederates, slave owners and slave traders.  It's two waves of the past (those who built the statues and those they chose to immortalize) crashing against the present, and people saying "this is not who we wish to idolize" - and that is what we do when we build an idol of a man.  People aren't asking or petitioning city councils, they're taking ropes and their own strength and pulling down monuments - and in the years to come, these months and these acts will be given a name and find their way into the history texts.

The police continue to exercise a lack of restraint, barely muzzled by city councils who are seemingly genuinely - at least for the moment - reviewing what they've allowed to grow in their cities and on the dollars of the tax payers.  The mafia-like hold of police unions and the code of silence that cops have been allowed for... forever... now funded with massively disproportionate portions of city budgets is coming to light.  Frustrated cops threaten to quit.  Good.

This Fourth of July, people don't feel much like celebrating their country.   Falling weeks into the civil unrest and the much discussed source of the marches and demonstrations, statues of leaders and founding fathers are reminders of the chattel slavery upon which the country was founded (and before you assume it's just the Southern states, New York didn't end slavery until sometime after 1830.  Oregon was founded as a "whites only" colony.).

On camera, those who sworn to protect and serve seem to delight in clubbing and gassing their fellow citizens asking for equitable justice.  The President stood before Mount Rushmore and went on a rambling tirade that boiled down to "old uncle Don is a racist and we're all going to have to listen to him til he leaves".

I will never, ever understand what it is to walk in someone else's shoes or understand their day-to-day life.  I can't imagine centuries of cultural barbarism directed my way, or the unspoken truths - that even the nation's capital was built by slaves.  That Anglos have lived on the backs of Hispanics for two hundred years in the Southwest.  That America cut its way west, we did so by enslaving and massacring nations of people who were there before.

The list goes on.


There are still ideals and stories we tell ourselves, and those ideals are what the nation was founded upon.  They were laid forth in bold, declarative statements and which coalesced into a framework upon which we could build and progress.

We do not have kings.  We do not have dictators.  As far as history and our present goes - this is an exceedingly rare state of government.

It's easy to lose sight of what a rare condition the United States has existed in, where a kid who never, or barely, knew his father can wind up President of the United States, as surely as a wealthy family that can trace itself back to the Mayflower might do same.  We're taught, and internalize, that the arrival of a constitutional democracy was inevitable.  It wasn't.

While we were deciding how a government could exist that allowed for democratic principles and peaceful transitions of power, Europe was in a lull of scheming and throne-claiming via subterfuge and occasional murder.  Royal titles meant something at the time literally everywhere but the Colonies.

From it's founding, the United States has offered the promise of opportunity, of freedom and equality.  But we didn't start by extending this vision to more than a select few.  The ensuing 230-odd years since the Constitution solidified the United States has been a daily struggle to both retain those gifts and share them with everyone.  I would argue - monarchies and dictatorships and fighting over who gets to run the show (and which people in power get to kick the shit out of those who aren't) are far more in line with our natural inclinations than an earnest belief in sharing rights and freedoms we, ourselves, enjoy.  And as a relatively healthy white male over 6 feet in his 40's, I have pretty good close-up view of what it looks like to just *have* those privileges.

What the U.S. can and should offer is the same privilege.  No longer unique among nations, the U.S. stood for decades as the beacon of the *possibility* for a nation that could progress and move past cultures built on castes, on social rank, on race and economic status.  Individuals could excel on merit, work ethic, intelligence, and (let's be honest) some luck.

But anyone who tells you that the people who pulled together this nation didn't compromise and make deals with the devil to ensure our nation might survive is selling you something.  Every day we pay the price for what freedoms we agreed to strip from others that it took to create a union of states strong enough to not immediately fall under the influence or yolk of another monarchy, and we've paid it in the price of failing the promise of freedom and justice for everyone.  We've paid it in refusing to see others as our equal, only gradually allowing the vote to our fellow countrymen and women.  We've paid it in the bloodshed of a Civil War and the calamitous aftermath of the economy of the South.

I understand the fury at the history of the forefathers, that we have statues of Washington and Jefferson who made their money on the backs of enslaved people.  To say our relationship with these figures, who we're sold as fairy tales and superheroes, "is complicated" doesn't begin to scratch the surface.

But sometimes I think protesters and those with a legitimate grievance need to adopt the Stars and Stripes as their symbol.  Remind the country of its promise that they can deliver now, not incrementally.  Demand that you are also a part of the country, and can love it, but we're having an intervention.  Demand that the words of the Declaration of Independence are self-evident and apply to all, that the Constitution does not belong to withered old white men who are afraid of change and people that aren't in their social circles.  Wave the flag that people say they would die for, which is supposed to be about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and a right to assemble.  These are the principles people claim they would die for, so let them show that they understand what it is they claim to stand for.

But I understand why that's not a path many would want to follow.  It's been a while, but I am reminded of Douglas' speech "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"  What promises were made with the notion of freedom from oppression, supported by oppression?

And that's the two things we have to keep in our heads when we look at America.  The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and showed us how to govern by and for the people, the men who suffered and died for the notion of freedom failed to apply the same notion to their own lives and fortunes.  They came home from war and constitutional conventions to their farms where their fortunes depended upon the subjugation of other people.

That's the conundrum, the infuriating irony and maddening contradiction that Washington himself struggled with until his death (you are not obliged to extend him sympathy for his self-awareness and lack of action that extended beyond his death).

And maybe that's why the potential for America is so great and so often fails its people.  We are mortal, fallible beings working with what we have - and the founders made a promise so great that every day since has seen us fall short.  But the dream that promise put in the hearts and minds of all of us is the thing to strive for and achieve.

In 2020, looking at every person you see who is petitioning the government for equality or equitable treatment, with the doors blown off our storybook version of history and the realities of history flooding into the headlines of today (as they do every day) we have an opportunity to wrestle with our demons and defeat them, as a nation.  We can take a breath denied George Floyd to ask ourselves why we can't do better by everyone.  Maybe

No country is free of a history of shameful bloodshed and tyranny.  There is no nation which is not built upon the bones of a predecessor.  There's no place to go or place to be that you aren't part of the continuum that includes atrocities, either as victim or perpetrator.  We're a broken, vicious race when it suits us.  But we can also stand by the ideals we say we hold self-evident and work to ensure that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Anyway, don't let that garbage bag of a man touch the flag.

Put on a mask.  Take some damn responsibility for yourself.