From me to you

Chances are, you’re exhausted, too. You don’t want to talk about the election, or civil society, or anything of the sort. Airtight arguments haven’t gotten you anywhere, and those moral and emotional appeals haven’t done much, either. You know this is the state that powerful people want you in: too wiped out to put up a fight, distrustful of your neighbors, despairing, sure of nothing other than your own feelings of powerlessness. I was going to write a longish piece on accelerationism in which I attempted to clarify the concept a bit, and hazard some guesses about why it has become the default political position for millions of Americans. I made it to the halfway point of that piece. I intended to finish it today. But I keep returning to the image of the President of the United States in Tulsa and Henderson, Nevada, fulminating at the podium, hosting superspreader events in the middle of a pandemic, encouraging people in the crowd to engage in behavior that anyone with a rudimentary understanding of communicable disease would recognize as dangerous, and mocking people who’ve chosen to mask themselves against a respiratory illness. In a sane society, this could never happen, but we all know we passed the border of sanity years ago. If we can’t expect the head of state to engage in intelligent activity, what chance, really, do we have with the guy on the corner?

Maybe we were clueless at the beginning of the year. At the end of September 2020, all excuses are gone. We now know quite a lot about the coronavirus. We know it spreads best inside. We know it’s highly communicable through respiratory droplets, and you’re most likely to get it from somebody shouting or chanting in your vicinity. We further know that crowding people into spaces like arenas encourages transmission. This is why we haven’t been able to have rock shows. The reprobates who run Bowery Presents and South By Southwest got the message. The juggalos got the message. It is apparently too much to ask of the Chief Executive that he be as responsible as Insane Clown Posse.

You’ve spent a lot of time wondering how and why we got here. Me, too, pal.  Today, though, I find myself uninterested in pattern tracing, or diagnosis, or plumbing nefarious motivations. I care only that it’s happening, and that it’s clearly going to continue to happen, no matter what Dr. Fauci says, no matter what the test-positive percentage is, no matter what common decency and morality dictates. Just this morning, the Washington Post reported that the re-election campaign is planning events in places in Wisconsin where cases are on the rise. Maybe it’s deliberate and maybe it isn’t; I’m not going to waste any more time trying to riddle it out. What matters is that a ten-ton truck is coming through a tight tunnel, right at us, and we refuse to swerve. The chief executive is, personally, jeopardizing public health — he’s been brazen about it, and it’s clear that he’s going to continue to do it, and nobody is going to stop him. That this isn’t front page news, every day, lets you know how far gone we are.

Many of you take it as a given that you won’t survive another four years of this. I’m just hoping to make it through this one somehow. Self-preservation instinct kicks in, and when it does, it speaks in simple sentences. The more hosts there are, the more virus there’s going to be, and the better chance we all have of catching it. Global caseloads are increasing again. The rapids are tugging at the life raft. 

I try to be honest with myself, and when I am, I can’t say I’m loving my odds. The Chief Executive spends time at his rallies vilifying journalists and condoning police violence against them. I’m a journalist. In my experience as a journalist, and on the playground, too, I’ve learned that when bullies threaten you and the people closest to you with physical harm, it’s wise to take their word for it. My understanding is that the President shouted out the Proud Boys on national television last night, which doesn’t surprise me at all, and ought to tell you all you need to know about his values and his taste for revanchist violence. I wrote a pessimistic piece two weeks ago (it’s right under this one) explaining why I’m worried about an impending legitimacy crisis. Nothing that’s happened since has settled my nerves. It’s been clear to me for months that the White House has no plan for the pandemic other than intelligence-insulting fights with their own CDC, and no intention to act in any meaningful way to avert or ameliorate the crisis. The federal policy, if you even want to call it that, appears to revolve around herd immunity, faith in expedited vaccines, miracle drugs, various quack medicines and titrations of snake oil.  We’re heading back into the storm with no pilot, no clothes, no class, and no clue.

It’s likely you recognize the White House’s affection for herd immunity as good old American sink-or-swim cruelty. It certainly is that. But it’s also the umpteenth expression of the monumental intellectual laziness and idiot’s arrogance that infests everything this non-administration does. They’re resigned to let the virus burn through the population because they can’t be bothered to come up with a solution, or even a helpful recommendation. I don’t particularly like being roped into a herd. Whenever I am, I usually brace myself for my inevitable relegation to the culling line: I’m nobody’s idea of a prime specimen, and I’ll wager you wouldn’t make the cut, either. It’s worth remembering that no public health fight in the modern history of America has been won via reliance on herd immunity alone, and this coronavirus isn’t going to be the first. Most estimates done by real scientists suggest that even after all we’ve been through, only about 10% of the population has acquired antibodies. We’ve got a long way to go before a meaningful threshold is reached, and if we insist on going that way, I’m not going to make it. Neither are any of the people who matter to me.

So tonight, I’m saying something that’s hard for me to say — something that I don’t want to say, and that I’m only saying because these are desperate hours, and circumstances beyond my control have compelled me to speak. If you are making apologies for these charlatans, if you are, in any way, entrenching their position or furthering the advance of their propaganda, if you are, God forbid, even considering the possibility of returning these people to power, I am forced to view you — yes, you — as an existential threat. And if any of that describes you, I want you to understand that I have given you the benefit of every doubt. I have scoured the recesses of my mind to find ways to defend you, and forgive you, for privileging the well-being of your imaginary friends in the White House over my health and security, and the health and security of the people around me. I don’t want to hate you for what you’re doing. But I’m no longer going to pretend that you have my best interests in mind. You’ve shown me otherwise.

One last thing, and I feel the need to give this to you in numbers as hard as a bar of iron to the belly. Here in Hudson County, we’ve lost 1,355 people to the virus. This is a conservative estimate — there were probably many other uncounted deaths, but that’s the number that the state has supplied, so until it’s revised, that’s what we’re going with. We further know that about twenty thousand people have tested positive for the coronavirus; there’ve been approximately twenty thousand cases here. Thirteen hundred into twenty thousand is six and a half per cent. More than one in twenty of cases turned out to be fatal. Then there were all of the cases that merely sent people gasping to the hospital, cases that sickened our neighbors who still haven’t shaken their symptoms, cases that seemed to go away before roaring back, cases that destabilized families and shut down small businesses and interrupted educations and canceled weddings and ruined a summer for thousands. Those who minimize the virus insult every one of us. We got sick; then we got disrespected. We won’t forget. Strategic denialism from powerful people won’t erase the memory of ambulances on this block, every night, straight through March and April and deep into May. They seem intent on making us call those ambulances again. Maybe it’ll be me in the ambulance this time. There may be no way to avert that outcome. But my best bet for survival is you. If you care, at all, you’ll act accordingly.