Happy Epiphany! And perhaps, in the nation’s capital, another epiphany of sorts is taking place in which leaders who have tolerated inexcusable behavior for short term political gain are finally having their eyes opened to the consequences of indulging the segment of the population who have abandoned reason, the rule of law, and other bedrock principles of our constitutional republic. I will leave it to others much better versed in the ins and outs of politics to opine on the events of today, which are still unfolding and time will tell if this was a storming of the Bastille or a manning of the barricades of the June Rebellion as portrayed in Les Miserables. Hopefully, those on the right side of the aisle are being reminded of the story of Frankenstein’s monster and those on the left that fulfilling a corporatist agenda at the expense of the people may not be the best way to govern going forward.
I am most concerned about today’s events in regards to the trickle down to issues of public health, something I do know a bit about. Covid numbers continue to skyrocket, both locally and nationally. US cases, which crossed the 20 million line on New Year’s day are now well above 21 million and the number of dead in the country is nearly 360,000. There are few hospital beds to be had anywhere in North Central Alabama as ward after ward is transformed from its usual purpose into a Covid unit. My inpatient brothers and sisters are absolutely exhausted and the onslaught shows no signs of slowing. On a more personal note, I have a panel of roughly 175 house call patients I take care of, mainly elderly and chronically ill. Five of them died over New Year’s weekend alone.
What effect is the chaos in the capital/capitol going to have on the already inadequate federal response to the corona virus? Well, given that the government has pretty much under responded at every step of the game since a year ago this month, it may not be much. The biggest issue I see is federal resources and attention, that should be going towards saving the citizenry may get sucked up in the political maelstrom and that with uncertainty at the top, bureacracies will tread water rather than take action leading to futher delays in vaccine delivery, or allocation of needed safety equipment and personnel. There’s also the issue of the news cycle and the media/culture’s collective attention span of hours to days. Protracted problems will push Covid-19 news off the front pages and if it isn’t talked about much over the next two weeks, we’ll have a certain amount of societal amnesia while the cases increase, the medical system buckles further, and the death toll rises.
The pictures out of DC this afternoon show a lot of people from all over the country bunched very close together and generally unmasked. At the end of the day, they’ll board their charter busses and head back off whence they came having done a lot of intermingling of their germs. I wonder if the new more highly infectious UK variant is in the crowd and will use this day of problematic behavior to quickly pop up here, there and everywhere over the next few weeks. Most of the left wing protests of this past year, which had equally large crowds , tended to encourage social distancing and mask wearing and, to my knowledge, no major outbreaks of Covid-19 were ever traced to them. That was not true of Sturgis and is unlikely to be true of this event.
What does all this mean? I don’t know. As I write this, things are still going on at the Capitol but we’re just a few minutes away from a 6 PM Eastern Time curfew. Hopefully things will be more orderly tomorrow and our politicians will start to think themselves out of the pickle they have placed themselves in with their conniving and dealmaking and refusals of holding to account of the last few years. I keep returning to an essay Masha Gessen wrote in the New York Review which was published on November 10, 2016 called “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”. Ms Gessen, a refugee from Russia who has seen it all knew what was coming and laid it all out. Listen to your friends who are recent immigrants from more autocratic regimes. They’ll tell you how to approach this sort of political turmoil. We Americans have little experience of it but that doesn’t mean it’s new to the world.
Before pouring myself a stiff drink and deliberately not turning on the news (I’ll be able to learn what I need to know without pundits yelling in my face), I’d like to take a moment to celebrate some of the things that are right with the world. We’ve made it into a new year (and those who thought that a mere turning of a calendar page was going to reinvent the world were deluded) but it’s nice to know that 2020 is behind us. There’s a lot of creative energy bubbling up in arts communities as people get over the shellshock of lockdowns and quarantines and start experimenting with new forms of expression. The Ratatouille musical that grew out of amateurs on TikTok adding on to each other’s creations helped point the way to what theater can be in isolation and raised $1.5 million for The Actors Fund. I have a couple of projects coming up – a reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which I am essaying Bottom (fortunately my asses ears arrived from Amazon yesterday) and a full Zoom production of Tartuffe in which I am Orgon, being done by the same people who did The Importance of Being Earnest this past fall.
Do not despair. We aren’t in a civil war yet. Live, laugh, love – just be sure to do it with hand hygiene, masks, social distancing, and not crowding into indoor space.