January 10, 2021

And now it is Sunday afternoon. It’s cold in Birmingham, but the sun is out and it’s beckoning me to get outside and take a walk or do something else semi-outdoorsy. Yet here I sit, interior life roiling while I bang out another one of these essays that I have come to call the Accidental Plague Diaries. I’m still rattled by the surreal events of this past Wednesday and, as more and more information comes to light regarding just what happened on the grounds of the Capitol, I become more and more worried that this particular putsch was not the end of something, but rather the beginning of something.


For the most part, I’ve held my tongue on politics over the last ten months, other than the ways in which they intersect with health policy. I don’t especially believe in the vituperative name calling and attacking of personality that much of modern political discourse has devolved into. I believe in attacking misguided policies and problematic social trends. It’s never possible to truly understand the complexities, judgments, and motivations of an individual without knowing them intimately. It is, however, possible, to understand the actions of large groups of people through a study of sociology, economics, and political science. Le plus ce change, le plus c’est la meme chose. I’ve spent years writing political satire for The Politically Incorrect Cabaret. When doing that, I have a couple of rules I try to adhere to. Always punch up, never down. Punching down isn’t satire, it’s cruelty. Make fun of power and postions of power and the roles of power, not directly at the humans who inhabit them. It’s one of the reasons I have not ever been able to satirize the current president. It’s not possible to separate the person from the power and that’s one of the things that has made him so dangerous to our political norms.


There’s a lot swirling out there on the interwebs about the more violent elements behind Wednesday’s insurrection planning additional actions over the next week or so leading up to the inauguration. Whether there is any truth to these rumors, I do not know and will assume that the Secret Service, as a proud group of professionals, will do their duty to keep things safe for all involved and we will have no more paramilitaries stalking the halls of government buildings looking for politicians of opposing beliefs to capture and summarily execute. But do not color me shocked if violence rears up again next week.


The highest levels of government in this country have been lying perpetually for the last four years. Usually it’s been about little things that are easily disproven but, without shame, they shrug it off and move on to the next set of alternative facts. This has conditioned all of us, on both sides of the political spectrum to shrug off lies as par for the political discourse these days. Unfortunately, its also allowed a big lie, the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, to move forward unchecked. There is not one shred of evidence, other than the usual one or two vote errors that turn up when things are looked at with a microscope, that this is true but it became the underlying motivation for last week’s actions. The lie is still out there. It’s still motivating a substantial portion of the population. It’s still ascribed to by a significant number of national political figures for whatever cynical motives of money or power they may have. It no longer requires Trump for life and it’s going to hover over the Biden administration. The ironic thing, of course, is that there was a stolen presidential election in 2000 where everything hung on the state of Florida. All forensic recounts done show that Gore won the state and should have been awarded the electoral votes but the Supreme Court’s intervention tipped things the other way. The losers graciously accepted and there was some protest but no violence. One wonders where we would be today had we had a Gore vs a Bush presidency in the early part of this century. The current big lie about a stolen election is unlikely to slink off into the sunset in the same way and will probably motivate much of what is to come in both congress and the executive branch.


And this is my biggest fear. This is all happening in the middle of a worsening pandemic that has dropped right off the front pages. The numbers keep going up. Alabama is diagnosing roughly 5,000 new cases daily, the country is adding a million new cases every five days or so and the number of dead on a daily basis is now well over 4,000. This isn’t going away and, in order to start improving these numbers, its going to require an enormous amount of leadership from the incoming administration combined with logistics and resources to make sure vaccines are distributed, hospital pressures are relieved, and appropriate equipment and personnel are in the right place at the right time. If the Biden team has to spend all of its time shoring up political support and defending itself against the big lie, they aren’t going to have the energy and the resources to put into fighting the pandemic the way that they should. It means that the disease will keep on racing through the country, felling tens of thousands who don’t otherwise have to die. And it means that all of my brothers and sisters in health care who have been savaged physically and psychologically by the pandemic will have been written off by society as so much collateral damage, sacrifices on the altar of big lie politics.


A couple of personal stories that have come to my attention recently. In one, a good friend, whose family remains in Southern California, is worried about her grandmother. Grandma has had a fall and has some facial fractures and a subdural hematoma. She was taken to the ER and seen there. She needs neurosurgery to drain her subdural but the hospital is out of the supplies needed to treat her in the OR. Calls to every other hospital in the region reveal no space. She has been sent home to recover on her own the best she can. The family described the ER as a war zone with gurneys everywhere and tents over parking lots to accomodate the dying. She may become a victim of Covid without ever contracting the disease. In the second, a rising star of regional theater, who ran one of the most successful theaters in the Southeast known for its innovative productions, was exposed last year for a long history of racially insensitive and descriminatory actions. He was ostracized, the theater was shut down (more from pandemic related finanical issues than anything else), and he, despite being a gay man from a performing arts background, decided to begin marketing himself on social media as a radical right wing figure and quickly became a darling of Trump circles. There are unconfirmed reports that he was one of those in the Capitol last week. The morals of these stories? Don’t think it can’t happen here or that Americans are exceptional. Our health system is buckling due to years of neglect and moving of its goals away from health to the making of money and it can’t cope with the stresses of the pandemic. If you’re feeling alone and disenfranchised and helpless in life, it’s easy to be caught up in a different pattern if that one gives you positive reinforcement and validation.


I’m hoping the new work week gives me something more positive to write about. In the meantime you all know the drill, vaccinated or not: Wash your hands, wear your mask, social distance.

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