And it’s another milestone day. The US hit 800,000 Covid deaths today. For those of you keeping count, we hit 700,000 on October 4th, 69 days ago. At this rate, we can expect somewhere between a quarter and a half million deaths annually, putting Covid as the third leading cause of death in the US, behind cancer and heart disease, for the foreseeable future. And this is still in the acute phase of the pandemic. We must remember that this virus attacks the circulatory system and highly vascular organs including the lung, the heart, the kidney and the brain. We still have no idea what ugly little surprises are going to surface five, ten, or twenty years after the initial infection. Will we be in for millions of people developing myocarditis and premature congestive heart failure? How about rapid onset chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis? Early vascular dementia? We just don’t know. Suffice to say, it’s just not something you want in your body which is what makes the current political movement to have the population get infected and develop ‘natural immunity’ so misguided. First, you really don’t want this disease which has the potential for doing a lot of damage and second, we’re seeing that infection acquired immunity is not nearly as robust as vaccine acquired immunity against the variants that are developing. out there in the world.
I’m getting a bit fed up at the continued politicization of Covid, especially as today marks the first anniversary of the availability of vaccine in the US with the first trucks having left the Pfizer plant on December 12th, 2020. You would think that a year of experience, study, near control when vaccines were made rapidly available late last spring, and general improvement in life over the last year would lead to the politicians at least going mum. But no, in Missouri we have an attorney general threatening any county health department that attempts to do any mitigation measures at all. In Tennessee, politicians have shut down the state medical board going after quack therapies and misinformation. Locally, masks and other basic measures have just fallen by the wayside as people go about their lives. Fortunately, our numbers have been low in recent weeks, but there’s no guarantee they’re going to remain there. I’ve questioned some of my more educated and intelligent friends who support the political party behind all of this asking why they don’t have a problem with any of it. It seems to boil down to the fact that they’re voting to preserve the status quo that protects their private wealth. They’re afraid any change might force them into a higher tax bracket or to lower their standard of living and if more people have to die unnecessarily for that, well that’s just a price that must be paid, and is unlikely to be paid by them and theirs as they’ve been vaccinated.
And that seems to be the central issue at play throughout our society today. A lack of empathy. A lack of understanding that what we do and we choose may affect others, and even if we don’t know them or their lives are only tangentially related to ours, It’s certainly the central dividing line in our politics. One side is pushing policies to benefit the commonweal and ordinary citizens using the models put forward in the 1930s to counteract the economic effects of the great depression. The other side is trying to create a society where everyone is solely responsible for their own welfare and, if you don’t have the resources available to do that, well tough titty. This, of course, leads to such hypocritical contortions as Kentucky congress people, who railed against federal money going to coastal storm relief now demanding immediate federal dollars to help with the damage from this week’s unprecedented tornado outbreak. It may not be that unprecedented much longer. Climate change is real, no matter what your politics leads you to believe and weather patterns will grow more and more unstable because of this.
It’s not only affecting our politics, but our spiritual life. The prosperity gospel preached by many of the more conservative churches which equate wealth with virtue and poverty with bad choices at best and sin at worst breeds a peculiar kind of selfishness in its adherents that Jesus would have been the first to condemn, at least by my reading of the gospels. Then there’s movement conservatism’s tying of religion to politics and steadfast attacking of the wall between church and state. Roe v Wade is almost certain to fall this next year one way or another, the only thing that remains to be seen is the narrowness of the ruling. There certainly won’t be any sweeping upholding as there was in Casey. It will be interesting to see what’s next. If Roe goes, the court may have to revisit the underpinnings in other cases that will almost certainly be brought by the Dominionists in which case Obergefell and Griswold may both fall as well. (I think they’ll stop short of negating Loving but nothing surprises me anymore). This is going to lead to states having radically different laws regarding privacy and family life and in general weaken the central federal regulation of our culture that allows us to have similar lives and protections no matter where we may need to relocate in the country.
I’m not expecting a second Civil War in the next few decades, but I can see a significant hollowing out of federal authority as a combination of SCOTUS decisions and a future Republican administration (there will be one – maybe not in 2024 but at some point) reorder the balance of power between state and federal back towards the states. It will greatly diminish our power in the world. What’s allowed us to become pre-eminent is the fact that all of the states have been harnessed together under one unified federal entity and interstate squabbles and differences have been kept to a minimum for the last century or so. If that starts to change, all sorts of fascinating questions come up. Will states be able to pass laws that will encourage the types of the people not in the majority to move to escape minor inconveniences at best and major persecution at worst? What happens if the lines begin to harden and the agricultural folk of the west coast abandon those blue states whence much of our food supply originates? What if blue city dwellers in predominantly red states start departing? Who will move in and make those cities vibrant communities that create commerce and art?
The play I’m performing now, The Eight: The Reindeer Monologues was written by Jeff Goode in the early 1990s during the first Clinton administration. It’s a scabrous dark comedy in which each of the eight reindeer gives a monologue, shedding a different perspective on sordid events at the North Pole involving a libidinous Santa. Even thought the play is now nearly thirty years old, the politics are so prescient that it feels like it was written for our current time. It doesn’t take a big stretch to draw parallels between a vulgar sexually abusive Santa and a vulgar sexually abusive ex-President. Once you do that, a whole lot of other things the play has to say about gender roles and politics, capitalism, commercialization, and other themes become crystal clear. The play ends with nothing having changed and I can’t help but feel that, on a political level in this country, nothing much has changed. We have a gerontocracy pining for the old days and wishing that things could be the way they used to be. Comet, my character, is the main voice for this in the play and I’m basing him on the aging Boomer Vietnam Vets I take care of in my VA house call program.
The problem is, you can’t go backward, no matter the court decision or the laws you pass. Time and history go one way only, forward and there have been a lot of genies sprung from their bottles in recent years and the second law of thermodynamics is going to keep them from ever returning to their closed quarters. Covid is only one of them. Climate change is another. Demographics is a third. We are no longer the Euro-centric country we were fifty or a hundred years ago. Generation Z, which is just beginning to come of age, is a huge generation in terms of number of individuals and they are coming of age in a world in which they see their elders pass regressive and selfish policies and they are having none of it.
So things will change. How and when is not up to me. All I can do is save the world one patient, one small problem at a time… While vaccinated…