Trouble in the City on a Hill

We have lost our way. The world is agog at our flailing, hypocritical, incompetent, dangerous president. Some citizens are congregating and protesting, derailing the success of confinement.

It turns out that having a schism in the middle of our populace and bombastic rhetoric lobbed against each other doesn’t work well. That gutting our federal response to potential horrors horribly undermines our response when those potentials become real. That we need central coordination, stockpiles, experts.

Maybe you’ve seen this three-circle venn diagram:

Well, color me naive but I am not worried about expansion of authoritarian government policies as part of the coronavirus response.

  1. People are suffering deeply from not being able to work. A picture of a line of people standing six feet apart at an unemployment office in Florida is devastating. But going back out into the world right now to save the economy will only make the eventual tanking of the economy worse.
  2. Cases like Bergamo and Lodi, Italy, the Scandinavian countries, or Tennessee and Kentucky in the U.S., show how much difference lockdown makes – even a week more confinement cuts the contagion, even if we don’t see it for a couple weeks. In New Zealand, they’ve halted community spread. HALTED it. That doesn’t mean it can’t start up again, but the confinement model worked.
  3. State governments would be incapable of maintaining authoritarian controls over the entire population. They are under constant political pressure because (like any elected officials) they have to be re-elected. And we already know there is no coordinated federal response, so no risk of authoritarianism there.
  4. Seriously? Do you have any idea what Google and Facebook have on you? There is MUCH greater threat from commercial use of big data than from governors stopping you going bowling.
  5. It is grossly cynical for rich, connected, swampy politicians to throw blame at China when it is the fat cats who outsourced everything to China to line their pockets in the first place.


I seriously wonder if this venn diagram meme came from a Bot – it builds on a non-issue that is a dog-whistle for militia members and 2nd Amendment hyper-defenders. So now lots of progressives have posted (on my facebook feed, anyway) that, yeah, sure – we’re concerned about that too. But it is POPPYCOCK to think that’s a threat. The state government has barely been able to keep people indoors for this limited period – and state governments are no more eager to prolong confinement because they lose taxes for every business that loses revenue!

Is it all f*^%ing broken?

If more people believed in the American experiment, maybe we could fix the rest. America was built on tolerance for religious dissent, as well as on the backs of slaves. Our experiment in democracy was supposed to have made us a shining city on the hill to the rest of the world, though we had and still have to root out the abomination of racism that undergirded the experiment.

As I’m writing this, I’m seeing how “the other side” would read it. Not that I’m in any imminent danger of that happening – my readership is lodged solidly in the low, low, low double digits. Like, the tweens. But still – if one of my conservative family or friends on Facebook or Twitter were to click on my blog, they would see my interpretation as 300% wrong.

I could be wrong

Indeed! None of us knows how to deal with this thing – it is NEW (hence the name novel coronavirus) and we’ve never experienced anything like this before. I give the benefit of the doubt to politicians who are flailing in the face of it. For Spanish and Italian governments that are attacked by their populations, for example, I also say, Yes, mistakes compounded upon mistakes. But everyone is flying blind here. We’re facing something that is an order of magnitude more complex and uncertain than anything we’ve faced before.

I tried to give Trump the benefit of the same doubt. Any leader would be on their back foot in these conditions. But all he does is tout his own brilliant response, make the state leaders compete for his favor, blame China and racialize the issue, muffle the CDC, and make ridiculous “sarcastic” remarks. Any goodwill I might have been able to muster for him is long gone. Some things are just wrong:

  1. No national coordination of acquisition, stockpiles, and testing
  2. Making states compete for resources
  3. No expert guiding hand from scientists – muffling the CDC!
  4. Conflicts of interest inside our White House
  5. Insane, off-the-cuff advice
  6. Politicking around re-opening, including fueling protests in states with Democrat governors
  7. Anti-Asian racism: Trump and embattled Republican senators putting out in their ads that Chinese people are “the culprit” – resulting, predictably, in violent racist acts on the streets towards Asian Americans, even HEALTH CARE WORKERS.

How do we reconcile this? It’s like what we felt when Trump was elected. Can two so sharply diverging ways of thinking ever be reconciled? Before this crisis I would have assumed going local was part of the answer – that when you got down to local decisions, took The Great Divider out of the equation, and dealt with your own neighbors, you could still hear and speak across the aisle. The protests this week make me think that’s as unrealistic as cleaning up your lungs with Lysol.

We are ALL trying to think our way through this. Looking at divergent data – like a scientist who says we’d be better off with a less restrictive model – is fine. The problem comes when we find these things to be “proof” – when no one scientist or study has all the answers. And we have to look at the broader array of evidence, which is clearly promoting confinement. Common sense is important too – this is not the first time we’ve experienced a virus in our lives. But that’s not good enough on its own, because of the novelty of this virus (lethality, dormancy, recurrence all being unknown). And we’re all so polarized and biased, not to mention scared, so our common sense is altered and incomplete.

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