There was a virus goin’ round Papa caught it and he died last spring-Bobbie Gentry (Ode to Billie Joe)
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves.-Cassius to Brutus (Julius Caesar-William Shakespeare)
Covid-19 raced through this nation with stunning efficiency. At its outset we knew that before the advent of a proper vaccine there would be many dark days. Yet according to most experts the damage could have and should have been less extreme. So how could this happen in the richest country in the world, with access to the best scientific minds and apparatus?
None of the major Big Pharm operations will ever develop a vaccine for the more insidious virus lurking under our collective skin. It is very old and much more virulent than many wish to believe. It is a pathogen of disinformation, suspicion, and alternative realities. It corrodes rational discussion of any meaningful issue in our body politic, and it has also now, quite literally poisoned our national health. If left unchecked it will destroy our very democracy.
Scientists warned us that Covid-19 was a biological force of nature the likes of which had not been seen in over 100 years. It was repeated loudly and often that despite its lethality, it also wasn’t very strong. Soap and water could kill it. The simple act of wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance could help provide protection. Crowding indoors minus facial protection was ill advised. Yet, fatalities and infections rose astronomically because of the more complicated infection whose DNA has its roots in all of the most dangerous isms. You know what they are. But they all boil down to one common strand-ignorance.
In normal times, the platform of the presidency is powerful, but in these particular times if the message to spread the gospels of faith in science and the epistles of protocols to the significant segment of the population so mesmerized by the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave was pursued, it would have been enormously persuasive. Instead, from this platform came heaps of scorn and ridicule of the most knowledgeable and necessary people. From a White House dais the nation was advised to drink bleach and that a drug approved mainly for the treatment of malaria and lupus could be a source of relief despite the lack of any such suggestion by any experts. We were assured it would go away as soon as the weather got warmer. We now know that was not the case. Despite the morbidity that followed, the enthusiasm of the fan base of the reality show president was enhanced rather than diminished.
An election happened and yet despite the rabid mania attached to the grifter from Queens the rest of the electorate made their feelings known as well. Loudly. His opponent garnered seven million more votes and won the Electoral College by the same margin as the soon to be former president did four years earlier. More tellingly Republican congressional races were successful in districts where he no longer was. Despite his cult hero status the election was a referendum on him and unfortunately for him the polls were open to all registered voters and not just his fans. His camp keeps screaming about his 74 million votes. Impressive. Until you measure it up against the other 81 million his opponent received. There is no alternative fact explaining how 74 is higher than 81.
Officers of the court bellowed before any available TV camera to profess evidence of voting irregularities and fraud but proved themselves to be evidentially and morally bankrupt when facing judges in courtrooms. The Supreme Court of the United States held, rightfully, that states had no standing in the electoral processes of other states and kicked these legal challenges to the curb where they belonged. Despite the political calculations of the president in selecting the three seats he counted on protecting him, the court ruled firmly against him. Electoral officials were summoned to the White House and pressured to toss the will of the people aside by sending alternate slates of electors to the Electoral College. Numerous recounts verified who those electoral slates should be. Meanwhile election officials and jurists were threatened outside their homes by often armed vigilantes.
With each legal defeat the White House messaging became more inflammatory. A disgraced former National Security adviser reportedly counseled for the imposition of martial law as well as the seizing of voting equipment for a new election in the disputed states. In the season of peace on earth and goodwill towards men, caravans of the uninformed took to the streets armed with semi-automatic weapons rather than evidence while visions of coup d’état danced in their heads. Even now, in the wake of the casting of Electoral College votes members of Congress plan to disrupt the Jan. 6th tally by invoking a challenge requiring one member of the House and one of the Senate which would necessitate a caucus filled delay of the inevitable. It appears that the member of the Senate who will fulfill that role is a former football coach who has not even been sworn in yet and believes the three branches of government are the Executive, the House, and the Senate.
This sickness has been with us for too long to pretend willful ignorance of it. In 1957, the career of a young Andy Griffith was launched by a film called A Face in the Crowd which spoke to the dangers of American political narcissism. It has been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. In 1946 Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the King’s Men focused on a fictional populist Louisiana governor, whose popularity eventually becomes the death of him. It too served as an alarm about the dangers of demagoguery. It was made into an Academy Award winning film starring Broderick Crawford who himself took home the gold statuette for his performance. It is especially worth viewing now. For upon careful examination it says much more about who we are than it does about the creatures we make possible. Long after this threat has passed there will be others hungrily exploiting our ignorance and desperation to line their own pockets and command fealty.
Lonesome Rhodes (A Face in the Crowd), Willie Stark (All the King’s Men) and the current soon to be ex-president are merely carriers of this virus. They rely on the availability of other hosts to achieve community spread. For too long we have ignored the symptoms in the same manner that many ignore a persistent cough or who pass significant chest pain off as mere indigestion. Too often such dismissiveness ends fatally. Benjamin Franklin was asked at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 “What do we have, a republic or a monarchy?” His reply, “A republic, if you can keep it”