I Just Can’t

(From my COVID-19 Blog for August 24)

I can’t do it. I know I probably should, but I can’t watch the Republican National Convention.

I can’t listen to speaker after speaker praising the great leadership we’ve had, the astounding successes in the fight against COVID-19, and I can’t listen to the twisted narratives about BLM protests. I can’t stomach the dark and twisted vision we’ll hear of America and our cities and our future. I can’t listen to the tacit and, in some cases, the direct support for outlandish conspiracy theories that undermine the very nature of our democratic government and that give comfort and support to white supremacists and radical right wing organizations that threaten our stability and future.

That is what the Republican party has become under Trump. The voices of responsible conservatism have been silenced and if they disagree with Trump — as two dozen former Republican lawmakers who just endorsed Biden do — they’re dismissed as “swamp creatures” by the White House.

The problem is, though, it’s now Trump’s swamp. How long can he continue to run against Obama’s Washington when he’s been president for almost four years now?The answer is, of course, he’ll do it forever.

He doesn’t care about rationality. He’ll continue to rail about the “deep state” — those hidden foes in the Justice Department, the FBI, the State Department, the FDA, and more. But, of course, all those entities are led by Trump’s appointees. And not just the leaders, but virtually all the senior leaders are Trump’s people.

But that doesn’t matter. He’s got to offer a reason for his failures. And it’s easier to blame a hidden “deep state” that no one can question or confront, rather than admit he’s made a disaster of the presidency.

And this weekend he used the “deep state” cudgel to bully the FDA into doing an emergency use declaration about plasma therapy for fighting the pandemic. Anyone who believes that Trump’s Saturday tweets about the “deep staters” within the FDA delaying the release of therapeutics didn’t lead to the Sunday declaration about plasma therapy are kidding themselves, I believe.

Trump wanted to announce something about the pandemic to try and improve his image before the Republican convention starts today and so he forced this early action by the FDA. This plasma therapy may be a useful too. But it may not. We just don’t know because the testing hasn’t been done. The facts are not yet in. Just as with hydroxychloroquine we have another unscientific rush to judgment because Trump wants it… not because it is proven or smart.

But that’s the way we work in America these days. Damn the facts and damn public health if it will get the president re-elected. That’s the bottom line and we all know it — we just won’t all admit it. And if he’s willing to force a premature release of a therapy what will he do about a vaccine? When we play political games with the drugs we take and the medical choices we offer people we put everyone at risk. And if he pushes a premature release of a vaccine — even if it eventually proves to be a great vaccine — how many will be worried about it’s safety and efficacy when they know it’s release has been dictated by political need rather than by scientific assessment?

All this further compounds the challenges of managing a deadly pandemic. And it’s frightening and sad and just wrong. The summer surge we’ve seen of the pandemic seems to be easing. But the pandemic is not done with us and anyone who is paying attention knows it. And so we hope for responsible action and thoughtful leadership, but we hope in vain.

And meanwhile, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back yesterday by police. Blake was, reportedly, trying to stop two women who were fighting. The details are still coming in, but, the police, who responded to the call about a domestic incident, reportedly first taser’ed Blake and then, when he tried to enter his vehicle where his three young children sat watching, he was shot in the back repeatedly by the Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers.

Oh yes… Blake is a black man. But you could have guessed that, right? It says something about our nation that, even as we wait for more details, I find myself bracing to learn that this was yet another case where it wasn’t the actions of the victim but the color of his skin that led to him being gunned down. We can dress it up… we can call it an “excessive use of force”… but whether it was conscious racism or unconscious bias, the fact that Mr. Blake was black was likely a trigger. And if he dies, we need to call it what it is… another unjustified homicide committed by those who are supposed to protect our citizens.

We have to be deeply troubled by a criminal justice system that, from the cop on the beat to the judges in the courts, produces results that reflect the systemic racism that Trump and the Republicans will take pains to dismiss at their convention this week. It’s not just that they deny and fail to offer leadership on these problems — which admittedly have been with us for decades — that is discouraging. It’s that Trump has chosen confrontation rather than dialogue with troubled citizens, has given comfort to white supremacists, has launched federal troops against our own citizens exercising their constitutional rights, and has used police state tactics in places like Oregon with masked and unnamed thugs seizing citizens and hauling them away in unmarked vehicles.

That is Trump’s America. It’s not mine and I refuse to let it become mine. Standing in opposition, we cannot not traffic in the hate and division and fear that have been his hallmark, but we can and must speak out when we see them. We can and must support those willing to stand against them. We can and must vote against them.

And, if we do, I will hope that, when my newest grandchild is born in March of next year, our nation will have begun the long journey back from the depths in which we are mired with this presidency.

And now, a Monday message from Pascal that fits my mood. “They say not to cry over spilled milk. I say go ahead. Cry over whatever you need to. Maaan, just let it out.” Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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