Disgust and Dissolution in the Time of Covid
I don’t like waking up each day with feelings of contempt for my own country. About four decades ago I quietly dumped (when I did my last “Easter Duty”) the institution based on fairytales—the corrupt Roman Catholic Church—into which I was baptized as a baby without my consent. This left me with a secular-atheistic identity solely as an American citizen. Alas, that has not turned out as an amicable default.
I soon learned that when you are in a relationship with a country founded on a lie, just like in any relationship, you live a history teetering on enmity. This doesn’t mean that America is likely to crumble into something resembling Syria. Actually, it is more likely to evolve into something resembling a post-apocalyptic authoritarian police state (which it already is for people of color).
One of my complaints against the Catholic dimension of my schooling is that we were never informed, much less encouraged to devote our prayers for, White genocide of Native Americans, or the forced importation of native Africans. No, just the conversion of communist Russia and the conversion of souls of “pagan babies,” presumably to refresh the supply of innocent bodies for sexual-predator priests. Despite his Palestine provenance, America was Jesus’s country.
I ended up my formal education in the Maxwell School of Public Affairs and began my career as a professor I’m the very night Chicago police we’re bashing the heads of protesters at the democratic national convention in 1968. If I had any remaining waverings about fully contextualizing my approach to my subject, they were settled that evening.
I have since applied that pedagogy in lecturing stints in London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Beijing, often noticing surprised responses that an American professor would be willing to expose the hypocrisies embedded in American exceptionalism and the sinister elements of its vaunted “greatness.”
I am muffled now by my retirement but, thanks to the mobile phone camera and the Internet, there is no better confirmation then the disgusting Image of a policeman cold-bloodedly kneeling on the next of a helpless and pleading Black man until he is dead. It is an image that has been globally transmitted, a co-pathogen exposing the real America.
The lie is right out there in front of us every day, the hypocritical lie written by a gaggle of slaveowners that “all men are created equal.” “We must take ownership and care of our darkies because our White god created them as lesser beings” (or some shit like that).
Underpinning that lie was the hypocritical Christianity that operates as its own form of social oppression. These are the foundation pillars of a nation so absorbed in its notions of exceptionalism and an entitlement that it is the premise for “Pride goeth it before a fall.”
America is about to hit bottom. That is where the lie is—the original sin of its racism. The question is can it get up? And will it be the truth that finally sets it free?
What Do They Want?
It is ironic that in the Martian invasion that took place in the original War of the Worlds scenario the invaders were vanquished by a human virus-like the coronavirus common cold. Yup, we sneezed those nasty bastards off our planet. No, it wasn’t atomic weapons, heroes flying fighter jets and yelling “Yee-hah!” as their missiles exploded alien spacecraft, or makeshift EMP devices (as in the techno deus ex machina of the sci-fi I watched last night employed) that rendered alien invaders and technology helpless. Our imaginary stable, peaceful, divinely created society is always being invaded and threatened by menacing forces bent upon eradicating our species and taking over our real estate. It’s a good distraction from the historical fact that our species is pretty much its own worst enemy. But like longtime practitioners of Trumpian distraction, we conjure critters, macro, and micro, from inner and outer space, or just immigrants and foreigners from abroad, as malevolent adversaries. But, every once in a while we are reminded that it is something in our own nature that is the substance of that dark fear that haunts us––that like those sneaky little viruses, we are players in the infinitesimal battlefields of worlds large and small for our survival–our most basic Darwinian instinct, and that time, the long and the short of it, it is a war we are destined to lose. Our little allies from that Wellsian War of the Worlds have more often turned on us with a mindless, cold-blooded, furious survival of the fittest. And this protean Covid–19 bastard might be more adept at changing its homicidal arsenal than we have the capacity to respond.
I hold with Heraclitus that we cannot step into the same river twice. But the question that teases us in a time of pandemic and its enforced isolation and reflection, is what “new normal” awaits us. Some pundits opine that we will never be the same; others have it that we will reflexively return to thinking we are God’s gift to the universe, or more likely, that the universe is God’s gift to us. But I tend to split the difference on this one. I think we do not step into the same river twice. But in so doing, we remember that rivers can be cold and swift and that our very stepping in them alters their flow. It is a reminder of this reciprocity with nature that we must respect. Next time we may choose not to step at all.
But enough of metaphor (for the moment). What do those inclined to metaphysical explanations consider in these silent moments of quarantine? If “everything happens for a reason” what (and whose?) reasons account for microbial pandemics? There is always that good old Biblical fallback that pandemics are some divine smacking of our naughty backsides for worshiping the false gods of consumerism, celebrity, or even the abandonment of proper stewardship of our planetary residence. (Surely it is not for our lack of humanistic amity since each of our deities has their client base to consider.) But God’s little microbial tool seems to have little capacity or concern for a distinction between the deserving and undeserving. In that respect, it hardly differs from any other apportionment of divine blessings and curses. So, despite the fact that I concur with the notion that mankind deserves a good smack on the ass, I am disinclined to hang this one on the good ole Sky Fairy, if only for the fact that one can pick up a case of coronavirus in your church, mosque, or synagogue as easily as you can at your bar, gym, or nail salon. Frankly, I don’t think God gives a goddamn. It is only a us who obsess that there must be a reason for things to happen.
At least with those extraterrestrial invaders, we had a notion of what they might have wanted. But with these little shapeshifting microbial motherfuckers we haven’t a clue. Maybe that’s what we need to find out if we are to be victorious in this war of the worlds.
ICUs (Immigrant Care Units)
The face mask and the plastic face shield do not obscure the fact that the nurse speaking with and anxious voice into the camera, as an occupied gurney festooned with dangling bottles and bags of the infusions is rapidly pushed through the corridor behind, is a young Nigerian-American immigrant. She explains that she is exhausted by extended shifts, not getting enough sleep, and trying to make do with limited safety resources. She’s explaining, not bitching, and it is not lost on me that underneath that protective she is wearing a hijab.I’m eating my dinner and watching her on TV. I feel a pang of guilt at having bemoaned my minor inconveniences.
The doctor being interviewed has an ID badge with the name that twists the tongue of the interviewer. The name fits the tawny face that is from somewhere in the Indian subcontinent. He’s an ER doc, and he looks knackered-out, too. But the doctor who was interviewed yesterday was a virologist from Singapore.
Add to the dramatis personae of the front-line medical responders to the virus in the beleaguered hospitals of America’s major urban centers plays out there is the undocumented Hispanic EMT driver and the Haitian technician.
Lift up almost any N95 mask in these medical facilities and you will reveal and Ellis Island’s worth of American immigrants. Yup, these dark complexions and brown eyes are the faces that Trump and his battalions of bigots insist are taking American jobs. And but you don’t see a lot of White faces rushing into man those ER’s and ICU wards, putting their lives in danger to medicate and intubate bodies of any race or ethnicity. These are the people of Trump wants us to blame for our problems when, in fact, we would be in a far worse raging shit-storm of trouble were it not for the selfless heroes.
Right now, the only disease that rivals Covid-19 in this country is that good all Americans standby, hypocrisy. It is not those swastika-tattooed, confederate flag-waving, AR-15-brandishing assholes storming the statehouses that Trump cynically plays like political chess pieces, who have even an iota of the courage and compassion of these selfless immigrants. It should not take a pandemic to rip the veneer off our false democracy and egalitarian society and perhaps restore it to some semblance of its better days, but if it does, there might be some good blown in with this pandemic wind.
Think about it for a second: a pandemic would be a good time to get away with murder. Back in the bubonic plague days of the 15th-century, a time when bodies were just tossed out of windows to be carted off to mass burial places there wasn’t any diligent forensic work being done to discernment cause of death. Pandemics are definitely a distraction from the normal processes of life, and death and dispose of that person you are quarantined with who has flatulencia extremis.
I’m not suggesting hear that you just might want to get rid of somebody under the cover of Covid-19 (so put down that steak knife). No, this is just a catchy lead to my topic of the day, which is that it does seem that our morally challenged president and his lackeys at the DOJ and on his McConnell packed courts are taking advantage of the diversion of the current plague to spring some of his scumbags.
General Ryan has been avoiding sentencing and jail time for a couple of years now. So, under the cover of the pandemic, he has the balls to actually retract his own two guilty pleas, and attorney general Bill Barr removed his lips long enough from Trump’s ass to declare that he was dropping the case entirely, so we should forget that the good general never conspired with the Rooskies and lied about it to the FBI.
And then there was Paul Manafort, with his stock “I’ve just been caught masturbating” look on his face, prancing out of jail to serve the remainder of his all too short sentence in the comfort of his home. So, you don’t want to be standing in front of the jailhouse door and risk being run down by Roger Stone, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, or Michael Cohen in a Republican pandemic scumbag jailbreak.