Four weeks ago, I returned to my home in the United States.
It was not an easy decision to return, the hardest part leaving my wife behind. This goes beyond the fact that she is charming company and often laughs at my jokes. Her physical presence in my life is reassuring. Hugs, handholds, kisses and propinquity do more to shake away the darkness and fear that lurk in the corners of everyone’s minds these days. As much technology as we have these days, Zoom and Whatsapp can provide visual assurance but they can not provide the tactile. I knew when I made the decision to leave Brazil, that I would be leaving this all behind. And not just for a finite period of time when I knew I would be able to gather her up in my mind but for an indeterminate period that only the gods of travel and American Airlines could shed lite.
I also knew that I needed to return to the United States. When I had left in early March for a one-week holiday in Brazil I had some medical issues that were hanging over my head. My electrocardiogram showed an inverted T wave that concerned my physician. She had asked me to have a stress test and echo cardiogram to make sure that there were no underlying problems that needed to be addressed. Initially, this was of little concern for me as my t-wave issue is not new and has been examined before and the fact that I do vigorous exercise nearly every day led me to believe that this was a Dr. using extreme caution. However, as the news of Covid 19 spread and it became clear that those with cardiovascular disease had the highest death rates my concern grew. What if there is an underlying cardiovascular disease and I catch Covid? This started as a small fear tucked neatly away in the back of brain and grew proportionally with negative news on the disease. I needed to have this checked out. I needed to eliminate the fear or confront the problem and the only place I could do that was in the United States.
I also knew 10,000,000 people, that we know of , have contracted the diseases worldwide. More than 500,000 have died. Cities across the globe have been locked down, their citizens facing hardships that were unimaginable 4 months ago. International and domestic commerce has come to a screeching halt. There is no normal. There is not even a new normal because every time we think we have reached a point of stability; something happens to disrupt it. In other words, even though I have a very healthy ego and knew that my challenges, while meaningful to me, were as Rick says at the end of Casablanca, “the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
What I always loved about that speech at the end of Casablanca and in fact about the greatest generation attitude towards the 2nd World War, was that we are all in this together. We all had a roll to play. If you could not fight then you could collect scrap. If you could not collect scrap, then perhaps you would do your bit by planting a victory garden. Victory would occur only if we all did our part. That collective spirit, a generation rising to the challenges it faced, is what earned them the title the greatest
It does not take a great deal of intelligence or even imagination to understand that this is a global problem where regions, individual countries, and their peoples need to band together to solve a problem. During the 2nd World War that is exactly what the Allies managed to do. They put aside old feuds and rivalries and established a command structure that allowed the individual countries to maintain command and control of their troops while develop strategies and tactics that would allow them to act as a single fighting force. Each of the countries managed to motivate its citizenry, those not fighting to be part of the effort to defeat the enemy. Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It.” In Britain, “We Work or Want.”
A cursory understanding of the 2nd World War can illustrate what would have happened had the allies decided to fight their common enemy on their own. The English forces in France after the collapse of the French Army were driven into the sea and only saved by the miracle of Dunkirk. The Russians Army was driven back to Moscow.
The only country in the world that could pull all the pieces together to defeat Nazism and the Japanese Imperialism in the 2nd World War was the United States. When our name was called at Pearl Harbor our leaders marshalled an isolationist country into becoming the machine that would ultimately defeat our enemies. It was that victory, where we were the leading force in the coalition that won WW2 that made American the leader of the free world. It made American great.
While in Brazil it was dismaying, to say the least, to read about how the person who had vowed to make America great again, was forgetting our history and doing the opposite of what history had taught us. Instead of creating a global coalition that would work together to help defeat the virus he actively worked against it. It started when he disbanded the team on the National Security Council who were in charge of a pandemic response because he thought it wasteful. It continued when instead of believing the data our security apparatus was giving him and following the advice of epidemiologist, he ignored the problem calling it just a flu that would disappear when the temperature rose a few degrees. He withdrew funding from the World Health Organization because he didn’t like what the data, they were providing the world. Instead of marshalling a federal response to the disease, he let individual states fight it out over limited resources and if a governor had the temerity to disagree with him he would threaten to withdraw any federal support.
What makes me particularly sad is I love history.
History, if narrated properly, is the best story. What stirred my passion for history were the great men accepting their mantle and leading their people to a better safer world. Churchill on the brink of Britain’s collapse saying, “Never in the history of human conflict have so many owed so few.” Or, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Or FDR’s Fireside chats where he would talk one on one to the American people about the challenges we had to face and telling them “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Even John Kennedy, flawed man and President, inspiring us to the stars when he said “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has no idea how to govern let alone motivate. His drive to be President was not due to civic duty but for greed and power. Those deadly sins have distorted true north on a compass and we lose our way.
The sad consequence is that when our leader does not lead, chaos ensues. People do what they do for themselves and forget about their neighbors. Instead of moving forward hand in glove, it becomes cat herding.
Add to this turmoil, invective, dissent, distrust of social institutions and media and putting politics above policy into every move he made. It becomes a ripe stew where citizens do not know where to turn in a crisis for reliable information that makes them feel safe and that things will be okay. It turns neighbors against neighbors, friends against friends, family and family not arguing about how they can help each other but why they are wrong are about the decisions they have made based on politics not science.
How many lives would have been saved had he led? Demonstrated leading by example by wearing a mask or socially distance or any of a dozen other things that would have help move us forward he decided to go another way. He chose not to either through incompetence, stupidity, greed or the type of narcissism that leads you to believe that whatever you do is great.
Social distancing and wearing a mask became another trick of the liberal elite pulled to keep real Americans from getting together.
The sad irony was that Donald Trump had an opportunity to attain the exaltation he has always believed he deserved. And he blew it. Instead, he will be reviled as the worst president in the history of the United States killing more Americans than the Korean and Vietnam conflicts combined, creating more unemployment than any other President in history, the worst race riots since 1967, and creating a generational depression.
With any sense of justice, the number 45 will be banned for use by all sports team because its synonymousness with failure and bogus stats.
I knew this all before I got on the airplane to get home. But I knew it intellectually. I thought that people were believing the Dr’s, health care providers, and experts on what we needed to do tamp down the pandemic. Where a safe path could be blazed that balanced people’s health and the need to make a living. I thought the personal responsibility that used to be the mantra of the Republican party would become all of ours. That if we took responsibility for our own behavior that beating this pandemic into submission would be the result.
Which is why when I returned to the US, I quarantined myself for two weeks. Through my travels I knew there was an opportunity that I could have contracted the Covid19 virus. It was my responsibility to make sure that if I had become contaminated that the infection would stop with me. I had a sufficient food supply for the duration so no deliveries would have to be made to my house. The most challenging part was putting on a mask when I went outside to walk the dog and maintaining the proper social distance from my neighbors who were out strolling as well but I have been skilled at crossing the street since I was six.
I did not use the time to catch up on the news via the network and cable news channels. Since the Covid19 crisis began in March I had not listened to any broadcast news. This was partially due to being in Brazil, but I could have, had I chosen to, watched CNN or even the network news online. However, I had no desire to listen to endless loops on how the effluence had hit the rotating blades. Broadcast news tends to go where the images are instead of following the story. Reading trusted journalistic sources such as The New York Times, Wall St. Journal triangulated where we stood in the world and provided me with a understanding of the news that resembled the truth more accurately than any single source would.
As a consequence, I was aware of the political dissent in this country about common sense, practical, and life saving steps to battle Covid such as social distancing, mask wearing, and the closing of all but essential services. (Much of the same descent was happening in Brazil fueled by their mini me Trump Bolsonaro). But I assumed that this was the news media blowing up isolated incidents like they do when their camera angles make you assume a crowd is large when, in fact, it is small.
My walks around my small townhome community had done nothing to dispel that impression. It is not crowded here and those whom I encountered on my walks with Rosie either assiduously maintained social distance or wore masks or both. This made me feel secure, but it also made me feel like I had neighbors, not just folks who lived adjacent to me. Neighbors care about each other and the fundamental message of most known religions is “Love thy neighbor as one loves thyself.”
My first forays back into the new normal world did nothing to dispel the idea that despite the destructive and divisive leadership from the White House that people were being neighborly. Visiting my sister in Montclair I noticed folks in her neighborhood were practicing basic precautions as that had in my neighborhood. Even the folks I passed in cars seemed in tune with the message as many were either wearing masks or had them hanging in the car. The only hiccup to this kumbaya feeling I had come when I went to the Magic Fountain, a legendary soft serve ice cream stand in my hometown. While waiting in line to pick up my pre ordered black and white shake an elderly woman was ahead of me inline without a mask and had not received the memo on social distancing as well. But it was outdoors, and she was of an age where many feel that rules do not apply so I wrote it off and focused on enjoying my delicious black and white shake.
It was these positive experiences within the community that allowed me to think that at least in my part of New Jersey that we were all working together to defeat a common enemy. While not quite the efforts of our parents and grandparents during WW2 we were all still singing out of some hymnal.
Or at least so I thought, until I visited the Berkeley Heights campus of the Summit Medical Group