A song for our time

Michael Saltz

Do you feel like you’ve had enough? Is the moment getting to you? Do you want to tear off your mask? Do you yearn to hug somebody, anybody, you haven’t spent 24 hours a day with for the past four months? Do you feel like there is no end to the bad news? Do you think it can’t get any worse? Do you feel like you might as well party today because tomorrow you might be dead?

I must admit that I feel some or all those things from time to time. Today, July 3rd, I feel a bit like all of them at once. Maybe that’s because the news has been so terrible this week. By the time you read this, it won’t be this week anymore, but the news is more likely to be worse than better.

The Pandemic: The scorecard as of today at 1:12 pm is 2,796,092 Americans infected by the virus. 856,873 people recovered. The death toll stood at 130,856. All numbers increase every hour. In testimony before congress, Dr. Fauci said that we were on our way to 100,000 newly infected people a day. At the beginning of last week, there were 40,000 new cases a day; by the end of the week the number had climbed to well over 55,000. I don’t recall anyone asking Fauci how many more deaths we were likely to see. But we know enough of the answer: More, a lot more.

Contrary to the president’s assurances, this plague is spiraling out of control.

The president, for what felt like the first time, said masks weren’t a bad idea, in effect presenting, but not saying, that the idea of wearing a mask wasn’t necessarily an anti-Trump political act. VP Pence delayed a trip to Arizona because so many of his advance team had the coronavirus. He was seen wearing a mask.

Do you think some mysterious person in the Oval Office said, “Oops?” Do you get the feeling of too little, too late? Then again, that’s been true of the president’s response to this plague, this pandemic, from the very beginning. Too little, too late.

Trump has been blaming Chinese President Xi Jinping, his onetime trusted friend, of gaslighting him and the rest of the world about the coronavirus. Then again, Trump had been presented with plenty of evidence of the pandemic while Xi was gaslighting him. Trump, in turn, gaslighted America. He is guilty of precisely what he has accused China of. He bragged of discontinuing flights from China, but the evidence says that although the virus may have originated in China, it most devastatingly entered the US, meaning NY, from Europe and in possibly a more infectious form.

Economic Distress: That’s a nice, calming phrase, don’t you think? Better than, say, economic calamity or catastrophe, I suppose. In May and June, the unemployment picture brightened, particularly in the South and West, as they rushed to open their economies. Yet new unemployment claims continued at a horrific rate - 1,500,000 million a week for the past couple of weeks. And, yes, as states reopened new Covid cases surged dramatically. Businesses that had started to reopen, like bars and restaurants, started to close again, either by government edict or voluntarily. Previously furloughed workers were being refurloughed. People once again started pulling back on spending. Many publicly held companies have given up trying to predict their economic future. The Congressional Budget Office predicted that employment wouldn’t return to pre-pandemic levels for another 10 years. The EU would rather not have American visitors. States in the Northeast would rather not have visitors from most of the rest of the country and is having to restrain its reopening measures in reaction to the spiraling health crisis. And no one has the foggiest idea how our children, from pre-K through college, will be/can be educated in the coming year, no matter what NYC’s mayor says.

If from this mess you have confidence that we will return to what existed just four months ago, you’re smoking too much.

Civil Unrest: Not so many years ago, white politicians (mostly Southern and Republican) were saying we were living in a color-blind society. The Supreme Court said, in effect, that the Voting Rights Acts was no longer necessary because of the progress in race relations. The immediate result was an increasing effort by Republicans to disenfranchise blacks and other persons of color. The election of Barak Obama and the unrelenting attempt to de-ligitimize and undermine him by Republicans, along with their tacit approval of racist tinged right-wing demonstrations in the capital, gave increasing sanction to overt racism. The particular harshness of police when dealing with minority populations became harder and harder to dismiss with the advent of cell phone videos. From Rodney King, to Michael Brown, to Trayvon Martin, to Eric Garner, Breanna Taylor, to George Floyd, the ubiquity of these incidents buttressed by videos made accusations of police brutality and systemic racism increasingly hard to reject. If the “I can’t breathe” cries of Floyd provided the spark that lit the way too long smoldering fire, we can only wonder if politicians and police unions can delay and obfuscate enough that the fire dies down in a sea of token progress and platitudes.

And just think: I have yet to mention Trump and his role in magnifying the worst of our divisions. I will, instead, damn him with faint praise. He didn’t invent racism, nativism, isolationism, or white supremacy. He’s merely a force multiplier.

Russia, Russia, Russia: As Nancy Pelosi said, all roads seem to lead to Russia. I will not burden you with a list of all the ways in which Trump has empowered Russia and weakened America. Consider the week’s revelations about bounties paid to the Taliban for the killing of American soldiers. Trump may cry hoax, as he always does no matter how true the story is. He says he was never briefed about it, but we know it was in the written PDB (i.e., the President’s Daily Brief), which is placed on his desk for his consumption before his occasional verbal brief. If he didn’t read it (we’ve long known he doesn’t like to read anything), then, in effect, he’s saying he wasn’t briefed. We also know he doesn’t like to hear bad news about Russia. Draw your own conclusions.

So, here’s what we may conclude: The Russians have aligned themselves with the Taliban and have been doing so for years. We have agreed with the Taliban to withdraw. Therefore, we are turning influence in Afghanistan over to the Russians, just as we have done in Syria. In weakening our military presence in Germany, we are increasing Russian influence in the region, just as in our deliberate fraying of relations with the EU and NATO we are increasing Russian power.

Do I need to go on? Is that more than enough for you for now? Well, here’s one more thing to contemplate: Does Trump really care about any of this? Was his real inclination to do nothing in the face of the plague, his preferred course of action? Is it still? Was/is he saying, in effect, that death from the coronavirus is no different than deaths from the flu, or auto accidents, or suicides, and that we should suck it up and die, if need be? Besides, he told us at the beginning, as he is still telling us, that one day it would miraculously just disappear. His amen chorus, like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz chimed in with similar statements about accommodating oneself to people dying before they realized how gross, stupid, and inhumane they sounded.

But about one thing they were all right. Everybody dies. Sometime.

Have I overdone it, gone too far? Have you had enough? Well, I’ll leave you with this, a song from R.E.M running through my head, a song for our time.

“When the day is long

And the night, the night is yours alone

When you’re sure you’ve had enough

Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go

‘Cause everybody cries

And everybody hurts sometimes.”

Michael Saltz is an award-winning, long-time, now-retired Senior Producer for what is now called “PBS NewsHour.” He is a resident of Hillsdale.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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