Mercy now

A few days ago, I was driving between our house in the Hillsdale/Copake area to Great Barrington to pick up some alcohol from Domaney’s for a birthday celebration (mine). It was to be the kind of purchase that’s become typical these days: Call ahead with an order and pay by credit card; call when you arrive and someone comes out and puts whatever you’ve ordered in the trunk; drive home. I don’t know about you but even after a couple of months, I’m still not used to it.

As usual, I’d hooked up my iPhone to the car and was listening to some of the thousands of songs by hundreds of artists I have stored on it. Also, as usual, I let Apple’s algorithms decide what music I’d hear. After all, I like all my music. I’m often surprised by what comes on because, with so many songs, it can be months — years even — before I hear any given track. I like being surprised.

My father could use a little mercy now.

The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground.

His work is almost over, it won’t be long he won’t be around.

I love my father; he could use some mercy now.

Mary Gauthier, who wrote the song, the title track of her 2005 album “Mercy Now,” is one of the many great singer/songwriter/poet artists in our country. Having lived and survived an extremely hard life, she is a great gift to us all. Listening to the song, I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was for this time in the life of our country and the world in which we all live.

Just look at our world:

Over 100,000 Americans dead in the past four months and more daily. More Americans have died because of the coronavirus than in every war we’ve fought since World War 2.

A black EMT woman was shot and killed one night in her bed in March by cops who were looking for someone who’d actually been arrested that morning. Two black men died at the hands of police in May for, apparently, no reason other than the inclination of far too many police to deal more harshly with African-Americans than with Caucasians.

This pandemic kills far more people of color, more poor people, than anyone else other than, perhaps, the elderly. Do you think that’s purely coincidental? Do you think they haven’t noticed?

As I’m writing this, there are growing demonstrations and/or riots in Louisville, Minneapolis, New York, Washington, D.C. and cities all over the country. There’s a long, hot summer still to come.

Yes, Black Lives still Matter, though not so much to some people.

On a completely different front, the expectation is that we’re in for an unusually active hurricane season in the Atlantic and there is the likelihood of an unusually extreme wildfire season in the West. Anybody mention drought?

Unless you think 30 or 40 million jobs are going to come back in the blink of an eye, how likely is it that people will be unable to pay deferred rents, deferred mortgage payments, to repay emergency loans? Are we going to see mass evictions this summer and fall? Foreclosures? What happens when unemployment insurance runs out? Will there be food riots when/if all of the above happens? The pressures on some people, particularly the less well-off, are extreme.

Given how fitful, incompetent, and chaotic the federal government response has been to the pandemic, given how absolutely insane the administration of stimulus funds has seemed to be by various federal agencies, and perhaps the way the laws were enacted, how well prepared do you think government is for what else might be coming our way in the coming months? Given the state of relationships between Republicans and Democrats in the Congress, not to mention Democrats’ relationship with the president, do you think effective solutions to the problems facing us can be found before November? Given how careless some governors have been with our lives, how confident are you that any of our governing institutions are up to the task?

In the middle of the night, I think to myself, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” In the light of day, the grass is green, plants are growing, flowers are blooming, the sky is blue. And I don’t listen to the news.

Mary Gauthier sang,

“My church and my country could use a little mercy now,

As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out.”

They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down.

I love my church and country; they could use some mercy now.”

I’m not big on churches myself; I’m not a religious man. Some Ultra-Orthodox Jews have fueled some of the hottest of pandemic hot spots by ignoring of safe-distancing protocols. So, too, have some evangelical and other more mainstream Christian churches. I have no idea what Muslims are doing in their mosques. All believers deserve better of their leaders.

In states that have reopened their economies faster and more heedlessly than some others, there have been dramatic increases in people who have covid-19. Their citizens deserve better.

Some Democrats, we’re told, take the possibility that the president will seek to delay the election or to somehow ignore the results if he loses seriously. He has never stopped complaining about rigged elections or fraudulent voters since the early days of the last election campaign despite a clear absence of evidence. If he wins, it’s despite those nefarious attempts; if he loses, he will claim it’s because of the same things. America’s citizens, all of them of whatever party, whether conservative or liberal, Trumpist or progressive, deserve better — that is, if you believe in democracy, in a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

There are professionals in the government, in the EPA, in HHS, in the White House, not to mention private industry, whose job it is to calculate the economic and health effects of various policy prescriptions. For example, what is the economic cost of cleaner air or water? How many lives are saved or lost by those efforts, and what is the economic benefit or loss of the saving of those lives. Those numbers are routinely used within the government. Anybody have any idea what the rollback of various regulations during the past three years is having on lives lost and what the relative economic benefit or loss is? While people may debate the long-term effects of policies on climate change, there are also more immediate effects on life and death. The numbers exist but they’re not easy to find.

In theory those numbers can/should exist for the pandemic, but we’ve never seen them. It’s not because they can’t be calculated. It is said that we don’t want the cure (i.e., mitigation efforts) to be greater than the economic cost. A nice rhetorical device but I haven’t seen the numbers, the hard evidence. Have you?

One estimate I saw a couple of weeks ago said that the number of coronavirus related deaths would number 143,000 by mid-August. New infections have been dramatically surging in those states which have been quickest to reopen their economies. Is it possible the estimates for this summer’s deaths have been too low?

Meanwhile, our 20-year-old granddaughter has just finished her sophomore year of college with a glowing letter from one of her professors about her accomplishments. Our twin granddaughters have just graduated from middle school and will be high school freshmen next year. Our 5-year-old grandson is bored with the alphabet in his remote learning pre-K classes and my wife has been teaching him how to read with the enthusiastic support of his teacher. And 350 miles to the south of us, the daughter and daughter-in-law of our good friends just had a healthy baby boy. They’ve named him Boaz.

As I was driving down Route 23, Mary Gauthier was singing:

“Yeah, we all could use some mercy now.

I know we don’t deserve it, but we need it anyhow.

We hang in the balance, dangle between hell and hallowed ground.

And every single one of us could use some mercy now.”

Amen.

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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