Sometimes a black hole opens in a culture and civility falls in. History teaches us that sometimes, good will and decency are trumped by avarice and authoritarianism. Read the stories of the Salem witch trials, the genocide of the Holocaust, the purges in Rwanda and the “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans, and you begin to connect the dots. I think we are on the cusp of such a moment, and I fear for our future.
The cracks in the foundation of our culture began with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and his very first lies about the crowd size at his inauguration, a seemingly small false note that presaged disaster. Over the ensuing years he systematically dismantled many well-functioning stanchions of government, fired legions of experienced government officials and replaced them with sycophants and hacks.
The ground rumbled as he attacked the trusted agencies to which America has turned in times of trouble: the CIA and the FBI. When the information coming from these bureaus reflected badly on him or his administration, Trump undermined their credibility, and by doing that, their efficacy.
The crack widened with sick appeals to the racists and the know-nothings and the haters among us.
Then, because sometimes we are caught in the confluence of a perfect storm, the coronavirus pandemic struck. It is the worst time to suffer through the worst epidemic in a generation, with the worst leader who has ever risen to power in the United States of America. Bad luck all around.
We are living through a nightmare of unnecessary deaths caused not by disease alone, but by mismanagement and incompetence. From the beginning, Trump lied about the pandemic and what government was doing to stop its spread. He missed every single opportunity to make it better.
Most disturbing, the lying and corruption at the top are trickling down. The crazies, the anti-vaxers and the hoax-mongers are having their moment. And they are being encouraged by the president, who ignores guidance from the best and brightest scientists and doctors we have in the fight.
Now, this week, I am seeing the black hole in our society opening wide. Who will fall in? The most vulnerable, of course. People will go back to work, not because anything at all has changed as far as the spread of Covid-19 is concerned, but because they need to support themselves. Because the president missed the opportunity to control the spread of disease, he tells the meat packers they have to show up. He knows they will go home to parents and grandparents and spread the disease. The cost of doing business.
This is now the acceptable sacrifice: that tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of working people and older people, especially those in nursing homes, will die so the economy can stumble forward.
It did not have to be this way.
There will be a virtual culling of old people in this country. To accept this calculated loss of life isn’t just un-American; it is depraved. Yet here we are.
The way forward from this mismanaged crisis is difficult and complicated. We need reliable testing so we can know who is sick, we need contact tracing when someone falls ill, and we need the truth, most of all, on a daily basis, from a reliable source.
Most people who need to work and have work will work. But it is the federal government’s responsibility to see that the tests and protections that can make that process safer are in place.
Enough dissembling from the president. The fact that he has frequently deployed the “witch hunt” defense, from the Mueller investigation to the impeachment hearings to his handling of the pandemic, is exquisite irony. He is the witch hunter in chief, going after news outlets, reporters, political opponents and now even iconic scientists like Anthony Fauci, who are the only source of reliable information on the pandemic.
As one of the characters said in “The Crucible,” the story of the Salem witch trials, “I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem — vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”
Their prey may be riding different imaginary broomsticks these days, but Trump’s witch hunters are still sowing havoc and reaping revenge.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.