The Disunited States of PandemMerica

Photo by Giacomo Carra on Unsplash

Pulling Apart When We Should Be Pulling Together

The sidewalk outside was taped off in six-foot increments and two staff members guarded the door. One cart out: One cart in. When carts were returned, they were swabbed down with disinfectant before being given to the next person to be admitted.

Inside the store, the same spacing was tape-enforced at the cash register. And the cashiers asked that customers remain at a distance until they had to either hand over (filthy!) cash or run a card through the (regularly cleaned) atm terminal.

I wore an N95 mask and gloves, my standard fashion choice these days whenever I’m not in either my car or my own home. I saw perhaps two people in masks, on this excursion and perhaps two more, different, people with gloves.

There was some eye-rolling at the costumery . . . in both directions, frankly.

Saturday, I walked a block and a half to Shaw’s, my neighborhood supermarket, a trip during which I saw one other mask and one other pair of gloves, and not a scintilla of either distancing or disinfecting either outside or inside the store.

Scurrying home with my groceries, it was hard to resist the temptation to raid the dictionary for a refresher course on complicated words and concepts, like “regulation” or “guidelines” or “consistency” or “rational-fucking-behavior.”

I am loath to say that our national — cultural, political, and intellectual — descent into utter madness has bottomed out; in The Age of the Orange Menace, we seem to plumb a new low on a tweet-by-tweet basis. And — say what you will about the Cheeto-in-Chief — the man can tweet up a storm.

I look back now on President, then Illinois State Senator, Obama’s 2004 keynote at the Democratic National Convention — “We are not red states and blue states, we are the United States!” — with something closer to bitterness than nostalgia. I blame Obama for this not at all, but his eight years in office left us even more divided than they found us.

That red states and blue states are reacting in radically different ways to the pandemic of which the US is now the epicenter — We’re #1! Great Again! — makes what passes for “sense” these days: Republicans are against healthcare, science, and whatever Trump tells them to be against — on a minute by minute basis, with 180° spins, in their view apparently, “a feature, not a bug,” just all part of the great unreality show that our federal government has collapsed into.

That doesn’t, however, explain why Trader Joe’s and Shaw’s seem to be singing off different hymn books. They are in adjacent municipalities; I live in Massachusetts which — Republican governor notwithstanding — has reacted with relative speed and prudence, given our national (under)reaction.

Public Health and Infectious Disease experts have been running around with their hair on fire, screaming about the inevitability of a deadly global pandemic for years now.

And . . . We have — not just underfunded but — defunded federal Public Health infrastructure.

Intelligence and National Security experts have been ringing the same bell — including, months back now, with regard to Covid-19 in specific, warning that prophylactic action would be much cheaper, and have a much greater chance of success, than doing exactly what we are doing now, which is playing (a lethargic game of) catch-up.

And . . . Trump gutted the Infectious Disease apparatus on the National Security Council.

I still nurse the — very faint — hope that this may turn out to be a transformative moment, a point where we take stock anew of “how much government we need,” “at what level,” and “how we distribute the costs” of running an advanced industrial nation.

The early evidence, however, suggests that — Fuck the virus, I’m getting drunk! — we remain firmly on a path to becoming a laggard, de-industrialized, collection of feuding fiefdoms, corporate principalities, and theological insane asylums.

All of this leaves me feeling sick — and (even if they were “available to everyone”) I need no test to explain why.

I write what I know and what I’ve lived: humor & chronic pain; politics & parenting; business writing & cultural analysis; and . . . ranting (a lot of ranting).

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