Siege Diaries 3/24/2020

Columbus, OH skyline, 1975

I had a rough night last night.  For the past few weeks–ever since it became clear to me that the situation was threatening–I seem to be alternating good night’s sleeps with ones where I toss and turn for a couple of hours before I finally fall asleep.  I know exactly what the issue is:  continuing to read social media right up to the point where I go to bed.  It’s a hard habit to break, one that was built in the days when checking Facebook one last time meant nothing more than fewer stories to scroll through in the morning.  Now, it has the potential to keep my mind focused on things I cannot control.

Here, in my home in Southern Ontario, I feel less helpless.  I am taking social distancing to a bit of an extreme–I haven’t been out of the house in a couple of days, and it’s been several since I entered a store–but that does give me the reassurance that I’ve dropped my risk of exposure as low as it could practically go, while at the same time doing my part for others.  When I watch our Canadian politicians–whether it be Justin Trudeau, who I generally like, or Doug Ford, who I definitely do not–I feel reassured that they are speaking with experts, that they are doing what’s good for people, that they care about the country as more than an “economy” that needs to be fed above all other concerns.

I do not have that sense of surety about the United States.

I have friends–many friends–who have said for years “I’ve given up on that country.”  In recent months I’ve said it myself.  But being born in the US means that, at my core, I care about Americans.  I have family and friends there, and wonderful memories.  For better or worse–mostly better, I think–I am the person I am because of the parents I had, the schools I attended, and the people I called–and still call–friends.  And it hurts me to see these people dragged down both by governments that do not care about them (and in some cases, actively persecutes them), but even more so, by other Americans who empower those governments.  I knew plenty of these people growing up, too–the ones who thought the poor were lazy and useless, who believed asking for help was some kind of Communist plot, who believed in “pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps” because they already had their boots on–and could not, would not see that others didn’t even have shoes.  Because I grew up in a suburb where education was one of the main draws–I believe all but a handful of my high school graduating class went on to post-secondary education–these people were not ignorant, at least in terms of book-learning. However, many were willfully blind to anything outside their bubble of privilege.  And the US is full of these people, too–and they’re proud of it.  It’s this kind of perniciously blinkered patriotism, along with the worship of the rich and the almighty stock market for the better-off among them, along with a disbelief in verified facts that is dragging the US into absolute dispair.  And when the president says things like “we’re going to restart the economy by Easter!”  these people believe it, and refuse to even consider what might happen to the country between now and then.

Maybe because it’s too horrible to contemplate. Maybe it’s because they don’t know anyone–yet–who is affected.  It’s almost certainly due to weeks of denial and lies about the seriousness of the situation by the president and Republican leaders.  By the time they decided it wasn’t a plot to impeach the Danger Yam, it was too late.

And this is what I worry about, even as Canada, as it is wont to do, girds up, its political leadership mostly unified, to do what’s needed to get a terrified country through the crisis.  The cities and states that are already hard-hit are doing their best, but being undermined by federal Republican leadership, who is now telling them that older people should be willing to “sacrifice” themselves for the public good.  It’s a war, the US is being told, and there will be casualties.  The ‘war’ language is similar around the world, but with key differences:  In Canada, we’re scrounging masks and ramping up production of respirators under government direction.  Our doctors and nurses might not be flying Spitfires quite yet, but at least governments are acknowledging the need and doing what they can to build them.  In the US, on the other hand, the situation reminds me most of the Völksturm in Germany as the Allies closed in.  You’e in a fight to the death!  But we’re not going to train you, or give you any equipment except a panzerfaust that might or might not work.  But do your duty for the Führer!”

And that keeps my up at night.  I can sit here in Canada with our somewhat imperfect universal health care and hope–and honestly believe–that we’re likely to emerge from all of this scarred, but ultimately OK.  It might be a good lesson for us.  People will certainly die, but we will do everything we can to keep that number as low as possible, because every living person is worth saving, regardless of age, class, gender, race, or any other factor.  In the US, there will likely be places where this is true, too, but there will be others where it is not, and there will almost certainly be places where the system either collapses entirely or is massively damaged. And I worry.  I worry about the towns I’ve visited for concerts and the musicians in the orchestras and the people in the audiences. I worry about my hometown, about my fellow UAHS grads.  I worry about family, some of whom I see posting on Facebook who are clearly adherents of a cult of personality and can do nothing at the moment but pray.  (They certainly aren’t out there organizing drives for masks or offering to pick up groceries for homebound neighbours).

The irony is that the United States has some of the best scientists in the world, scientists who even now are working desperately to try to save people who don’t believe in them. It’s a country that over the past number of years has been told that compassion makes you weaker, and now is paying for it in their hour of need.

In the world that was, the US was the shining citadel on the hill that was being undermined by forces that proclaimed to love it.  In the world that is, from outside the borders, I sit and watch in horror.  I see now first hand what it is to be betrayed by one’s government.  I look at my US passport–and want to burn it.  I have always treasured that I still had a voice in US elections, but my voice has been naught but screaming in the wilderness.

This path does not end well.  And I am shattered.

Even as I cling to the last vestiges of hope, I prepare myself for the worst.

And it troubles me late at night.  Even a purring cat could not quiet it.

I know I must avert my gaze if I am to find the good in the days that are given to me, but…

I cannot.