I have a rare predilection, what some people might call a disease, where I am nearly immune to words. For instance, I was a young man just out of college and into the working world at the start of what came to be known as the Reagan Era. At some point, I can’t recall exactly when, somebody decided to start calling Ronald Reagan “the Great Communicator.” In all earnestness I tried to see their point of view but I could not. To me Ronald Reagan was a seemingly well-intentioned old man — remember, I was very young then — who had a great deal of trouble communicating. I thought, maybe when they call him “the Great Communicator” it was meant as a joke? No, I could see they were actually serious.
To be sure, Reagan could read speeches magnificently. But then, he was a trained Hollywood actor, so what else was he going to do, read them badly? Whatever you may think of him as an actor, someone who starred in a lot of Hollywood movies is probably a better than average actor. But reading speeches well doesn’t make you a great communicator. A great communicator ought to at least be above average at communicating in his or her own words, and from where I was sitting, Ronald Reagan was a spectacularly lousy communicator. He was so lousy it was actually painful to watch him. I would get embarrassed on his behalf. But then what did I know, I was just a kid.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not a doctor. But when I hear government doctors talking about “opening the country up again,” I have to scratch my head and wonder what the hell they are talking about. These are the same doctors who were saying we should have closed the country down sooner when we had relatively few cases of coronavirus, or even no cases. Now they’re talking about opening the country up again and I have to wonder what they mean. Are they joking?
I’m being a bit generic here and I must define my terms. When I say “country,” I mean the United Kingdom and the United States. I can use them interchangeably because I’m hearing the same thing come out of both. They are both, with great hopefulness, proclaiming that we will all soon be back to normal. Sorry, but I don’t see it.
Maybe, I thought, they’re talking about the much ballyhooed term called “herd immunity,” the one almost no one knew what it meant two months ago and are suddenly using with confidence now, even though they still don’t know what it means. So I looked into herd immunity. Nope, herd immunity is definitely not the ticket.
If you’re wondering what herd immunity really is, permit me to illustrate with a movie, “Apollo 13.” Before mission liftoff, it turns out somebody on the backup crew had come down with measles. Everyone else on the team had the measles already. Everyone except Ken Mattingly, on the primary crew. So they removed Ken from the mission. That’s herd immunity, that is, where just about everybody has had a disease (or been inoculated against it) so everybody is relatively safe, except Ken. They weren’t worried that Ken would make the other astronauts sick, he couldn’t, they just didn’t want Ken getting sick in space when he had mission-critical jobs to perform.
That’s herd immunity and, you guessed right, we are many, many years away from it vis a vis coronavirus. And in order to get there, millions upon millions of people are going to have to die, just like millions died from measles, and a vaccine is eventually going to have to be perfected and distributed worldwide, just like with measles. Talking blithely about herd immunity is like talking blithely about interstellar space travel. It ain’t gonna happen, not for a long, long time.
So what are these doctors talking about and why will it soon be safe to return to normal? I mean, if it wasn’t safe for America to remain open when America had just 15 active active cases of coronavirus, how in hell is it suddenly soon going to be safe when America has a million active cases of coronavirus? I don’t know. But I can guess. Behind those doctors is a lot of pressure, pressure to tell us what we want to hear and, more to the point, pressure to say what their conservative paymasters want to hear. Because at the back of all this is money and power, and it’s becoming brutally obvious that our respective conservative governments would defend — to the point of your death and mine — their divine prerogative to protect that money and power.
You see, when it comes to spending billions of dollars, or even trillions of dollars, on the rich or on nuclear weapons, conservatives won’t even bat the proverbial eye. But spend money on the poor, the needy, the voiceless, the dying? Conservatives would, to quote Kurt Vonnegut, “whirl like dervishes, bawl fluent Babylonian, and order the militia to fire into crowds,” at the merest suggestion of such a thing. They hate the very idea of it, and they will happily (but with occasional mock regret) permit you and me to die to prevent it from happening.
So when Donald Trump incessantly toots (and tweets) his own horn about what a great job he’s doing, when in fact he’s doing a lousy job, it’s all because he wants to get his power back and keep his money. That check he mailed you with his signature printed on it was part of the regrettable but necessary cost of campaigning for a second term. Running for President is expensive. But at least he doesn’t have to spend his own money, just yours. Him putting his signature on it is his way of conning you into thinking it’s actually his money, and some of his blubbering, cretinous, MAGA hat-wearing, monotooth acolytes actually believe that money came from Trump’s very own personal checking account. No, really. Now if that isn’t the thinking thief’s idea of a good deal then I don’t know what is.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, we are once again being sold down the river by this monolithic monster of death known as Anglo-American conservativism. I take no pleasure in knowing that the government I currently live under is marginally less malignant than the one I was born under. In the final analysis, unless we start taking this thing seriously and stay in lockdown for a lot more months, many millions of us will die. That is the sad reality of the situation, and all the words on earth cannot spin or con or seduce me away from the reality I see with my very own eyes.
If Stalin and Hitler and Mao were the great genocidal monsters of the twentieth century, then Trump and his conservative cronies will become known to history as the great genocidal monsters of the twenty-first. That is why we must stop them. That is why it is a matter of life and death. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.