O Solitudo!

The morning is easy. I have my routines after waking—breakfast, then the computer for an hour or two, checking out email and the news sites. Besides the usual Trumpcrap, there are always a few uplifting pieces like “Unemployment, isolation and depression from COVID-19 may cause more ‘deaths of despair.’”

Solitude isn’t always bleak. I’ve been living alone for years, mostly liking it, but the virus has put a new dimension on it. Instead of filling up one’s down time with friends, amusements and travels, we are for the most part confined to quarters. My life was bound by solitude before this; now there is more of it and it’s enforced.

Things got more pressing after I finished writing and publishing Moot Testimonies a couple of months ago. Searching for another writing project made me anxious and uptight. I finally gave that over for small bouts of exercise, TV, reading, a lot of sleeping, and music—none of which has proved very satisfying. I couldn’t develop or keep to the routines which are necessary to flatten time.

Occasional Zooms with family and friends didn’t do it for me. Trips to the market I eagerly looked forward to: just give me some masked human contact, for Christ’s sake. Finally I remembered Thoreau, the king of solitude, and “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It wasn’t despair that I felt but a nagging need to fill time with something productive or absorbing. I think we’ve all felt that.

I picked up Octavio Paz the other day, to reread The Labyrinth of Solitude and its search for Mexican identity. The book begins this way:

Self-discovery is above all the realization that we are alone: it is the opening of an impalpable, transparent wall—that of our consciousness—between the world and ourselves. . . . It is true that we sense our aloneness almost as soon as we are born, but children and adults can transcend their solitude and forget themselves in games or work.

We do rely on games or work. In the COVID solitude we have to create them, and that is not easy. Yet if you face the prospect of solitude with some equanimity, you will beat it. We can import or create the routines and rituals that have sustained us, and perhaps they will flourish. What we bring to solitude is what grows there.

A Nation of Nutcases

A Plague of Willful Ignorance

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Flight from Reason: How America Lost Its Mind

Sometime in or around 1970 I encountered Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Daitch Shopwell supermarket around the corner from where I lived in New York. You couldn’t miss him—a big tall red-faced guy—someone who became important to me in my later political life. Mostly from his famous statement, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

That sentiment has always stuck with me, its relevance never more obvious than right now. Moynihan wrote a paper in 1965 called ”The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” which talked about the social pathology and disintegration of Black families. He said, prophetically, ”The principal challenge of the next phase of the Negro revolution is to make certain that equality of results will now follow. If we do not, there will be no social peace in the United States for generations.”

Moynihan was a complex, sometimes fractious man who embodied the best traditions of American public life. His statement about opinions and facts comes home to me especially now when fully a third of Americans (according to Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland) believe in cockeyed conspiracy theories, unproven fantasies of all kinds, and distrust science and reason generally. Climate change is a hoax put forward by “a conspiracy of scientists, government and journalists.”

Paul Krugman recently talked about our partisan culture war in A Plague of Willful Ignorance. That war is expressed in the notion that wearing a mask has become a political symbol, an assault on individual liberty. Krugman finds that “there’s a longstanding anti-science, anti-expertise streak in American culture—the same streak that makes us uniquely unwilling to accept the reality of evolution or acknowledge the threat of climate change.” This used to be called anti-intellectualism.

The tradition goes back to the Know-Nothings of the 1850s and extends through H.L. Mencken’s prescient commentaries in the 1920s about the booboisie: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Thomas Patterson of Harvard’s Kennedy School pursues the tradition in a more sweeping vein with Flight from Reason: How America Lost Its Mind. The book explores the tribal politics of our time, tracking the unprecedented amount of false belief and misinformation that people continually embrace. From an excerpt:

Ironically, the misinformed think they’re highly informed. “Cognoscenti of their own bamboozlement” is how sociologist Todd Gitlin describes them. A study found, for example, that those who know the least about climate-change science are the ones who think they’re the best informed on the issue. Another study found that those who are the least knowledgeable about welfare benefits are the ones who claim to know the most about it.

The digital revolution in mass communications has made things worse. The need to cast blame outweighs the urge to discover the truth. There is so much misinformation abroad now that it has become institutionalized—and not just in the political parties. Patterson finds that TV hosts from Limbaugh to Maddow “traffic in outrage,” conveying the notion that they alone are the purveyors of truth.

Negotiation between the parties becomes fraught:

When Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree on the facts, they can negotiate their differences. It becomes harder when they can’t agree on the facts. As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once complained when negotiation over a bill broke down, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” Facts do not settle arguments, but they’re a necessary starting point. Recent debates on everything from foreign policy to climate change have fractured or sputtered because of factual disagreements.

But facts are facts, right? The kinds of disagreements about them that Patterson notes are usually bogus smokescreens for fixed opinions. Krugman had it right: “there’s a belligerent faction within our society that refuses to acknowledge inconvenient or uncomfortable facts, preferring to believe that experts are somehow conspiring against them.” The president is leading this parade.

Trump’s Heil Hitler Rally

I write this on Friday, the day before the big event in Tulsa. We are so looking forward to this gathering of the faithful. These idiots have to sign a release to hold harmless the Trump campaign if they get the virus. Some 19,000 jammed-in super-spreaders will foist their viruses on each other, hollering and spraying droplets. Masks are optional. And—who knows?—the population of Trump fans may take a big hit. Tulsa is presently having a surge in virus cases and the rally may soar them to a new record.

I have no sympathy for these people. Any empathy I may have had went out the window a long time ago. Their ignorance about the virus and its capability is matched only by their general mental incapacity. Why would anyone choose to cram together in an enclosed space to listen to the mouthings of the amoral charlatan revealed in Bolton’s book? It’s like a Wagnerian opera with Bolton writing the libretto. Or the Nuremberg rallies of 1933. Will they raise their right arms in salute?

Now Trump has threatened that anyone who shows up to protest will be fair game for the cops:

Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!

You lowlifes don’t know what you’re in for with the Tulsa cops. The city set a curfew (then rescinded it) for Friday and Saturday nights. The jails have emptied in anticipation of a host of new occupants. The tear gas and pepper guns are loaded.

The original date of the rally was Friday, “Juneteenth,” the holiday marking the freeing of the slaves in 1865. Who knows what genius in the campaign set that date? Was it to provoke more of the protests still billowing in waves across the country? The campaign finally changed the date to Saturday, which hasn’t cooled any tempers in the protest community. Nor has it helped defuse the still raw wound of the 1921 Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa.

According to one account,

As the rally approaches, tensions in Tulsa are boiling. On Friday night, the Rev. Al Sharpton is planning to discuss the state of race and policing in the country. Other activists said they were dreading the weekend.

We’re all dreading it. Sharpton is scheduled to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally. Just what we need—another inflammatory speech by the grandstanding anti-Semite. Why can’t the Black community find another voice? This is one of the most painful times in U.S. history. Tensions like this will not be defused until Trump leaves office. But the anti-Black racism embodied in his administration won’t go out with him.

Let’s Raise a Statue of Trump

Trump might go down in history as the last president of the Confederacy

 Confederate Statues Are the Easy Part

 On Monument Avenue, Liberal Illusions About Race Come Tumbling Down

The idea’s no more ridiculous than the statues we have of Confederate heroes. Trump represents the same values as these now-deposed clowns. Like Jefferson Davis, Trump may go down in history as the last president of the confederacy. So suggests Eugene Robinson in yesterday’s Post. Trump therefore needs a statue. What will happen after its erection is up for grabs.

The statue should go up in Tulsa, where El Cheeto had scheduled a Juneteenth rally. Tulsa, we should remember, was the scene of perhaps the worst massacre of black people in U.S. history. The statue will be safe from desecration there. Juneteenth is the holiday marking the end of American slavery, a perfect day for the president to announce the monument to himself. Too bad the optics forced him to back down.

I had some opinions about the Confederate statues in a piece written shortly after the Charlottesville episode. “For many people in the South the Civil War never ended, and the statues remind them of that. For others like myself, the statues were a small part of the town’s broader culture and history. I walked past them and never read much of the Conflict into their presence.”

My response was like that of Politico’s John Harris who once lived in Richmond. He felt that “the statues depicted a history that seemed functionally dead. They also seemed like a joke—and the joke was on the very racists who had erected them in the first place.”

But their history and potency are not dead, as the George Floyd protesters testify. Tearing them down will not defeat racism, white supremacy, or Donald Trump. Yet the statues are still cogent symbols, monuments to Jim Crow (as Harris calls them) and segregation—both of which are very much alive.

I sold their symbolic power short when I wrote about Charlottesville. But I shared the viewpoint of one Clay Risen who wrote at the time that the monuments were simply “low-hanging fruit. . . . Removing the legacy of the Confederacy is harder than toppling a few statues.”

Maybe we’ve finally learned that the symbols of Confederacy and white supremacy are ingrained in the South. Risen says a majority of Southerners still

cling to the idea that the memory of the Confederacy is about “heritage, not hate.” For most, I’m convinced, it’s like a slight stink in the air. Unpleasant, perhaps, but everywhere, and so it’s something you don’t think or do much about, and don’t understand the fuss when someone does.

The stink has long pervaded the Trump administration. Soon, perhaps, it will be time to fumigate the White House.

Speech for Joe Biden

Good morning. And thank you, Mr. Crump.

Everyone liked my Philadelphia speech last Tuesday, but I fired my speechwriter so we could try a new tack. We’ve got a new campaign to talk about because the country’s going to hell in a handbasket. You know it and I know it.

Everyone but Trump and the Republicans know it. The brainwashed and the baptized know it. Jim Mattis knows it.

I stand solid with the George Floyd protestors. They are turning America’s attention to our oldest and most sordid problem . . . racism. The good cops take the knee; the bad cops tear-gas and shoot rubber bullets into innocent people. I’ve always been a pro-union guy but now the police associations are coming after me.

I’ve talked about setting up a commission to investigate police abuses. That’s not enough. We need legislation like Justin Amash’s bill to end court protection of police. The Supreme Court has been giving cops the green light to abuse people for years! Congressman Jeffries has a bill to outlaw choke holds.

In America, black deaths are not a flaw in the system. They are the system. Black people are only 13 percent of the population, but they constitute about 26 percent of US coronavirus cases. They are 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. Trump’s inaction has put his knee on the neck of all COVID sufferers.

I worked my butt off to get healthcare to all Americans, yet Obamacare was only a step toward that goal. Trump has the gall to say, “In 3 1/2 years, I’ve done much more for our Black population than Joe Biden has done in 43 years.” In 3 1/2 years Trump has done more to set back the lives of black people than anyone in the past 43 years. You know it and I know it. Everyone but the tin-pot Mussolini knows it.

Trump is today’s Governor Faubus. He gave us the spectacle of a staged photo op, a blasphemy in front of St. John’s Church. It was like Faubus standing in the doorway of that Arkansas school. Maybe it took this sacrilege to remove the blinders from our people.

Maybe it took the police assault on innocent protesters. Law enforcement cannot be allowed to squelch peaceful American, first-amendment protest. And it shouldn’t take tens of millions out of work to realize how dire our troubles are. Black young people see it every day when they can’t get work. One out of every seven U.S. workers is out of a job, and yesterday the president was crowing about it.

Some say I haven’t been strong enough in my condemnation of the status quo. Well, I’ve outlined a whole series of policy proposals—from making 60-year-olds eligible for Medicare to reforming student debt. More will be coming—on infrastructure, climate change, economic depression. The times are moving fast, and Joe Biden is changing with them. You’re going to see us not only beat Trump but begin the transformation this country so desperately needs.

It won’t be easy or quick. The roots of racism and economic dislocation are real and very deep. But if I’m president we are going to make this imperfect Union as perfect as we can. I hope you will take that journey with me.

The Coronavirus Blues

Ten Reasons Why a ‘Greater Depression’ for the 2020s Is Inevitable

Why Our Economy May Be Headed for a Decade of Depression

 Welcome to the End of the ‘Human Climate Niche’

I want to call it the coronavirus blues, that empty, groping housebound depression that keeps you from engaging with all that free time. It’s a coma of aimlessness—not really to be compared to clinical depression, though maybe a second cousin. Wearing a mask intensifies the detachment. Even with walks outside one feels alienated from life; taking off the mask doesn’t help much .

Social isolation causes it, and one way or another it seems to infect everybody. Camus called it a “feeling of exile, that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire.”

These thoughts are reinforced from reading recent remarks by Nouriel Roubini, the infamous Dr. Doom who was one of a very few who predicted the housing debacle and near-global collapse of the financial system in 2006. Now he predicts something even worse to come, what he calls the Greater Depression, which will make your coronavirus blues look like small change. (How the word depression got to be applied to economic collapse is another story.)

Roubini considers ten factors or trends that will be exacerbated to produce a severe global depression, a series of events that make another crisis inevitable. A summary of the ten: fiscal deficits and private-sector debt; the healthcare crisis and the aging; the coming deflation; currency debasement; digital disruptions like automation; deglobalization and protectionism; populism; the standoff of the U.S. and China; cyberwars accelerating to cold wars; and the environmental disruptions.

Finally in the list he considers man-made climate change.

The Paris Accord said 1.5 degrees. Then they say two. Now, every scientist says, “Look, this is a voluntary agreement, we’ll be lucky if we get three—and more likely, it will be four—degree Celsius increases by the end of the century.” How are we going to live in a world where temperatures are four degrees higher? And we’re not doing anything about it. The Paris Accord is just a joke. And it’s not just the U.S. and Trump. China’s not doing anything. The Europeans aren’t doing anything. It’s only talk.

And then there’s the pandemics. These are also man-made disasters. You’re destroying the ecosystems of animals. You are putting them into cages—the bats and pangolins and all the other wildlife—and they interact and create viruses and then spread to humans. First, we had HIV. Then we had SARS. Then MERS, then swine flu, then Zika, then Ebola, now this one. And there’s a connection between global climate change and pandemics. Suppose the permafrost in Siberia melts. There are probably viruses that have been in there since the Stone Age. We don’t know what kind of nasty stuff is going to get out. We don’t even know what’s coming.

Roubini is one of those economic savants who puts it all together in one totally depressing yet horribly believable package. For some reason, skeptics like this make entire sense to me. His grim analysis, oddly, can offer a program to treat your coronavirus despair, unlike other doom-sayers such as David Wallace-Wells. One takes a kind of weird comfort in thinking that somehow these cheerless predictions can turn into a recipe for reform and, one hopes, reconstruction.

American Morons

Frank Rich: The Casualties of a ‘Wartime Presidency’

Twitter names Trump the ‘Tide Pods’ president after he suggests disinfectant injections

Cuomo blasts McConnell’s ‘dumb, vicious’ and ‘ugly’ opposition to ‘blue state’ coronavirus bailouts

Before we get into our homegrown examples, consider that the British aren’t exempt. When asked for his response to America’s decline as a global power, Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European history at Oxford University, replied: “I feel a desperate sadness.” Oh dear, Tim, let me apply a damp towel to your forehead.

Or perhaps you need an injection of bleach, recommended Thursday by El Cheeto as a possible cure for Covid—which of course could kill you. Every day the snake-oil salesman seems to lay out a new cure or remedy in his medicine shows. “So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it. And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.” Deborah Birx, the president’s chief medical toady, sat on her hands for this one. Fauci was not in the room.

These incoherent gibberings are probably known to most of you. Here are a couple of classics. In late February he said, “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.” And on March 13: “Yeah, no, I don’t take responsibility [for the pandemic] at all, because we were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules, regulations, and specifications from a different time. It wasn’t meant for this kind of an event with the kind of numbers that we’re talking about.”

This week McConnell really endeared himself to the governors when he recommended the states go bankrupt if they couldn’t pay their bills. His office said there will be no “blue-state bailouts.” What a kindly old gent Mitch is. Governor Cuomo responded: “15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats so why should we help them?”

The morons are not only in Washington. The great wizard Elon Musk pronounced in March, “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” And now Frank Rich tells us that

in Oklahoma, there’s Carol Hefner, a co-chair of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, who told the Times that because her state gets “a lot of wind” and is topographically flat, it is “in a much better position than many of the other states to go ahead and open back up.” Surely the Flat Earth Society has never had a better spokesperson.

The best explanation for opening up came from the mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman (please, no relation) who said it’s time to open the casinos: “Assume everybody is a carrier. And then you start from an even slate. And tell the people what to do. And let the businesses open and competition will destroy that business if, in fact, they become evident that they have disease, they’re closed down. It’s that simple.”

Finally, Brian Kemp, the loony governor of Georgia, whose recipe for reopening the state you should hear firsthand. Even Trump got unnerved by that.

Corona Conquers All

America Is Trapped in Trump’s Blind Spot

The coronavirus forces a personal response from all of us, even if we decide to do nothing about it. Yes, there are people out there who party and congregate at the beach, and you find yourself hoping they come down with a bad case of the disease. Or maybe they escape it and survive, justifying their stupid nonchalance. You also find yourself hoping Trump will test positive.

But you can’t get away from personally dealing with a pandemic like this. I want to talk a little about my response and how it necessarily must displace our concerns about the climate. At least for the moment.

I live in Mexico, which is mostly unprepared for the oncoming disease. The next few weeks presumably will show how woefully unprepared we are. I’m personally at greater risk than most—because of my age (85), sex (male) and medical history (asthma, some emphysema). Like most of us, my urge to continue a normal life conflicts with the need to take some real precautions.

So I’m trying to get used to doing all the recommended stuff, like sanitizing surfaces, wearing a mask when I shop, washing hands, isolating. (I haven’t yet taken to wearing the mask but that will be next.) I got a lecture from my friends last night about being more careful about such things. Sometimes you need to hear this from others.

Andrew Sullivan recently wrote about his case. His words apply to me:

I have chronic asthma and consider my somewhat neurotic attempts to avoid this virus a prudent way to spare any hospital a future ventilator I would almost certainly need to survive. And there’s another reason for wearing [masks] outside as a matter of course: You show the world that you’re all-in on restraining the virus. And that helps encourage others to do the same. It’s a bit like those “I Voted” stickers you wear after doing your civic duty. It reinforces a social norm. Plagues, like wars, require some kind of solidarity over the long haul—and masks help visually express that.

Sullivan catalogs a few of the odious things that get drowned out by the virus, like “the constant harping of the woke” with their insistent assertion of their own identities. Isolation and quiet allow for new, reflective experiences. “For a blessed period, the truth matters—not a narrative, not a construct, and not your truth or my truth, just biology and humanity in a dance repeated endlessly in human history between viruses and bodies.”

Listening to the birds sing, for instance, enjoying the presence of a pet, dismissing the phony drama of Trump’s press conferences, just chilling out: these are the benefits of isolation and a kind of quietism. I’m lucky enough to have a great collection of music that will keep boredom at bay.

I’m also lucky enough to live in Mexico, not Seattle and New York where my kids live. Even as we await the plague, it teaches us how to simplify things and put on a new set of glasses.

Threat Assessment

Weather: A novel

Global Climate in 2015-2019: Climate change accelerates

Every Democrat should run on Trump’s disastrous budget proposal

What most keeps you up at night? Thinking about Trump or climate change? Which is the worst threat? Or maybe it’s getting the kids off to school tomorrow?

The answer for many would be Trump, who thrusts himself constantly before us, one high crime and misdemeanor after another, every day a new offense to law and the polity. Climate change recedes to the background because our field of view is so narrow. And yet the daily impacts of both are sometimes comparable, I think.

Jenny Offill’s novel Weather plays with both threats by putting them in the context of a Brooklyn librarian’s daily life concerns and patterns. Lizzie’s words, full of insight and humor, carry the freight of Trumpism and climate change that are behind her daily attempts to succor people and keep a normal life going. She wonders whether to buy a gun. The book plays with the metaphor of weather and how we are all connected.

The impacts of climate short-term are fires, floods, famine and storms—all mostly determined by changes in weather. Weather is our barometer. Long-term, the changes predicted are more frightening and less predictable: sea level rise, heat, populations on the move, illnesses increasing, vast ecological changes. But it seems less and less possible to diminish these to the background, as Lizzie’s life demonstrates.

At one point she interrupts her thoughts with:

People Also Ask
What will disappear from stores first?
Why do humans need myths?
Do we live in the Anthropocene?
What is the cultural trance?
Is it wrong to eat meat?
What is surveillance capitalism?
How can we save the bees?
What is the internet of things?
When will humans go extinct?

Trump is small potatoes compared to this. Or is he? Each daily dose of scandal displaces the last. As in climate change, the effects pile up and accelerate. Look at Trump’s proposed 2021 budget! The push for political change finally becomes inescapable. The push to deal with climate change will become so.

Meditations on a Runaway Crisis

I make it a practice here of giving you three linked articles at the outset that reflect, to some degree, my opinions. It’s part of the tradition of argument to bolster one’s opinions with evidence. So maybe it’s time for my opinions unfiltered.

Climate has become an imponderable, a cloud that never dispenses rain, a storm that never breaks. By that I mean the more we understand the depths of climate change, the more stymied we are in doing something about it. Most of us who aren’t deniers recognize the enormity of the problem but despair of moving the political forces that are needed to attack it. We are immobilized.

As the heat, storms, floods and droughts become increasingly common, more and more people report instances of “climate grief,” high anxiety and depression about what they see ahead. It seems like “a massive government conspiracy to kill us all,” with people increasingly reporting feelings of despair and panic.

I’m not there yet, still too much of a rationalist to give in to despair, still looking to implement answers that are staring us in the face. I ask, what causes this immobility in the face of disaster? Are we like the fools who went to New Zealand’s White Island to watch the volcano explode and got killed in the process?

Climate is like impeachment—the perfect disaster for the Trump era. We all stand by watching a process unfold that we can’t affect while Republicans blow smoke and defend the indefensible. As the climate outlook gets grimmer, with shocking UN reports and more detailed studies, we learn that the oceans are far worse off than we thought, that permafrost thawing in the Arctic will blow holes in our predictions of CO2 in the atmosphere, that the time to apply any fix gets shorter and shorter.

Some offer up palliatives like the Green New Deal when they should be pursuing more achievable first steps like a carbon tax. Some seem to wallow in their grief when they should be out marching in protest. Others look to a false savior like Trump or Boris. All seem to fear for the future.

I have no simple answers but one: get out of yourself and do something that will have political impact. You don’t need therapy, you need action. Politics is the key to all reform efforts and it must be the first response to climate change. Immediately, let’s vote out the Republicans, who are simply “unreachable” on climate. It’s a time for taking sides. The second step is to unify the unwieldy Democrats behind an achievable, staged program of amelioration. The right is always motivated by fear; let the left be motivated by solidarity and action.

David Roberts of Vox put it well here:

To motivate people to action, you have to give them meaningful changes to fight for, people to fight alongside, and, just as importantly, enemies to fight against. You can’t stay on the sidelines, welcoming everyone to the table. You have to pick a side.

Finally, grieving over climate is like grieving over Trump: it gets you nowhere. Pick a side and get to work. Accept the fact that, whether you like it or not, climate will be a political battle.