Hello from my study at home.
As we are almost midway through the month of December, the reality of winter and its inevitable arrival is in the air here in North Central Pennsylvania this evening. There has been a couple of nights in the mid-20s and a dusting of snow; yet it is not terribly cold. However, the reality of those falling temperatures are always a stinging slap in the face. And then for me, there is the difference in the cold here versus the cold I grew up in or spent time in (particularly in Houghton, the Twin Cities, or Menomonie). While the temperature will most likely never reach the frigidity of the Upper Midwest, the cold here in Columbia County Pennsylvania is more malicious than the temperatures back there in the years of my growing up, 20s or 30s. The cold here is a more penetrating cold; it is more humid and all the clothes in the world will not protect you. For that reason, and perhaps it is because I am aging, I find it more unbearable. The thoughts of staying inside where there is a fire and better heat or sitting in my sauna for many minutes longer than recommended seems like a much better plan than going outside. Perhaps I have outgrown my appreciation for that idea of some outdoor invigoration from the nip on my nose and all that sort of wonderful holiday music that so romanticized me freezing my toes off.
And yet this Winter we are being told it might be in our best interest to be outside and learn to manage the outside because being inside around more than our little pod could be problematic for our health. The simple fact is there is very little that is normal at this point in terms of what we must do to manage our health, our individual lives, our country or the world at this point. The fight against the virus is a Tale of Two Cities at the moment. Certainly the news from both Pfizer and Moderna in terms of a vaccine and possible options to fight Covid-19 sound promising. Certainly the continued determination of the incredible heath care professionals across the country, those who put their lives on the line every single day for their neighbors and others are examples of walking saints among us. Those people who work diligently to protect others through their own acts of thoughtful management of trying to not spread this virus are to be commended for their continued attempts to stop the spread of a virulent virus we are still figuring out. These are some, but not all, of the positive things occurring. Of course, there is the other side, the words, actions, or denial of the reality of 275,000 people who have died and counting. I have read this morning, we added a million more cases in 5 days. I understand the number of deaths in that million are lower because of therapeutics, but it appears more and more are having long-term consequences from contracting this virus. I cannot understand why protecting each other from getting it at all seems so unreasonable. There is an administration who continues to deny the reality of an election where they have lost by 7 million votes and the same electoral margin as the last election, and therefore argue they do not have to offer briefings, support for, and critical information about where they are. The consequence of their tantrum is the likelihood of many unnecessary additional deaths from this global pandemic. The lack of a national strategy from the outset has, in my opinion, put us where we are. The President’s prophecy that come November 4th the virus would disappear has seemed to be a false prophetic utterance. This is not the first failure for him viewing into his crystal ball and proclaiming like the savior he purports to be that “Y’all are saved! It’s a miracle!” At this point I know people in every part of the country and from the age of 4 to 80+ who have tested positive. Just on our campus alone, we have had almost 400 cases this semester. It is time to come to grips with the reality of what is happening. It is time for health professionals, State Officials, Governors, and yes, both the President and the President-elect to work toward the same end. It is time to be honest with the what the virus is capable of doing and combat it in a thoughtful, careful, and forceful manner so that both the population and the economy can survive and become a world where we might find some modicum of normalcy on the other side.
Shutting down everything again for weeks into months will probably destroy us, both economically and mentally, but minimizing the chance for transmission until we have a vaccine that is being delivered, administered, and results in measurable positive results seems like a thoughtful way forward. I understand the inconvenience and the “uncomfortableness” of mask wearing. I understand the struggle of consequences when it changes how we act or communicate, both organizationally and interpersonally. I wish it could just go away, but that is not how the virus works. It is not going to “just disappear,” no matter how much I wish or even try to pray it away, and as a former pastor, I do believe in the power of prayer. I know that our local hospitals are at capacity. I know if I were to contract it, there might not be a reasonable expectation I could even be admitted. Step back for a moment and ponder that reality. This is not the American I grew up in. It is not the world I expected to find myself living in at the end of 2019. The last 9 months have profoundly, and unreturnably (if I can create this word), changed who we are as a country, and as a world. That is not an easy admission. It is frightening. It would be easy to give up hope in the midst of a public that seems pitted against one another in some dichotomous manner, most seeming to argue foul from one side and a sort of Kuum-bye-yah from the other. I realize that sounds dichotomous on it’s own, but that is my point. There is no easy way forward. I have people I care for deeply who will go in unmasked just to prove they can and somehow believe that is normal behavior, on the other hand a family that is dear to be beyond words is locked down in ways that go beyond most, but I understand their rationale. I know that change has been difficult to implement and it has been painful. What is a reasonable response?
As the people in Debate and Forensics know, first you have to define the terms and agree on their meaning and implications. Let me begin with the easier or the two: response. I believe response in its simplest form is the reaction to some kind of input or stimulus. Much like Wartenberg’s first dimension of power. If a cue ball hits another ball on the billiard table, the ball which is hit moves, and we understand why. Responding to the other is not some autonomous deterministic reaction. There is always something behind it. There is an impetus, a reason, but we seem, even more often in today’s world, to response in some of sort of knee-jerk, sound-byte (lack of) logic manner, honestly believing we have responded in a proportional manner to whatever prompted our response from the outset. While there is so much in our current national and global situation that begs our thoughtful, critical, and analytical attention, we seem destined to live drinking our conspiracy-laced, kool-aid, believing that if someone disagrees with us, they are deluded, inebriated by whatever flavor the news of the day offers like some sort of cotton-candy or snowcone. To further Wartenberg’s power theory, the second dimension of power is when we do things because we deem them (oops, there is that other word) reasonable. They are part of what we have accepted as an utilitarian option for societal sake or benefit. An example is when I walk into a classroom, and within a week, even though I do not require a seating chart, students will normally sit in almost the identical seat daily (at least that was the case when we were in the classroom). Likewise, generally when I begin to speak, other voices will stop (that is not always the case, but generally). That is what Wartenberg refers to as the second dimension of power. Now certainly, some people will rail against that on general principle. Some will color outside the lines to prove that can. And undoubtedly, there are times doing so might be necessary, even preferable. On the other hand, living your life to confront the status quo, simply because you can, has consequences. Often the problem for the outlier, particularly when they are hit with those consequences, is to scream about the unfairness of their plight. This is where reasonable might come in. Certainly we all have our own set of parameters in which reasonable works or functions. Reasonable, and rightfully so, begins with the idea of reason. The sort of reflexive or self-correcting that demonstrates we are able to consider options, learn from experience, and move forward with a purpose that shows we understand ourselves to be something more than an individual, unresponsive, uncaring, and unfeeling about the other.
Often, I have been the consternation of some of my friends because I seem to be intrinsically logic-bound. One of my former students, the first of many to live on the acre, regularly pushed me to explain my propensity for needing to make sense of everything, and yes, that is a problem, but there are times (and Lord knows, we are living them now) when the course of action seems to have no logic, no reason, and certainly no positive possible result. I am trying to understand anti-vaxers right now, and honestly working to be as open minded as possible. I am trying to understand the consequences of the President, yes, one who detests losing with every molecule of his being, but cannot concede an election, in spite of almost four dozen lawsuits filed on his behalf, only to be told by his own appointees at the Federal Appeals Court level that he has nothing to argue because there is no widespread proof. I am trying to understand how one individual has been able to cow an entire Republican establishment in Washington, DC, save a remnant few who believe country matters more than party. As I began to write this, it was the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. That did not go unnoticed to me. The sort of devotion the Japanese Kamikaze pilots had to the emperor are not that much different from those cruising around in their trucks with their red flags flying like wings not all that different from the rising sun on the wings of the zeros. Blind devotion to a business person, pretending to be a politician, propped up by the power of his office, is exactly that: blind. What President Trump is doing through his inability to admit defeat goes much beyond his simple, but dangerous narcissism. It brings out into plain view the very things the framers of the Constitution worked so hard to curb, a despot who believes himself to be the best thing to happen to a country he has pushed exponentially further down a dangerous rabbit-hole. The Republican party promotes conservative principles in the context of culture and a civilization that was built on a particular moral code of individual freedom. I know much can be argued here, but this is my working definition. Certainly Edmund Burke, who railed against the French Revolution for its excess, but supported the American Revolution only 13 years before. He believed in limiting the power of the monarchy and making sure there was an informed parliament. He spoke out forcefully against those put in place by mere appointment by the crown. The conservative movement of today has little in common with Burke or by extension even Ronald Reagan. There is much to be said about the current struggle between the Democrats and the Republicans, or when looking at the more extreme edges, the progressives and the populists. However, that was not the point of this blog. It is about what I noted in the title: when there are no words. There are no words for what President Trump is doing because it is unprecedented in more ways than I have fingers. It takes most of our national heritage, our traditional democratic ideals, and the role of our country on the world stage and sets them all on their ear. What is a reasonable response? I am not sure; and as such, I am concerned. I do believe we have taken the first step and that was a national election that saw a turn out not matched in a century. Even after today, next week on the 14th and even should we get to January 20th, the role of consequence of President Trump will forever change this country. It is a profound price to pay for believing a self-serving, egomaniac could somehow help us as President. He has been more successful than most of us realize. He will not go away and should we believe he will, we are fooling ourselves. And for that reason, I am back to where this started: there are no words, but I do hope reason might come back as a rule and a response. As I have reached out to my incredible cousins, it seems appropriate I offer something from Luther College where their father, Dr. Donald Pilgrim was a professor. In this Advent Season, I hope we might indeed find ourselves awakened to a more compassionate and peaceful world.
Thank you for reading.