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A Turning Point?


I saw a baby yesterday. A sweet little guy, eight-months-old, with an engaging grin. He was safely ensconced in his car seat while my great-niece chatted through the car window with her father. It was all so normal. It was all so pre-COVID.

We are lucky. We live in a town almost untouched by the virus. A warm spring sun shone down on a landscape bursting with new life. Leaves were budding on my trees, mama squirrel was building her nest and my daffodils were beginning to show their age as they made way for less intrepid flowers.

It was hard to bring the emergence of new life, the pastoral perfection of such a moment, into sync with the constant barrage of news about the health crisis in this country.

I am blessed with being able to work from home and I have a large number of projects to keep me busy.

So, I feel rather insulated from this mammoth crisis—which is not to say I am indifferent or unconcerned about what is happening in this country. I believe the health crisis will pass, that medical interventions will be found and that social life as we knew it will return. What I am most concerned about is how we behave after this is over.

We have both opportunities and significant challenges ahead. Scientists have been amazed at how quickly the Earth responded to its respite from human activity. Blue skies and clear water almost immediately returned to some of the world’s most polluted areas. This appears to contradict the naysayers, who believe humans are not responsible for climate changes wreaking havoc on the environment. Will we be so dense as to ignore the evidence? Will we embrace the idea that we have to change our behavior to ensure the future health of the planet? Or will greed supersede good sense? Almost certainly the latter.

The world has been forced into an environmental time out, but we are itching to get back to “normal” behavior. And the leader of this country, more concerned with a good economy to secure re-election than in anything else, is completely missing the moment. President Trump has shown the limitations of his intellect, his ability to lead in a crisis and his lack of interest in anything but money over the past two months. He is amply supported by his minions in the Congress who have continued to niggle away at our Constitutional rights while the nation is preoccupied by trying to stay alive.

COVID has shone a spotlight on issues that we, as Americans, should fear as much—or more—than the virus. I am not feeling apocalyptic about the United States’ ability to recover from the economic crisis but I do believe our democracy might be at one of those pivotal points that have occurred at intervals in our history, points where we have to define what is important to us as a people.

Over the past three-and-one-half years, we have seen eroded so many of the social and environmental protections fought for over the centuries. We should be outraged at the ongoing effort to deny voting rights to those the current government is trying to marginalize. We should decry the dismissal of dedicated public servants who stand up to the president and their replacement with men who will do his bidding. We should be alarmed—indeed, terrified—by the continual attack on the Intelligence Department, the Department of Justice and the press. We should be dismayed by the stripping away of legislation that seeks to prevent pollution. And on and on …

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote, “… (T)he president’s attempts to rid the government of those who would provide appropriate oversight and accountability for abuses and speak truth to power, to put in place loyalists who will look out for him rather than providing independent checks and to empower relatives and disregard laws, sets us on a dangerous trajectory.”

Many times in the past America has been in danger of losing the democracy our forebears fought for but each time the ship of state has righted itself. During times of economic distress—most clearly illustrated by the Great Depression when some constituents actually cried out for a dictator—there has been the impulse to relinquish our freedoms in favor of a “strong man” leader. In Franklin Roosevelt we found a strong man with an equally strong belief in democracy. Donald Trump is not that man.

More than I worry about the virus, I worry about the world that baby, smiling in the spring sunshine, will inherit and what kind of society he will live in.