Georgia On My Mind

The runoffs for the Georgia election are today. The outcome will determine whether Mitch McConnell, otherwise known as the turtle or Moscow Mitch (among other, more profane nicknames), will retain control of the U.S. Senate. This is important. McConnell has blocked so much legislation in his term as majority leader, legislation that could really help Americans. He’s so beholden to his financial supporters—lobbyists and darker factions—that very little has been accomplished for normal working people.

This whole presidential term (“led” by the man whom shall remain nameless) has been a 4-year nightmare, and turtle has enjoyed the benefits of having a moron in office who is easily swayed by flattery and misdirection. This past year, in particular, with covid-19 raging around the world, the people at the top of our governmental structure have turned a health and safety issue, a full-on natural disaster of epic proportions, into an angry, divisive, hateful political battle. It should never have been this way. When the World Trade Center towers fell in 2001, we rallied as a nation. The parties were still divided on their issues, and many democrats detested G.W. Bush (myself among them), but the hearts and compassion and grief of the nation were supported and lifted up by the kindness and empathy of its citizens.

Not so today. More than 356,000 Americans have died from covid or complications thereof. This number doesn’t even account for those who’ve died of the more common flu, or heart attacks, or motor vehicle accidents, or fires, or murders, or any of the myriad other ways to die. One virus, in approximately 9 or 10 months, has taken the lives of more than a third of a million people. That’s more than double the TOTAL number of war/combat-related deaths in the entire history of this country (~1,354,664; Wikipedia). Yet the nation as a whole has not come together in this time of loss, grief, suffering, and death. No, we’ve become more fractured and self-obsessed. People are determined to put their perceptions of “freedom” and “tyranny” ahead of humanity. Families have been torn apart by more than the virus in these dark days. Marriages have ended. Parents have cut themselves off from their children (and vice versa). For what? Some vague, intangible idea of “freedom” and a desperate need to be “right” (as in, correct) and thus somehow superior.

We drive on a designated side of the road, hemmed in place by lines painted on the pavement, and we do this because it’s the best way to ensure the safety of others. We cover our bodies before entering public places because we’ve been told to, told that nudity is both offensive to some and potentially hazardous to our health and that of others. If someone wearing torn, filthy clothing that exposes their genitalia and bare, crusty, muddy feet walked into a Whole Foods, the Karens and Kevins would blow a collective gasket demanding that that person be thrown out and arrested. The calls of “I want to speak to the manager!” would be deafening. Why? Because even though we can’t see the germs, we know that they’re there and potentially hazardous to our health and safety. Even though every person on earth has genitalia of one kind or another, we show respect to each other by being at least somewhat modest in our appearance before venturing out in public (yes, there are exceptions…). We cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough or yawn and close our mouths when we chew because it keeps us from spreading our germs and shows respect for others.

And a fair number of people believe that an all-powerful being in the sky created the world, so they spend hours of their lives worshipping a book written 2,000 years ago and its “creator” in the heavens. Yet many of those same believers who spout things like “Love thy neighbor” and “Thou shalt not kill” are deeply offended by being asked to cover their mouths and noses to reduce the risk of killing themselves and those neighbors. The cult of ignorance, self-absorption, hate, racism, sexism, xenophobia that divides our country is clearly delineated by the recent election, in which more than 159,600,000 people voted (more than 20 million more than voted in 2016), but the split of ±81,280,000 vs. ±74,222,000 is dangerously close to 50/50. That so many can still support and vote for an administration that has brought our nation so low, both at home and abroad, and cost us so many lives in the process is all too indicative of how truly narcissistic and self-absorbed we have become.

We shouldn’t have to be forced into being good people by the threat of everlasting damnation. And we shouldn’t have to be forced into respecting others by the threat of fines or incarceration. People need to step back from whatever is narrowing their view and look at the whole picture. We’re dealing with something not seen in at least 100 years: a full-blown, deadly pandemic. We had limited knowledge in the beginning about what would work or not work, and we were misled by many, intentionally or not. But with 10 months of experience, we should know by now that keeping a “social distance” from each other and covering our mouths and noses may keep us and others safe. It may not be 100% effective, but if it’s even 20% effective, that’s 20 more people out of every 100 who are spared, or 20,000 out of every 100,000, or 200,000 out of every million.

Full disclosure: I’m no scientist or mathematician or doctor. But like so many in this country I have watched the numbers climb every day. Unlike too many, however, I choose to do whatever I can to help stop the spread. I wear my mask when I’m near others. I maintain my distance. I limit my activities. Am I going stir crazy? Of course. Do I wish it was different? Absolutely. Have I gone against the guidelines? Yes. I have. I’ve traveled to see my teenage son. Twice in 10 months. I go to the grocery store, the gas station, the hardware store. I’ve been to the doctor and the dentist. I’m not perfect. But I’m trying.

Today, and for the past 2 months, the registered voters of Georgia have risked their own health, lives, and safety to help ensure our nation’s democracy. They are doing what needs to be done. Certainly none of them wanted this burden. They don’t want to stand in line in the middle of January to cast a vote that many are casting for the second time now. I guarantee none (or a very very few) of them wanted to spend their holidays bombarded with more political advertising and interviews and rallies and junk mail. They shouldn’t have to bear the weight of our country’s future on their backs. Yet here we are, and from what I’ve seen, they are doing what’s right, not what’s easy or convenient or offers them the most immediate gratification. I am grateful to them.

I hope that love and kindness and acceptance and understanding will win the day again, as it did across so much of this country in November. I hope that the hate and arrogance and self-importance that these four years have exposed will dissipate and that Americans will again remember that we the people are a whole, a one, created by the collective work of many for the greater good of everyone, not just the few. Not just ourselves.