Lent 2020 — Day 32

CAN YOU HEAR THEM CRACKING?

(Quarantine Essay #10)

One hundred to two hundred forty thousand deaths. That’s the latest estimate out of the White House. That’s their “best case” scenario. Breathtaking.

Laurie Penny in the current issue of WIRED Magazine writes “This is not the apocalypse you were looking for”:

“The shock itself is shocking. Shouldn’t we have been more prepared? Hasn’t culture been drenched in catastrophe porn for decades? The bomb. The breakdown. The fallout. The senseless armies of shambling corpses, all the nightmares of dead generations sliding out of our screens. For more than a decade, young and young-ish people have been living in anticipatory grief for everything we know. But somehow, this is different.”

Greta Thunberg gets her wish. We’re all panicking now. Not about climate change exactly, but we are panicking. When President Trump finally admits it’s about to get bad you know it must be getting really bad.

In the old comics Mr. Magoo was a comical figure with bad eyesight who was constantly getting in trouble because of his poor vision and his stubborn refusal to admit any problems. But in real life such myopia in government is dangerous. As the Boston Globe said yesterday “The President has blood on his hands.”

It’s stunning to see how quickly the establishment can respond once things they truly value are threatened. The money that was never available for any of the social programs we’ve needed is suddenly available: only redirected to banks and corporations. As I heard someone else observe: if corporations are truly persons then they should get $1200 each like the rest of us.

But the federal government’s response to the actual public health crisis is confused and inept. Gov. Cuomo of New York stated in his press conference on Tuesday that his state is competing against other states to purchase the medical equipment they need. Then FEMA bids against all of them. It’s a tragedy of mismanagement that is costing lives.

Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent seems disoriented and irrelevant; fielding questions from the media (in his basement) about where he is. While an article in The New Yorker asserts: “Reality has Endorsed Bernie Sanders.”

I suspect that Trump’s spiritual counselors have been little help and in fact the source of much misdirection during this crisis. Several of them continued to hold public worship even after the CDC directives were issued about eliminating large public gatherings.

The Christians I was raised and educated by had a weird disposition toward cultural tragedy. I suspect because they were American and white and raised during the postWar economic boom they had a simmering anticipation of “the end times”. Jesus was supposedly coming back and “soon and very soon” all the troubles of this world would be resolved: by which they meant the troubles other people were causing them.

Never a tear was shed because any pain and turmoil involved in any catastrophe would pass over them like the angel of death passing over the Hebrews in Egypt. God would preserve them while the rest of the earth went through a horrible time of “tribulation”.

Love, which any superficial reader of the Gospels might think was an important theme, was not the most important thing. Love (like justice, peacemaking, attention to the marginalized, etc) had a long list of qualifiers. The most important thing was to avoid the suffering; and for affluent, white, Americans there were few things more important than personal peace and prosperity. Even if they didn’t have an opinion on American exceptionalism, they certainly believed that they were exceptional. God would not allow his chosen to suffer such indignities.

So it’s not surprising that some of Trump’s Christian advisers continued to gather for public worship despite the CDC’s directives. They have always believed in an exemption from the fate of common mortals.

But this is not the apocalypse they were looking for.

Don’t turn for guidance to anyone who is not willing to look directly at this crisis.

In her final book Love’s Work: A Reckoning with Life the philosopher Gillian Rose wrote that you must “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.” That’s the type of faith I respect.

Penny concludes her brilliant article this way:

“My job will be the same as yours and everyone else’s: to be kind, to stay calm, and to take care of whoever happens to need taking care of in my immediate vicinity. We have been living for many, many years in what Gramsci called a time of monsters, where ‘the old is dying and the new cannot be born.’ The new is now being induced in a hurry, because after this, nothing is going back to normal. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and everything does feel fine — not fine like chill, but fine like china, like glass, like thread. Everything feels so fine, and so fragile, and so shockingly worth saving.”

Exactly. Augustine also wrote that empires are as fragile as glass.

Can you hear them cracking?

Ric Hudgens

April 1, 2020

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