A Moment of Truth

A fly alighted on the carefully coiffed white hair of an otherwise remarkably unattractive man. His red eyes and pasty skin only helped accentuate the dark fly, which lingered for two minutes and three seconds. The man was Vice President Mike Pence. The fly chose the vice presidential debate with Kamala Harris to zero in on his landing, visible to millions watching. Two minutes was the allotted time for each candidate to answer questions —a rule Pence broke over and again. This lent meaning to that extra three seconds. The fly mirrored Pence’s obnoxious behavior, and gave rise to general mirth. The Twittersphere roared into metaphor. Garbage attracts flies, of course. The novel The Lord of the Flies gained sudden popular attention given the dysfunctional relationship between this White House and the people. We now grasp that downward spiral that gives rise to a primitive dictator. Oh, but the comic relief washed over us like a much needed shower. Even news anchors giggled gleefully. This was last week.

You may wonder why this story bears telling. Well, it’s October 2020, that’s why. Cruel facts and circumstances require a sense of humor to get through the next day. Donald Trump, while projected to lose this election by a landslide, has announced he will not concede defeat. His supporters include armed militia members. In the spring Trump directed his followers to liberate Michigan from stay at home orders. Covid was spreading fast. The Governor, a woman who favored strident measures to stop the virus, became a target. Armed right wing protestors hung her in effigy at the state Capitol. Recently the FBI unveiled the protestor’s plan to kidnap and assassinate her — all because she wanted people to wear masks and stay at home for a while to minimize the exposure to Covid. When Donald Trump called, angry armed white men answered. What will happen when he loses the election? He has fallen short of condemning violence from the right, militias, or white nationalists.

Early in the pandemic, Donald Trump knew Covid was potentially lethal, spread through the air, and could affect children, the elderly —anyone. He covered it up, downplayed it, and disdained mask wearing. The damage was done. His followers made news by throwing tantrums in public places, shouting at people, cussing, and landing punches. They ranted about a constitutional right not to wear masks, and that Covid was a hoax —invented to make Trump look bad. From the dark crevices of the fringe came the conspiracy theorists. They found a home in the stampede of selfish, if not stark raving, anti-maskers. Freedom to be stupid hit a new low with QAnon, a pro-Trump theory. In short, QAnon postulates that the Democrats and Hollywood run a child sex trafficking ring , and shoot up with the blood of children. Only Trump can save us all, they say. Flat-earth anti-science proponents, anti-vaccine activists, and misinformed New Age people joined the cacophony, and here is what I’ve heard them say: Dr. Fauci, the top epidemiologist in the country, is an agent of Chinese Communism. Forcing us to wear masks is where it all begins. Covid vaccines, when they appear, will have tracking devices and mind altering components designed to transform us into ‘sheeple’ —their word— as the wave of new world order sweeps away our freedoms. The ‘plannedemic’ —their word— is the home run for the leftist takeover of the world. Donald Trump to this day will not deflate these theories. Hero worship is more fun than flattening conspiracy curves. He still disdains masks. To this day he’s out hosting super spreader rallies for maskless fans. The white house counted more positive Covid cases last week than the country of Taiwan.

Also riveting this year are the Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Police shootings and brutality reached a point of no return and Blacks took to the streets. Whites joined them. All across America, hundreds and thousands of people marched. Although 93% non-violent (the number courtesy of an FBI report), the protests drew Trump’s ire. Trump TV networks, like Fox News, painted a grim picture of violent leftist extremists led by black-cloaked masked Antifa members —coming to a city near you to —what? Force you to wear masks? Undermine the rule of white people? I have never been clear on the end game of these leftist hordes depicted on the Tall Tales of Fox Newspeak. All groups have extremists, including the left. But for the most part lefties are tree huggers. I know. I come from the left. The FBI, in fact, has determined that most violence is from white nationalists and militia. Even so, without regard to truth of actual leftist mischief, The Trump administration sent in unidentifiable goons in camouflage to several cities. Videos of protestors pulled off the street and hauled off in unmarked cars circulated. Trump’s pseudo cops tear-gassed people, and used sticks to beat people. Trump rallied the angry armed white people again with his call to law and order. A seventeen year old shot two protestors to death and was hailed as a hero on Fox News. Trump has never labeled him a murderer. My brother lives in Seattle, a seat of long-standing police brutality protests. A Trumper family member has asked him several times, “What’s happening with the violent riots over there?” My brother tries to tell her that from his vantage point two blocks away the violence is mostly from federal goons and Trump supporters against protestors. It never quite sinks in.

I know something about protests. At age fourteen I attended an anti-war rally in DC during the Vietnam conflict. It was one of the big ones right before the end of the war. Someone lifted me up and I gazed out over half a million chanting, marching people, some brandishing candles. At that moment I knew. People can change things. And we did. The war ended in part because so many people took to the streets.

In the mid 1980’s, hundreds of us protested at the CIA building in Langely, Virginia. We came from the left, the right, the middle. A fervent desire to never see another dictator installed in central or south America united us. We opposed The School of the Americas and American intervention.

During the first gulf war, San Francisco erupted into widespread protests, often led by Vietnam veterans. Spontaneous demonstrations of 5,000 people or more became the norm for a while. Eventually half a million marched down Market Street. The veterans led it. Somehow they didn’t trust the reasons the government gave for that war. I marched with them.

After 9/11 we knew there were not weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we opposed the Iraq war with good purpose.

I grew up taking American democracy for granted. We believed protesting was patriotic. We cared enough to speak out, to bring our concerns out in the open, to even get arrested. What better way to contribute to a democracy than to participate directly? First the issues have to be laid out for people to see on the news. Then people might talk about it at the dinner table: “What is the School of The Americas?” Nobody can change anything if nobody knows about it. The honest exchange of information and accurate news reporting is part of democracy. Jounalists and TV stations used to report facts, especially during Vietnam. ABC might have been more conservative that CBS in its opinion pieces, but the news brought home the visual devastation and suffering in Vietnam —the napalm, the killing and maiming of civilians —and the beleaguered American soldiers engaged in impossible jungle warfare.

Not once in all my young resistance years did I question the freedom to dissent, to express my love of country by pointing out bad policies. We brought awareness and transparency to national problems. It was the honorable thing to do. “Get in good trouble,” said the iconic civil rights leader John Lewis. We did.

That freedom was never in question —until now. If the election of Biden is derailed, we are looking at the take down of the American experiment called democracy. Instead, our country will resemble a fascist dictatorship. Trump is already talking about “Patriotic Education” in schools. He has ordered federal agencies to stop diversity sensitivity training. Any media not parroting Trump is an enemy — fake news. Women’s reproductive health choices are suddenly in question. Health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions will cease —during a pandemic, I will add, where the Covid diagnosis will itself become a pre-existing condition. Alarmingly, Trump and his criminal cohort Bill Barr are floating the intention to bring sedition charges for protestors who destroy property. In my day throwing fake blood on bombs was called Criminal Mischief and amounted to a slap on the wrist.

Paul McCartney said, “You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.” You can also judge an administration, and this one has been cruel to animals. The following is a partial list: high speed slaughter houses that potentially boil pigs alive, or otherwise kills them while conscious; gutting the endangered species act; polar bears drowning from melting ice; wolf packs shot from helicopters, and pups gassed out of their maternity dens and killed; Mustangs out west rounded up and sold for slaughter so cows can graze on public lands —animal suffering brings tears as I write. Climate change denial will be the law of the land under the next four years of Trump. Large swathes of sacred ground and national parks —sold to oil and gas interests. Glorious Leader Trump at the helm with a cult following, backed by armed right wing fanatics, purposely uninformed conspiracy nuts, and big business interests. I see it coming. The sorrow, anger, and fear most of us feel at this prospect is almost beyond words.

How did a con man from Queens with multiple bankruptcies sell himself as a business man worthy of a presidential vote? How did the Republican Party allow itself to be hijacked by Trumpism and by Trump, a man who has tallied over 20,000 lies? This is not an anti-Republican treatise. Indeed, Republicans with a conscience, bless them, are jumping the Trump ship in droves right now. If Biden wins, a big thanks goes to disaffected Republicans who put country over party. I’m an avid fan of the Lincoln Project. Trump, say the wordsmiths of the Lincoln Project, is dangerous and unfit and does not reflect the honor and decency of Republicans. I applaud and support these patriots.

An even more important question is this: how did 30% of the American public, including Republican senators who enable Trump, choose irrationality over reason? QAnon adherents can be dismissed as people with mental health issues. What’s alarming, though, is the underlying mistrust in science . The willful rejection of factual reporting in favor of magical thinking. Discarding common sense in support of the most corrupt president in history. What is this? It feels like an ideological and moral catastrophe. Are some people suffering from a personality disorder where they need an authoritarian to direct them? Is it base selfishness? A lack of education? For the senators, is it about clinging to power?

Friends and family, or any reader who voted for Trump the first time —it’s OK. I can forgive a mistake. But the second time? If you do this, I won’t be able to look at you the same way. Please switch channels. Liberate yourself from the echo chamber of Fox News. Listen to Emergency Room doctors treating Covid patients. To date, 210,000 Americans are dead and it didn’t have to be that many. Bodies piled in refrigerated trucks and buried in mass shallow graves because more people are dying than can be processed —no, not the flu. The virus is still largely a mystery, and appears to affect all ages, not just the old and people with underlying conditions. My cousin has Covid, and her doctor, a 32 year old with no health concerns, lay in a hospital bed for 7 days on oxygen with Covid. The Trump plan of herd immunity is simply a non-plan from a failed leader. Millions will die. Stubborn loyalty to whatever Trump or Trump TV says is not an excuse. Please fact check, and listen to actual epidemiologists. There is too much at stake. Indeed, our country is in danger. Check out the Lincoln Project. You will be in good company.

Our country is unique in the world. We were founded on ideals —not on tribal identity, not on religion. Life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, government by the people for the people —is only possible if everyone takes responsibility. It’s my responsibility to write this essay today, before the most important election of my lifetime. We stand at a crossroads. On one side is a steep precipice. We will fall. The experiment will be over.

My hope is that we choose to keep trying to do the hard work of democracy. I hope we will reject the magical thinking of flat earth non-science, the malignant narcissistic leader, and intentional brain fog —the singing choir of authoritarianism. I will, for my part, never take our American experiment for granted again. And I voted for Joe Biden, a decent character who stands for healing, reconciliation, and a rational approach to problems. This paper is my march on Washington. People can change things. We must.

Laurel Owen
October, 2020

Postscript to A Moment of Truth:

It’s Wednesday, November 4, 2020. The ballets have been cast, people have stood in long lines to vote during a pandemic. And the results are trickling in. We may not know the outcome of the count until the weekend.
And before us, a tragedy unfolds.
Although Biden will likely win the presidency, the victory is narrow. Trumpism was not repudiated. Many Americans voted for a person with a repugnant character for the purpose of ‘owning the libs.’ That appears to be the platform. Thoughtless, mindless, miserably stupid and shortsighted. It’s not about conservative versus liberal. Policy differences do not play a role here, because the party of Trump presented no platform. Indeed, character plays no role here, either. The Republican Party used to be the party where character mattered. That was the past. Trumpism does not care about character, policy platforms, truth, or democracy.
Right now, the US president is attempting to steal the election. Last night he announced victory and threatened to go to the supreme court to end the ballet count. No one is paying him any mind —except his blind followers. Here is where things could get dangerous. If people are oblivious enough to vote for a monster, those same people may believe him as he tops his 25,000 lies with the worst yet —that he has won.
My fervent hope is that everyone will take a breath and let the votes be counted.
In the years to come we will have to beat Trumpism. It won’t be this year. But right now, I think we can, and will, beat Donald Trump.