I am angry. You are angry. Hell, the entire nation is angry.
But what makes this such a challenging time is that we are not all angry about the same things. I am angry that we have developed vaccines that dramatically prevent the spread of COVID, but that in much of the country, the vaccine itself is treated as if it were the plague.
That’s not just a liberal rant. Here are some facts: In the past two weeks, there have been about 237,000 new coronavirus cases recorded in counties that voted for President Biden last year — and 388,000 in counties that voted for Donald Trump. Adjusted for population, there have been about 126 new cases per 100,000 residents of blue counties and 278 new cases per 100,000 residents of red ones. Public health and politics should never mix.
Like so many of you, I have family and friends who are not yet vaccinated that I love and care deeply about. I worry about their health and safety. What makes this topic so challenging is that they do not fit easily into one of the vaccine-resistant groups being discussed day and night on cable news. This is a complex issue.
There are many reasons that people choose not to get vaccinated. “I need more information.” “The government can’t tell me what to do.” “The FDA hasn’t fully approved it yet.” “I have my freedoms.” “Bill Gates wants to track me.” “Joe Biden wants to track me.” “The vaccine will magnetize my body.” “Hunter Biden is getting rich from the vaccine.”
Forget the fact that every reputable doctor in the nation is telling people to get vaccinated. Every single one. I’m sorry, but the opinion of those on the fringes of these medical issues simply muddies the waters. In today’s world, everyone’s opinion is supposed to be valued, respected, and treated as credible. Well, in this case of life and death, maybe not. Despite what Facebook would have us believe, all information is not created equal.
I am angry that while Florida is once again ground zero for COVID, its governor (and “Celebrity Apprentice” president wannabe) Ron DeSantis equates wearing a mask to living in a “Faucian Dystopia.”
Thank goodness we didn’t have social media or Fox News during the polio epidemic of the 1950s or we’d all be in iron lungs.
I am angry because all but two of the Republicans in the House of Representatives want to forget that the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 ever took place. In fact, a House member testified before Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin (D) the other day that he stood by his previous statement that as far as he could tell Jan. 6 was just a normal day of tourism on the Hill. And yes, he said it with a straight face.
I am angry that D.C. Metro Police Officer Michael Fanone received death threats on his phone immediately following his testimony as to how he feared for his life on that horrific day. He is a hero, and yet an anonymous caller, probably eating Cheetos in his mother’s basement, threatened Officer Fanone’s life because he dared to challenge the cult.
Listening to that call gave me chills. And it should do the same for you. The caller was racist and unhinged. He had no connection to reality. And the scary part is that he is just one of thousands who no longer value democracy or a civil society. “You’re an idiot.” “You’re a socialist.” “You lie.” “You hate our country.” “You stole the election.” “Go back where you came from.” By now, you know the drill.
It is clear that reason and fact simply do not matter within the cult, whether they relate to the vaccine or an insurrection. Matt Lewis in the The Daily Beast recently identified loneliness as central to the ongoing appeal of the ex-“Celebrity Apprentice” president. He equated the obsessive attraction to the “leader” as being similar to the lure of street gangs for the disenfranchised, to the disaffected teens who ran away with Charles Manson, and to those who drank the Kool-Aid at the direction of Jim Jones. ”When you are down-and-out and lonely, you cling to the people who care enough to give you hope.”
Helps you understand the zeal of the Trump rallies over the past five years, doesn’t it?
Lewis concluded that, “you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.” The need to be connected resonates.
And that brings us to the “But.”
There is no doubt that many of the institutions that used to bind us together simply don’t exist anymore. Church attendance is down. Sunday Schools struggle to find enough volunteers. Lions and Rotary clubs are relics of the past. Community rec teams have given way to “club” sports that in a strange way feel more exclusive than inclusive. Cub Scouts, Brownies, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are all on life support. Far too often, we feel isolated and alone. But as maddening and divisive as social media can be, if we look carefully, it occasionally provides a glimmer of hope.
Facebook survives on its ability to divide us. Hate and disinformation generate more eyes on the prize than do positive affirmations. Clicks are eyes. Eyes are dollars.
But every now something else happens that we should pay attention to. Amidst the madness, over the past few months across a multitude of digital sites, communities began to gather again. Extended families took vacations. They posted pictures of bonfires on the beach and shared images of nature’s gifts in the mountains. They played Uno and Charades, and they laughed together in a way that had been absent for over a year.
Friends gathered to support those completing their last chemotherapy treatment when they rang that victory bell. Communities rallied around neighbors whose children broke an arm or an ankle, cried at graduations, and celebrated engagements and weddings. They cried at funerals and reminisced about a strength that comes from a shared history. Those who lost loved ones found hope, new paths, and new relationships. They actually learned to smile again. Classmates reconnected and also said goodbye.
As Don Cheadle said to Nicolas Cage in “The Family Man,” “It’s just a glimpse, Jack.” But this glimpse may actually give us some hope.
We are still broken and indeed on life support. Digging out of this morass will not be easy. But we may have a path forward. We can’t do it alone, and the kind of connections needed to sustain our souls can’t be found in an App or on a smartphone. They won’t be found in a self-help book.
We are all angry, and as a friend said to me the other day, “We are simply exhausted.” But we better do the hard work of reconnecting in a very real way soon because the clock is ticking.
To quote that great American hero, Coach Ted Lasso, “Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doin’ it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.” So get on the horse. Reconnect with your community. Put the madness aside. Failure is not an option.
Don Mohler is the former County Executive of Baltimore County, Maryland and a contributor to the news site Maryland Matters, which first published this essay.