A Strange New World
“I just don’t understand what is going on, Maria? The world seems topsy turvy. Everything I thought I knew to be true is in question—the progress the country has made is now down the toilet. I just don’t know. I am scared—for my future—but more than that, for your children’s future. This president is a lunatic—and he still has followers! I don’t get it,” my mother declared in a slightly hysterical tone.
“Yes, momma, stuff is crazy. I can barely understand it myself—even the most basic acts of compassion and civility are problematic in the world of COVID-19. I mean here I am wearing a mask, not allowed in your apartment to help you with your new phone settings, standing six feet away,” I say.
We say our good-byes, no hugs or kisses, of course.
I drive away thinking of all that we have lost. Basic civilities are gone. I shouldn’t hold the door for people—because it violates social distancing and my touch on the door contaminates it. The other day, I saw an old woman struggling with her shopping cart up a slight incline to get into the grocery store. I was leaving and had just used hand sanitizer. “Ma’am, I just used hand sanitizer, can I help you?”
“Yes, please,” she answered.
So I helped her up the slight incline until she was okay by herself. But I hesitated about touching an old woman’s cart (someone vulnerable to COVID-19)—where before I wouldn’t have.
And then I would normally pick up trash, but I don’t now. I don’t know who has touched it—if someone with COVID-19 has touched it. And if I can’t wash my hands well or use hand sanitizer afterward, I risk exposing myself and my family through the simple act of picking up a piece of trash in the parking lot and putting it in a trash can.
I saw a dime the other day, heads up. I used to always pick up such coins, especially a heads up coins (“See a penny, pick it up, and all day you’ll have good luck”). I left it there, because I didn’t want to touch it.
My husband, Steve, and I went out for birthday drinks and snacks with my sister-in-law and her husband at the end of June. Steve and his sister, Kayla, have birthdays very close together. We went to a restaurant with out-door seating. We wore masks. But in truth we weren’t six feet away from each other, and we took off the masks to drink and eat. Kayla got a piece of lemon cake for us to share at the end, and we all took at least a couple bites. As we left the restaurant, Kayla and her husband, Jack, put their masks on for the walk to the car, and I started to as well, but then I laughed. “We just swapped spit eating cake, so I don’t see the point in the masks now,” I said good-naturedly. We all stared at each other, and then, shook our heads and laughed.
“Does that mean I can get a proper hug?” Kayla asked, unsure.
“I don’t see why not,” my husband answered.
So I got to hug Kayla and Jack, the first non-nuclear family members I have touched in months, because we so utterly failed to socially distance by having a meal together. Such basic things about social interactions we shouldn’t do any more or we expose ourselves and others to COVID-19, yet we had tried to mindful.
How on earth do they expect school age children to remember and be as careful as they need to be in fall to return to school? And college kids (at the immortal ages of their late teens and early twenties) and social distancing—that just looks like a disaster in the making. And add alcohol and hormones into the mixture, and COVID-19 will be sending them back home to online learning before Halloween. But there won’t be Halloween—I mean no trick or treating, no combing the neighborhood going door-to-door. Boo hoo. What will happen to Thanksgiving and Christmas?
We are supposed to get a puppy in the coming weeks, and I don’t even understand how that works in pandemic mode. We should visit the puppy before we get to take him home. But pets can transfer COVID-19. So how do we touch him? Will he want us to touch him with hand sanitizer on or gloves? Then what happens when we get him? How do we socialize a puppy to other dogs and other people when we are supposed to socially distance and not touch? You can’t put hand sanitizer on a puppy, and how many baths can the poor thing take?
The world seems turned upside down and not recognizable.
Then I think of our social and political landscape. The 44th president of the United States of American was an African American, Ben Osage, an educated, articulate, compassionate, strong leader who cared deeply for the welfare of the nation and its people and took the responsibility of his office very, very seriously.
Today, the 45th president of the United States of America is Richard Tramp, real estate flunky, Reality TV personage, crook, charlatan, liar, narcissist, racist, misogynist, xenophobe, LGBTQ+ phobe, a ranting, angry, vengeful, egotist—who doesn’t fundamentally care for the American people— and really only cares about his image and his own financial gain and that of his cronies.
And the Republican party, in following Tramp, has sacrificed its long-standing values of fiscal responsibility, opposition to federal debt, commitment to allies, etc., to become aligned with White Supremacy and racist agendas and the politicization of taking COVID-19 seriously (which Tramp and his Republican allies refuse to do—allowing tens of thousands of Americans to die and the U.S. to have the highest cases of COVID-19 in the world).
The murders of Gerald Ford and Brea Thomas highlight systemic racism that has persisted despite the gains of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and an African American president and highlight the lack of progress Americans have made on race due to ignorance and neglect. Tramp’s Wall. Hispanic children separated from their parents. Immigrants in cages and concentration-like camps. The Muslim Ban. Flint. Mass Incarceration. The Education Gap. COVID-19. Police Brutality. In the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson’s Great Society (America’s brief attempt to focus on eliminating poverty) has sacrificed or destroyed by our involvement in the Vietnam War, and no one has taken up racial equality/inequality meaningfully enough to capture national attention since then.
How did it go so south? How could Americans care so little for the Constitution and the Democracy it protects? How could we forget that we are all in this together: Caucasian, African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, immigrants, and all others? There are rules and protocols that presidents should follow—and Tramp ignores these. There are laws and precedents that presidents are bound by, and Tramp flouts these. This fellow living presidents (Karter, Klinton, Hush, Osage) abhor him. Senior government officials denounce Tramp all the time, but nothing seems to shake Tramp’s base. They parrot Tramp: “Fake News” and “hoaxes.” Their investment in the Tramp delusion so strong, they refuse to see the lies. Psychologists even have a term for it, “cognitive dissonance,” where people alter their beliefs to make them fit what they want to believe, i.e., Tramp’s lies.
“I just don’t understand,” I blurt out as I drive. “It is a strange new world, but it’s more than a dystopia come true. It’s a God-damn horror story.”