Covid-19, Anger, and Politics

Most of us think of Covid-19 primarily in terms of the number of people whom it has killed. As I write this, the body count is running around 180,000, with about 800 more per day. This number itself is astonishing. The terrorists on 9/11 killed a mere 3,000 people, and the nation rose up in fury and attacked Iraq, killing perhaps half a million Iraqis. But 60 times as many deaths elicits a sad shrug of the shoulders.

There’s a story about the Russian peasant of old times: the soldiers have come through, killing his wife and children, making off with his single cow, and burning his filthy hovel. The Russian peasant stands among the smoking ruins, looking around him, and says only “Nichivo” — broadly translated as “Oh, well it doesn’t matter.”

We’re like that Russian peasant, resigned to our fates and accepting the horrors wrought upon us by Mr. Trump’s cosmic incompetence and gross irresponsibility.

But the deaths aren’t the only effect of the pandemic. For every death, there are many more who undergo hospitalization and suffer for weeks. If a politician proposed a bill that would subject some percentage of the population to such suffering, they would be lynched. But we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Nichivo”.

It doesn’t stop there. In our botched efforts to contain the virus, we have implemented half-measures that have imposed serious harm on the economy without doing much to bring the pandemic under control. Tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs; many schools and universities are closed; restaurants and bars are half-empty. The pandemic is now endemic; because many Americans will refuse to take the necessary hygienic measures and many more will refuse to be vaccinated, we can be certain that Covid-19 will be a permanent feature of American life for — well, almost forever.

But I would like to call your attention today to a fourth impact of the Covid-19 pandemic: its dark psychological effect on Americans as a group. If you haven’t lost your job, you’re probably working under constraints that undermine your efforts. Working from home has its pleasures, but it can also be stressful and demoralizing. Few people can be confident that their jobs are safe; companies continue to go bankrupt as they run out of capital. Each bankruptcy undercuts the economy, making more bankruptcies likely. In economies, growth is a virtuous circle, and decline a vicious one.

Then there’s the uncertainty. Back in March, when we began to close down, we told ourselves that this was a temporary measure. In six weeks, everything would return to normal. But six weeks passed, and the pandemic still raged. We have now been under kinda-sorta quarantine for six months, and there’s no sign that we’ll be returning to normal at any time in the foreseeable future.

Again, we have Mr. Trump to blame for this mess. Had he come out clearly and firmly in February, telling everybody that we must all self-isolate, wear masks in public, and maintain social distancing, and we had all obeyed his instructions, the pandemic would have disappeared within two months. But Donald Trump will NEVER do what it takes to beat this plague. As long as we’re stuck with him, we’re stuck with the plague.

The hundreds of millions of Americans who have not lost their lives or their jobs are nevertheless suffering the ill consequences of Mr. Trump’s idiocy. The stressors are small but widespread and long-lasting. My wife and I can’t go to our favorite restaurant every week as we once did — it’s closed. Wearing a mask in public really isn’t a stressor, but whenever I’m in a public place and I see some asshole not wearing a mask, I wonder if I might catch the disease from this moron. Family get-togethers have been cancelled. Group meetings that I had expected to attend have shut down. I have to wear my mask when visiting friends, and hugs are verboten. Sure, these are all little things, but they are a constant reminder of the unnecessary inconvenience imposed upon me, and it looks like we’ll be stuck with them forever.

We’re all experiencing different stressors. It’s like a tiny rock in your shoe that’s too small to stop what you’re doing to remove, but nevertheless irritates you all day long. It’s like a dog next door barking intermittently through the night, or a drink in a restaurant that’s not quite right, but not bad enough to send back. It’s all of these things put together, day in and day out, and the stress is starting to get under our skin.

Throw in the high temperatures of summer and you’ve got the perfect conditions for an explosion of anger. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anybody that the protests started when temperatures started rising. Police have been murdering blacks for decades, but this time we reached a collective breaking point, and thousands of people turned up to protest police malpractice. The protests just kept on, week after week. People weren’t protesting the murder of one man — they were motivated by four years of Mr. Trump lying and insulting and antagonizing them; by the many inconveniences of the pandemic; by the unemployment; and by high temperatures.

The anger isn’t new; it started back in the 1990s with Rush Limbaugh and talk radio. Mr. Limbaugh discovered a lucrative new entertainment venue: political anger. Week after week, he poured his venom onto the air waves, and millions of Americans lapped it up and echoed it back. More people jumped onto the bandwagon: Glenn Beck, Michele Malkin, Bill O’Reilley, Tucker Carlson, and more. They could get lots of attention by stirring up the anger in their audiences. An entire movement arose built on anger. It crystallized into the Tea Party, then recrystallized around Donald Trump. It’s growing stronger every day.

All that conservative rage has finally triggered counter-rage on the left. Not long ago the left was the voice of reason responding to screams of rage coming from the right cooly and calmly, but of late, many people on the left have succumbed to the same anger. I suspect that the combination of the pandemic, unemployment, Trump’s deliberate provocations, police malpractice, and of course the viciousness of the right wing have all combined to exhaust the patience of people on the left, and they are starting to react with anger.

I’ve seen a number of examples of this here on Medium. One lady has declared that a revolution is necessary — and if that entails violence, well, she’s not going to object. Some black writers are spewing racist hate at whites in general. Don’t you dare object: you’ll be dismissed as a racist and a dick (their word).

I greatly fear for the country when the election rolls around. Mr. Trump will undoubtedly make every effort to subvert the election. There will be intense controversy over the results, and tempers, already high, will rise above the boiling point. Without question, there are tens of millions of people with major emotional investment in the outcome of the election. I am one of those tens of millions; I believe that, if Mr. Trump manages to cheat his way into a victory, it will mean the destruction of the American republic and the end of the Constitution. I’ll be out there demonstrating with others. But there will be lots of leftists who’ll quickly resort to violence, and you can be sure that this will bring out the right-wing fanatics. They’re convinced that, since they own so many guns, they can triumph in a violent confrontation, so they’re eager for the shooting to start. There are so many hotheads on both sides that lots of blood will flow.

It is my hope that cooler heads will prevail and that we’ll eventually shame the murderers into backing down. But I do not believe that we’ll make it through this period without bloodshed. The only question in my mind is how much blood will be spilled. A situation this tense could easily blow up on us.

Master of Science, Physics, 1975. Computer Game Designer. Interactive Storytelling.