Monday, June 1, 2020

BTRTN: Space, Race, and Sheltering in Place... One Tiny Step Forward, Two Horrifying Steps Back

Another week of shame in America. Please don’t try to tell me a rocket launch should make us feel proud.

On Saturday, breathless newscasters channeled Walter Cronkite’s giddy euphoria in reporting the moon landing as they gushed with wonder at the launch of the SpaceX rocket with two astronauts aboard. Yes, to be sure, kudos to all… especially the brave astronauts who sat atop the rocket and repeated the immortal line of America’s first man in space, Alan Shepard, when they declared “let’s light this candle.”

Forgive me, however, for my tempered enthusiasm. The launching of two astronauts into space for the purpose of achieving rendezvous and docking with a craft already in earth orbit is something that the United States actually achieved on March 16, 1966. Yes, David Scott and Neil Armstrong – who would later be the first human to walk on the moon – were launched into space and docked their Gemini VIII spacecraft to an Agena rocket 170 miles above earth over 54 years ago

To put this in perspective, imagine if in the year 1957 our nation was jumping for joy that it had successfully tested an aircraft that flew 40 miles-per-hour during a flight that lasted 59 seconds and covered 852 feet. That would be the parallel: wild self-congratulations for replicating the Wright Brothers’ first flight some 54 years later. Forgive me if I am not blown away by SpaceX, particularly as it occurred in a week in which America’s decline was being demonstrated far more profoundly than its advances.

It happens that two years before Gemini XIII, also in that amazing decade of the 1960s, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, the landmark legislation that made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and banned segregation in schools, workplaces, and public spaces. 

And now, 56 years later, a white cop jammed his knee onto the neck of a helpless African American man for nearly nine minutes, killing him while simultaneously creating the perfect metaphor for a nation that cruelly holds down and subjugates its minorities. By my count in this past decade, our police have killed more African Americans as they lie helplessly gasping “I can’t breathe” than NASA has launched manned rockets. 

56 years after we achieved the great 1964 milestone of social legislation, we realize that we are still very much a nation inhabited by racists who – save for the all-seeing eyes of ubiquitous cell phones –  would get away with secretively lynching African Americans under the pretense of law and order. 

Were we a better country back in then? Make no mistake: that period had its share of hate, violence, and disgrace. But there was progress. There was even the sense that Martin Luther King’s moral arc of the universe was bending in the right direction.

Then, we raced to create vaccines for polio as quickly as we would race to the moon. Back then, we listened to scientists who told us that smoking kills, seat belts save lives, computers could enhance learning, communication, and productivity, and that there was a disciplined process called the scientific method that could be used to determine objective, factual truth. Back then, objective, factual truth mattered. It guided policy, popular opinion, and decision making. Back then, for heaven’s sake, a Republican – yes, Richard Nixon – created the Environmental Protection Agency. Back then, science was not red or blue.

There was a sense then that the common will of the American people was pushing for a more just, more fair, more educated, more equal society. There was also a sense that the Federal government – in each of its executive, legislative, and judicial branches – was pulling the nation in that direction. We were getting better as a nation, as measured by our actions on civil rights, access to and equality of education, emphasis on science, and the hard-to-quantify notion of national aspiration.

Today, our President suggests that we ingest poison, overtly ignores and challenges the findings of scientists and medical professionals, operates on his ignorant hunches when facts are readily available, and lies to us more frequently than we go to the bathroom.
Today, we sit at home, sheltering-in-place, avoiding a lethal virus, to be sure – but also wary of venturing out because we sense that our Federal government appears to know less about containing, controlling, and tracking that virus than our local mayor.  We have the distinct sense that the Federal government wants us to play COVID roulette with our lives and those of our loved ones so that statistics about the economy are no longer so horrific come election day.  

The government that used to pass laws and enact regulations based on our common welfare – about smoking, seat belts, and the right of our minority citizens to live freely and safely – is now a fire hose of mixed signals, inaccurate assertions, and untrustworthy motives, and it utterly absent the moral authority to plead for shared sacrifice and a notion of the common good.

Why should I wear a mask? The President doesn’t. 

No, in the America we live in today, we don’t even have the guts to call our government’s response to the coronavirus for the genocide that it is. Donald Trump was more concerned about his re-election than the health and safety of our people, so he played down the threat of the virus, ignored the advice of scientists and medical professionals, and delayed implementing social distancing and sheltering-in-place programs as he insisted that everything was fine and that the virus would “magically” disappear. He did and said all that because he was terrified that the truth would devastate the stock market, and that a stock market crash and crippled economy would destroy his prospect for re-election.  

Columbia University recently released a study that found that 54,000 of the deaths from the coronavirus would have been avoided had the Federal government implementing social distancing protocols a mere two weeks earlier. To be crystal clear: 54,000 people died because Donald Trump was more concerned about his re-election than about the science of the virus and the health of the American people. Genocide is death on a massive scale caused by deliberate, intentional action with knowledge that widespread death would result. It is time to start calling the United States COVID-19 death toll for what it is: genocide at the hands of Donald Trump. 

A very long time ago -- in his final address to the nation as President of the United States in 2017 -- Barack Obama reflected on the bumpy path of American history with the following words: 

“Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It has been contentious. Sometimes it has been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.” 

At the time, it appeared that Obama was desperately trying to signal to Americans who were aghast that we had elected a cowardly, divisive, deceitful, morally bankrupt, and ignorant clown as President of the United States. Obama was begging Americans to cling to their ideals through dark times.

And, in his own deft, understated way, Obama was sending a signal to fight for change. While he had served two terms in office – two steps forward – the impending presidency of Donald Trump was certain to be a dark period of retreat, but that the damage could be limited if Trump were to serve only one term … “one step back.”

This is the mission of our time. 

Donald Trump’s knee is planted on our neck, and yes, his foolish, self-serving actions are actually killing our citizens. As he seeks to destroy government institutions, checks and balances, Congressional oversight, and use the power of our government to destroy his political opponents, he is cutting off the oxygen of democracy. Time is running out. If he is left unchecked and given a second term, we will surely all be gasping for liberty and desperately crying that we cannot breathe. 

We must each do all in our power to ensure he is beaten in November. 

This week in America, we may have taken a largely inconsequential step forward by managing to replicate a rocket launch that we were able to routinely execute in an era when we had no internet, no google, no iPhones, no social media, and no cable news networks. All it took then was math, science, and human will.

But, in this same week, we took two horrifying leaps of shame in the wrong direction. Deaths from the corona virus passed one hundred thousand, and representatives of our government’s law enforcement killed yet another defenseless black man in an act of disgraceful racism.

I can do without the rocket ship safely launching two people into space.

Give me a government that can and will focus on the safety of all of its citizens here on earth.

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  1. One has to agree with Tom. We need mayors who are not afraid to step up and protect the people of their city. We need Governors who are not afraid to do the same. We do not need politically correct politicians who are so afraid of alienating their "black voter base" that they turn their back and refuse to protect all Americans. The mayor of Minneapolis and the governor of Minnesota are probably the best example of incompetent progressive politically correct politicians . Hard-working American's futures have been destroyed and they did nothing. At the same time they had no problem shutting down those terrible churchgoers that were violating the un-constitutional forced home interment. Thousands of "so called protesters" openly violated these rules and the mayor/governor hid under their desks. MLK would roll in his grave and vomit. It is easy to bully law abiding Church going Americans. It is hard to stand up to the mob and do what is right and protect Americans from the mob ;when the very mob represents the people who voted you into the office. The same phenomenon is occurring across the nation in the major metropolitan areas that have been controlled by Democratic progresses for decades. The rest of the country is watching. They want no part of this. If it keeps up they will make sure Trump is elected so this anarchy does not happen in their back yard and their children are safe. Fly over country understands the cities are rotting from the inside out and after the virus/looting sane people will leave in droves. Unfortunately most do not understand that with their votes they are responsible for what has happened to their once great cities.. Sadly they'll bring the destruction of their politics where ever they go.
    The cycle then repeats. SAD!!!!

  2. about that "Back then, we listened to scientists who told us that smoking kills" --
    We may have listened and SOME reacted, but going from 42% smoking to 14% smoking in 45 years (2 generations) hints at how difficult change is. Even when there eventually is overwhelming scientific evidence, stricter laws, and extensive social pressure -- there remains a remnant of the afflicted.

    I expect the same is true in the less clearly identifiable problem of racism. Growing up in the 60s, racial epithets were common at school. The last "traditional" lynching of a black man was in 1981. "Hate crimes" continue -- and seems like a rising problem over the last few years. The combination of laws and social pressure may lead to a decrease over a couple of generations.


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