Talkin’ Coronavirus Blues

Way back in his early Cold War folk music period Bob Dylan had a song we quite liked called “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” and we’ve been reminded of it lately. The lyrics tell how Dylan had a dream he was the only survivor of a nuclear armaggedon, then went to a psychiatrist who told him “I’ve been having the same old dream, but mine’s a little different don’t you see, I dreamt the only person left after the war was me, and you weren’t around nowhere.”
What brings it to mind is a couple of clearly coronavirus-inspired dreams we’ve had lately, which we read is a common thing these days, and also the crowds who have lately been taking to the streets to lately to protest the shutdowns and social distancing measures that state governments have imposed to slow the spread of the disease. They seem quite confident that they’re going not going to get sick or die, and callously blithe about those who will.
It’s an understandable human impulse. Having survived the swine flu and bird flue and SARS and Ebola and other plagues we’re also pretty cocksure about outlasting this one, just as we’d dodged enough tornadoes here on the plains to be unafraid of them until we took a direct his above ground from an F4 one day and found the company car we’d been driving upside-down a block-and-a-half from where we’d parked it, and we’re also eager to get back to church and Kirby’s Beer Store and business as usual. We also share the protestors’ instinctive aversion to being told what to do by bossy governments.
The older we get the less invincible we feel, though, and the more we appreciate that a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of government are necessary to get by in this imperfect world. Even in the best of times there are good reasons for those stop signs and speed limits and other restrictions of liberty as well the cops that glare at you from behind mirrored sunglasses as they write a ticket. We’re old enough to have heard our parents’s childhood stories about the rationing cards and other government impositions on the populace that occurred during World War II, and how hoarders were shunned by their neighbors, and stories from our grandparents about people only venturing outside wearing face masks during the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and figure that even in such a ferociously freedom-loving land such as this there are occasionally drastic situations that call for drastic measures.
Americans should insist that when we this crisis passes they should regain all the liberties they enjoyed before, and be suspicious of any attempts by inherently bossy governments to permanently retain their temporary powers, but until then we’ll do our best to follow the rules. We hope it’s sooner rather later, and although it looks to be a long while in large part of the federal government’s slow and clumsy response, but we’ll give it a while. All the gas rationing and bacon grease and scrap metal collecting and occasional coastal blackouts of World War II lasted four long years, and when people discarded their face masks and gathered in large crowds after decline in infections to celebrate victory in World War I here was a second and even deadlier wave of Spanish Influenza.
All the shutdowns and social distancing have had a catastrophic effect on the economy, and we well know how onerous they are for even for those who still have a job, but for now they seem the sort of sacrifices previous generations made to pass along a still-great nation. Maybe it’s just the hard-earned apathy of a fatalistic 60-year-old more than any patriotic spirit, but staying at home and sleeping 10 hours a day and watching a lot of Netflix and keeping up with our friends through Facebook and posting our daily bitches and moans about Trump on the internet seems the least we can do to honor our what our forebears put up with for us.
This can’t go on forever, of course, but so far nothing has except for life itself. We’d like to see life’s streak continue, and it will be hard to say when that moment comes when it has to get back to normal. That’s going to require some hard data we’re not yet getting and the expertise of scientists who are now being widely ignored, and a measure of prudence and patience that a large chunk of the populace and the President of the United States don’t seem to possess. We trust that most of our fellow citizens will come out when they damned well feel it’s safe to do so, no matter what Trump and his Confederate-flag-waving supporters who have been blocking ambulance traffic say.
Mostly, we hope that as a nation we will somehow grope our way toward whatever works out best for everybody, even if it doesn’t work out best for us. As good old Bob Dylan put it, “Time passed, and now it seems, everybody’s havin’ them dreams, everybody’s seein’ themselves walking around with nobody else … I’ll let you be in my dream if you’ll let me be in yours.”

— Bud Norman

On an Ironic April Fools’ Day

President Donald Trump is no longer downplaying the severity of the coronavirus epidemic, and is now warning that as many as 240,000 Americans might die. As a Facebook friend of ours pointed out, that’s more than the American death toll from World War I and the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.
The president also now acknowledges that it won’t be over by Easter, that Americans will have to stay at home as much as possible at least through April and perhaps past May, and that the economic consequences will be grim. He also wants you to know that the lack of testing and shortages of essential medical supplies are the fault of President Barack Obama and various nasty Democratic governors and his good friend the Chinese dictator, and the media are only reporting all the horrific news to make him look bad, but at least he’s stopped peddling the pie-in-the-sky optimism which encouraged far too many of his most die-hard fans to go out and potentially expose themselves to the virus.
America has until November to assess the job Trump has done in responding to this crisis, and there’s no telling what things will look by then, but clearly mistakes have already been made. Despite the eight long years we spent criticizing Obama on an almost daily basis we don’t blame him for a disease that came along three years after he left office, we see no reason why any Republican or Democratic governor should have to flatter Trump to get needed federal help for they states, and now that Trump admits that all the “fake news” about a public health emergency wasn’t so fake after all we wish he’d stop castigating reporters for asking questions that he’d rather not have to answer.
Whatever the eventual coronavirus death toll might be, Trump will boast that it would have been far worse if not for the actions he took, and he’ll be right about that. The experts Trump is at long listening to say the death toll would be in the millions if no actions were taken at all, but surely Trump isn’t the only possible president who wouldn’t have simply ignored the problem, so far most of the action has been taking place at the state and county and local levels, and as much as we still despise the damn Democrats we can’t see how any of this mess is their fault.
We’re hoping and praying it all ends as well as possible, even if that redounds to Trump’s political benefit, and we’re doing our part by mostly staying at home and going slightly stir crazy and trying to hold public officials accountable. It’s not so much that we’re so very patriotic and selfless, but that there’s currently nowhere to go, even with gasoline prices at the lowest we’ve seen in many decades.
Stay well, dear readers, no matter what you might decide come next November.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Bad Week, and We Dare You to Say Otherwise

Several of our beloved Republican friends and family members are imploring us to take it easy on President Donald Trump and his heroic efforts to make America great again, but this is a hard time to oblige them. Try as we might, we just can’t muster any kind words for the past week of Trump’s presidency.
It all started last Tuesday, a midterm election day when the Democrats won a slight majority in the House of Representatives and the Republicans only slightly padded their majority in Senate despite an unusually favorable electoral map and generally healthy economy. On Wednesday Trump declared a near total victory during a even more contentious than usual news conference, complaining that a black woman reporter from the Public Broadcasting System’s questions about Trump’s embrace of the “nationalist” label was racist, and calling a white male Cable News Network reporter whose press pass was shortly thereafter revoked by the White House a “rude and terrible person,” and he also taunted all the losing Republican candidates in districts and states that Trump lost by a landslide for for failing to fully embrace him, and vowing a “war-like stance” against in incoming Democratic majority in the House.. Later that day he forced the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an otherwise loyal foot soldier who had committed the unforgivable sin of ethically recusing himself from from a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” and temporarily replaced him with a little-known Justice Department official who was on the televised record saying he would put an end to that pesky “Russia thing” problem.
By the end of Wednesday the counting of all the early votes around the country had bolstered the Democratic landslide  in the House to post-Watergate record levels and diminished that slight Republican majority in the Senate, and several prominent congressional Republicans were openly objecting to to Trump’s temporary appointment of an obvious political hack who was clearly chosen to protect Trump from that pesky “Russia thing” investigation. When a Harvard-educated black woman reporter from CNN asked the obvious question of the day during an impromptu news conference if the appointment had been made to thwart the special counsel investigation, he snarled that “That’s a stupid question, but I’ve been watching you, and you ask a lot of stupid questions.” He then completed the trifecta by calling the other third prominent black woman in the White House press corps a “total loser,” even though she was mostly out of the news of the day.
By Thursday Trump was distancing himself from that political hack he’d appointed as acting Attorney General, saying he didn’t know the guy and only appointed him because he’d been chief of staff to the Attorney General he had just forced to resign, which gave all the other networks a chance to gleefully replay Trump’s assurances to Fox News viewers that he knew the interim appointment well. Meanwhile the Democrats’ victorious midterm election day totals swelled, and Trump was “tweeting” plausible yet unconfirmed allegations that the Democrats were cheating and that any results that don’t favor the Republicans are illegitimate.
On Friday Trump was flying to Europe for a solemn centennial commemoration of when the United States and its longtime French and English and other democratic allies won a temporary victory in World War I, but Trump managed to mangle even that golden opportunity. Before he touched ground on French soil Trump “tweeted” his disapproval of the French President Emmanuel Macron, based on some bad reporting about French president Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a formidable pan-European military force, which Trump incorrectly considered a threat to the United States even though it was the sort of European militarism he’s long urged.
Saturday was cold and rainy in France, and thus Trump cancelled a trip to a cemetery where more than a hundred thousand American veterans of World War I were buried, even though all those effete Euro-weenie heads of state were somehow able to make their way to pay their respects to their country’s fallen heroes.
Sunday marked the centennial of that 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when America and France and England and the rest of our allies won a hard-fought victory in World War I, and although it was only a brief respite from World War II that effete Euro-weenie Macron gave a compelling speech that it was won because of the democratic western world’s cooperation and despite the the unabashedly self-intered nationalist impulses that caused it. We note that Trump paid his presidential respects to America’s fallen heroes but didn’t give give a similarly compelling defense of his unabashedly self-interested nationalism, and don’t expect that he’ll do so until the next never-ending campaign rally of die-hard fans, who know as little about history as Trump does.
Today is another Monday in America, where the economy seems to be humming along well enough despite the recent downturns in the stock markets and all the nationalist trade wars Trump is currently waging, and there’s no denying that some of Trump’s critics are rude and terrible people, and there’s always a chance that “Russia thing” might prove overblown. Even so, we can’t currently muster any defense of Trump’s presidency.

— Bud Norman

Another Memorial Day

Today is a good day to take it easy, enjoy the arrival of another long-awaited summer in America, and to not bother with the mess we’re making of it. It’s also a good time to reflect on the men and women who once made America, so we’ll re-post an old essay once again. Nothing much has changed since we wrote it.
On a long walk through the old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass dividing a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rifle and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that has tarnished to a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American war and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time the monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and that the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war lasted for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only short mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before rushing on to the more exciting tales of the ‘60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial dominance, commenced more than a century of America’s preeminence on the world stage, and permanently altered, for better or worse, the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and its giant Keeper of the Plains statue, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another lists the names of the many local men who died while serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a rather elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of that conflict had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some American veterans of the war have publicly complained about the inclusion of non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt not just by the world but individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found clear over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city there are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markers to honor the men and women who have fought for their country, and of course a good many gravestones for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq war, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor the men and women who fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive us all, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishment of a democracy in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the military defeat of al-Qaeda will prove a boon to humanity, and that is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the war has been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for America in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and to be grateful.

— Bud Norman

The Progressives’ Assault on Progressivism

The latest outbreak of the nationwide academic craziness epidemic is occurring at prestigious Princeton University, and seems to mainly be about expunging the institution’s past association with President Woodrow Wilson, so we have very mixed feelings about the matter. As stuffy old prairie Republican autodidacts we have no patience for the campus hijinks of pampered Ivy Leaguers, and any attempts to expunge the past are an affront to our Burkean sensibilities, but of course we can’t resist some satisfaction in seeing Wilson’s reputation at long last under assault from the left.
Way back in the days of our public education Wilson was still regarded by our approved textbooks’ opinion as the exemplar of progressivism. There was some embarrassed acknowledgement that he led the country into World War I, and that his populist rival William Jennings Bryan had quit his post as Secretary of State in protest of the still-debated decision, and that certain provisions of the Constitution were effectively repealed by the Sedition Act for the duration of the war, but otherwise Wilson always seemed to come in a close second to President Franklin Roosevelt as one of the Democratic Party’s great presidents. Back then Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were duly acknowledged as Republican rivals, even if Lincoln’s unabashed capitalism and constitutionalism were always unmentioned while T.R.’s more free-wheeling progressivism was always stressed, but Wilson was very much a member of that same presidential pantheon. Wilson was acknowledged as the father of a newfound philosophy that would bring war-time coordination of industrial efficiencies to peacetime economies through the latest scientific power over human nature, and bring eternal peace through a League of Nations if only the Treaty of Versailles weren’t too harsh on those poor Germans and Ottomans, and of course you know he was once President of prestigious Princeton University, in contrast to that hayseed prairie populist Bryan who didn’t even go to college and lost three elections for the Democrats and wound up as the anti-evolutionist villain in “Inherit the Wind.”.
Even at that young age, and with the usual youthful yearning for heroes and all the addling effects of a public school education, it all seemed rather suspicious. Being seditious sorts we read beyond the approved textbooks to learn that Wilson’s war-time restrictions on the Constitution were seemingly intended to last well into peace-time, that the post-war economy never really recovered until the the hated Coolidge’s “return to normalcy,” that the whole government-economy idea never has worked out, and that the League of Nations didn’t prevent a World War II, and probably not because the Treaty of Versailles was too mean to the Germans. We were also unsurprised to learn that Wilson was an unapologetic racist who praised the Ku Klux Klan and re-segregrated the federal government after policies that had been imposed by Republicans from Roosevelt all the way back to such supposed Republican retrogrades as Ulysses S Grant. By that point we were even cynical of that Princeton pedigree, which still loomed large in the Wilson myth.
All of which further mixes our feelings regarding the current controversy at Princeton University. The students demanding his name be banished from the university’s history don’t seem concerned with all those dead doughboys of World War I, who were no doubt war-monger Republicans, and they aren’t the least offended by his disregard of the right of free expression, which is currently all the rage on America’s campuses, and certainly not by his cocksureness that such Ivy League educated gentlemen as himself could more efficiently run an economy than a society of free men and women, which is taken as a given, but rather all that racism. So far as we can tell all the World War I stuff that so troubled our textbook-writers is long forgotten, but that infamous White House screening of “A Birth of Nation” and the re-segregation of the federal government and all the rest of the old-school stone-cold racist stuff can no longer be overlooked. Our reading of the history that most of the current Princetonians have probably never read suggests that America’s game-changing entry into World War I was about the only saving grave of Wilson’s presidency, given the Lusitania and all the other sunken American ships and the German campaign of sabotage on American soil and intercepted Zimmerman memo that outlined a plot by Germany to revanche the southwest quadrant of the United States to Mexico and the possibility of longtime allies France and England falling to a world order dictated by Prussian militarism, and that even Wilson’s idealistic and utterly naive post-war diplomatic blunders do not deny him some credit for sending in those doughboys.
Even the most Orwellian efforts cannot change the fact that Wilson was once the President of Princeton University, too, and that it was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career. A presidential trivia question that always stumps our liberal friends is what two United States Presidents previously served as presidents of Ivy League universities, and they’re never able to recall that one was Dwight Eisenhower, who briefly served as president of Columbia University after a more noteworthy career in the military and before a more noteworthy two terms as President of the United States, they all know that Woodrow Wilson was once President of Princeton University, although they never remember he also served as Governor of New Jersey. That famous connection once added a certain sheen to Wilson’s reputation, and in turn his formerly textbook-approved standing once added to Princeton’s prestige, so we wonder if the protesters demanding his repudiation understand how their actions might diminish the economic value of the Princeton degrees they’ll probably wind up with. The whole effort reminds us of the ancient and recent Islamist conquerers who immediately set about destroying all the artifacts of the civilizations that preceded them, or the Khmer Rouge that proclaimed a Day One of history after its slaughter, or the villains in every dystopian novel or movie who set out to re-write the past and all its good examples and dire warnings. or even those more benign and seemingly well-intention efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the Gen. Robert E. Lee muscle car in the old “Dukes of Hazard” television show, although in one of these cases was anyone so bold as to throw away the prestige of an Ivy League degree.
Although we revile the anti-constitutional authoritarianism and economic control and credentialed elitism and outright racism of Woodrow Wilson, we can’t help thinking he’d be pleased with his legacy in both international affairs and academia. His greatest hope of the post-war era was that American subordination to some sort of international tribunal would yield international peace, an an ephemera still chased after by his bi-racial and supposedly post-racial successor, and during his tenure as President of Princeton his pedagogical philosophy was that “The purpose of a university should be to make a man as unlike his father as possible.” All of Wilson’s dreams seem to have to been finally achieved, and nobody on either the left or right seems at all happy about it. Our feelings, certainly, are mixed.

— Bud Norman