Category Archives: Polarization

Going to the Worst Places in the World

 

Often I hear people say the pandemic is nothing. I find that hard to understand. Recently, I heard an astonishing interview with an astonishing person on Amanpour & Company. The interviewee was a travelling crisis nurse called Chelsea Walsh. She travelled around the United States to many different states when they were in the worst crisis ever. She went to New York, Arizona and Texas when they were all at crisis stages. If a Covid crisis was spiking in one state that’s where she went. She went to the worst places, at the worst times, and she did it deliberately and intentionally. She must be crazy.

Why did she go? “I knew that people needed help and I wanted to help them,” she said. This reminded me of the Russian union men who went to Chernobyl and then went right into the contaminated centre of the storm, knowing they would die, because they were Russians and Russians suffered and they were asked to help they helped. That’s it. Crazy heroes.

Walsh went at great personal risk to herself. Many health care workers in the US have contracted Covid-19 and have died. Yet she did it anyway. She had the support of her fellow professionals, her supervisors, the hospital, the management, and most important the people. The Communities supported her. Until they didn’t. First some stopped listening to her and her colleagues. They thought they knew more than the professionals. They “knew” Covid-19 was no big deal. This over confidence led to more cases than there should have been. This nearly overwhelmed her and her fellow professionals.

The US at this stage when Walsh talked had more than 260,000 deaths from this disease. 12 &1/5 million people were infected. What do people think is unreal about this illness? Why do they not take this seriously? Walsh compares these people to people that have been warned by meteorologists that a lightning storm is on the way and it can be dangerous, so be careful and stay out of the storm. Some people run into the storm with a lightning rod in their arms saying “we don’t believe in lightning.” How is that possible? Walsh asked, “How do you convince people who don’t believe in lightning that lightning is real?”

One day Walsh ran out of the hospital at the end of her day exhausted and crying. A young woman had come into the ICU with Covid-19 “bleeding profusely from her nose, her eyes, her vagina. Everywhere. Then you realize this is something that is contagious. When you leave the hospital you might have it.” The woman had bled out. Screaming. Walsh said, “Whatever she had I don’t want that.” Whatever it was, it was real.

When she sees a young woman in such horrific condition and she realizes that could be her lying in that bed it is deeply disturbing. She pointed out that nurses like her develop a bond with their patients. Neither of them can go home to their families. They are alone in the hospital as is the nurse. They are together all the time. “It is like watching a friend die,” she said.

Then when she talks to the family they often have panic attacks. Some of them did not believe Covid was real. They did not realize how serious this illness is. Some have significant guilt because they gave it to the patient who died.

Walsh has therapy once a week now because of all she has seen, said and had to do. She is suffering from “Covid PTSD” as she calls it. A lot nurses of nurses are developing it. The nurses talk about it all the time. They have empathy with their patients. Now all around them patients are dying.

Walsh said,

“A lot of these places don’t have enough support staff anymore. They have all quit or been fired. It’s now mainly doctors and nurses on the ground floor. In some places the doctors won’t even help anymore; they won’t even go into the rooms anymore. It’s still up to the nurses, and we felt from the very beginning most of us that talked about it we’ve pretty well been sacrificed. Our lives would be worth less than everybody else from the beginning by being told only we could go in to see the patients. So there is a constant fear of ‘why us’? And again, when it going be to our turn to be in that hospital bed?”

As if that is not bad enough in some places they don’t have the PPE they need or the supplies they need. They are not getting the support they need. Sometimes they are running out of medications or supplies they have to rationed. Imagine the decisions they have to make!

At the same time the nurse/patient ratio is going up and this is what kept them alive. That means they have less time to spend with each person.

Added to that, “a lot of risky things have happened and are happening that make the entire situation very unstable and very unsafe right now.”

These are all things that make it very different from seasonal flu spikes. Those are bad and they stress hospitals and care workers too, but nothing like this. This is different!

Walsh was asked what hospitals should be doing:

“Right now what people should be concentrating on is protecting their nurses, because once we’re gone there is no more hospital standing, because without us there is nobody to do the skills. These hospitals are already turning into these ghost town situations where there’s not enough staff to take care of a hospital. And we’re doing our best. In some places I’ve had to do housekeeping; I’ve had to be the secretary; I’ve had to be the pharmacist. I’ve had to do every job in the hospital because nobody else is working. And then the doctors still won’t go into these rooms and we have to do doctor’s assessments. So nurses are literally picking up all the fields that are leaving the hospital and if we’re gone and we’re not protected the hospital can’t stand. So right now the highest priority hospitals should have is protecting their nurses, because we’re keeping the hospital standing.”

This is what an overwhelmed hospital looks like. People who won’t wear masks or wont’ wash their hands or won’t believe in Covid-19 should really pay attention. People who don’t think the pandemic is a big deal should think again. This is real.

As Hari Sreenivasan asked, “why is it that nurses are telling us that people are literally dying without believing the very thing that is killing them?” Walsh, I believe has the right answer, “Because everything became politicized. Politics invited itself into medicine and then divided everything.” When politics came in it caused people to choose sides. They say, “my side” does not believe in Covid. So I will stick to my side no matter what. That is the way polarized politics works. People choose sides rather than the truth.

Walsh says that instead of listening to their doctors and nurses, people listen to their political leaders who don’t care about them and, even worse, don’t know what they are talking about. The nurses also also hate wearing masks at all times. They also care about the economy. They also want to go to the bar after work. But they also care about their patients and want this thing to be over. No one wants it to be over more than him or her. Listen to them. As Walsh said, “If anyone wants an unbiased opinion ask your nurse or doctor.”

Puritans: The First Extremists

 

Many of us who know and love America as I do, have been perplexed by the all out mania of their extremism. Americans do nothing halfway. It is all in or all out. No medium in between. That may be a product of their birth.

The first settlers to the New World found fertile ground for their extreme beliefs and ultimately for the imposition of those beliefs on others. Many were fleeing religious persecution in Europe so that they could impose religious persecution on others in that new world. Kurt Andersen in his book FantasyLand described early American religiosity this way:

“Yet unlike Roman Catholicism, with its old global hierarchy and supreme leader, the new Protestant Christianity was by its nature fractious and unstable, invented almost within living memory by uncompromising rebels who couldn’t abide interpretations and rules issued by expert super clergy. It was an innovative new religion successful at a time when innovations were transforming the rest of Europe’s cultures and economies. Protestantism was thus part of an exciting tide of novelty, along with the printing press, global trade, the Renaissance, the beginnings of modern science, and the Enlightenment. It’s unique selling proposition was radical. When official leaders lose their way, pious anybodies can and must decide the new improved truth on their own—that is, by reading Scripture, each individual determines the correct meaning of Christian fantasies. The Protestants’ founding commitment to fierce, decentralized, do-it-yourself truth-finding and spiritual purity led to the continuous generation of self-righteous sectarian spin-offs.”

I was born and raised in Steinbach. We had Mennonites and even more radical Pentecostals. Wild and whacky beliefs were in the air we breathed. In America the first extremists were the Puritans who built a society in the New World in their own image. They were given that name by the established Christians. It was not a complement. Many of them were Calvinists. They were nothing if not true believers. They came to establish a world of true believers. They wanted to be separate from the established Church of England. Soon they wanted to separate from England itself. First they tried the Netherlands but there was too much heresy there too so they sailed to the New World.  As Anderson said, “Ferociously believing every miracle and myth wasn’t enough.”

Steinbach was not that different. The Mennonites wanted to keep themselves separate and apart “from the world.”

As Andersen said,

“What really distinguished the Puritans from the mainstream were matters of personality, demeanor. To be a Puritan was to embody uncompromising zeal. (They were analogous to certain American political zealots today, who more than disagreeing with their Establishment’s ideas just can’t stand their reasonable-seeming manner. Moreover, a good Christian life, the Puritans believed, was one consumed by Christianity…In other words, America was founded by a nutty religious cult.”

They were sort of like Mennonites on steroids.

The natives the Puritans found in the New World did not matter. Those people were just not civilized. The people who mattered were the religious zealots. As Andersen described it, “The myth we’ve constructed says that the first nonnative new Americans who mattered were the idealists, the hyper-religious people seeking freedom to believe and act out their passionate, elaborate, all-consuming fantasies.”

And America has been hyper-religious ever since. And it shows. Welcome to FantasyLand.

 

The Smoking Gun

 

I will never forget how as a young lad going to law school the Watergate case was unraveling. Watching the hearings on television was mesmerizing. even when things started getting rough for Nixon, I thought he would survive the onslaught. There was evidence leading to deep suspicions that he had been involved in a cover-up, but there was never a smoking gun. Never that is until the tapes were discovered. President Nixon had amazingly tape-recorded for posterity all his discussions with his henchmen. When that was discovered the sharks starting circling. When people listened to the tapes there was a smoking gun. Nixon’s gig was up. He was done.

I got exactly the same feeling this week when I heard parts of the tapes released by Bob Woodward as a result of 18 taped interviews with President Trump. I thought this was the smoking gun. Trump was done.

Donald Trump admitted that he did not tell the truth to Americans as thousands were dying. They could have avoided thousands of deaths had they known the truth. Yet, since then has there been an uprising as there was for Richard Nixon? Not yet.

Why have more Americans not called this out? Frankly I am stunned. How could Americans countenance their president lying to them about the dangers of Covid-19 while people—particularly young people—were going out and taking chances they should not have taken and likely would not have taken had they known the truth that their president already knew, but had assiduously hidden from them for the sake of protecting his own political fortunes at the expense of American lives? Surely this would do it! The people would rise up in fury. Even his own supporters would abandon him. I really felt that last week. Yet it did not happen. Now I feel like a fool (again).

Why did that not happen? With some introspection I think I know. The critical difference between now and 1972 when Nixon was under examination consisted of two facts.

First, in 1972 the American political world was not as strictly divided into 2 polar opposite camps as it is today. In 1972 when Republicans looked at the damning evidence against Nixon, a couple of Republican Senators visited Nixon at the White House and said he had no alternative but to resign. Nixon’s support among Republicans had vanished. The game was over. That could never happen now. Today, most believe, “our side” can do not wrong.

Secondly, in 1972 Nixon was originally a popular president. He had won the election in a landslide. But—and here is the critical difference—Nixon was not worshipped. Nixon attracted no theological devotion. That is not the case with Trump. Trump was right when he said he could go to Times Square, commit a murder, and loose no support! This is not absurd; it is the truth. That is devotion that only beloved religious leaders receive. Trump attracts true believers!

Just like no free-thinker, no matter how wise, smart, or profound could ever hope to defeat the resolution of a religious followers of Christ, or Mohamed, no one could persuade a Trump follower to forsake him. His position is secure. Theological devotion is rock solid. Political support is far from that.

That is a pity. Truth does not matter any more. The world has changed. That means a leader like Trump can do almost anything and still count on the support of his devoted followers. That is a terrible thing for democracy and freedom. Truth should still matter.