Witness to the Perfect Storm

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – Last night was a hot one, after a hot day, and today has dawned with a promise of more. Kiki and I enjoy the breeze of the ceiling fan, she in her chair and I in mine. Out the office window I see blue skies and a few scattered cumuli. But she has far keener ears than mine, and every so often they snap to attention and turn toward the window. Something’s afoot southwest of here.

Most of us no doubt remember the so-called Perfect Storm of 1991, which formed when colliding weather systems turned the Atlantic Ocean off New England into a maelstrom. It was made even more memorable by Sebastian Junger’s book of the same name, which chronicled the loss at sea of the 72-foot fishing boat Andrea Gail, and the film that followed. Many of us will never forget the image of the gigantic wave that flips the big fishing boat over onto its back.

Many of us could likewise be forgiven – or at least understood – if, tuning in to today’s news, we felt ourselves in the midst of another perfect storm: one not of colliding weather systems, but of clashing people, egos, and ideologies. Just as outside my window I see only possible summer showers, while my companion senses violence, it seems as though something nasty is afoot, again southwest of us.

It’s more than one something. The perfect storm of challenges facing our current national administration would tax a genuine genius, no matter how well organized and supported. The incoherence of the current response, papered over by denial and lies, reminds me of an ant hill that’s been kicked open – except that, with ants, everybody shares a common goal and knows her job. Being told by the President and his minions (try to imagine them as a ship’s crew; it’s scary!) that we have the best record in testing and survival rates, and are the envy of the world, is insulting. And with the election coming, it’s transparent. Health care workers are stretched to breaking and falling ill themselves.

We live in a bit of a bubble here in the Connecticut Valley and Vermont. Most of what we perceive to be happening in our nation isn’t happening here – except for the Canadian border closure. Pretty much everybody carries a mask and uses it where they’re asked or required to. For whatever reasons, our state hasn’t felt the hammer blows of the pandemic virus as have large cities and the southern tier of states.

Battling the virus, even if it had been taken seriously from the beginning, and without any other distractions, would tax any administration. Now, with federal benefits about to expire, there’s no coherent action yet on their extension or replacement, and it begins to appear that a large amount of hugger-mugger has been going on with the many billions already disbursed. Nothing to see here, folks.

There’s the matter of George Floyd’s brutal, unnecessary death, as well as those of hundreds of people of color, at the hands of militarized police who seem to have forgotten the notion of “protect and serve.” The outcry and demonstrations resulting from that – you’ve got to love cell phone cameras! – will not diminish, I hope, until reasonable changes have been effected and the situations not suited to authoritarian response dealt with by other agencies. The administration’s current response to the demonstrations, which involves anonymous federal (pick your noun; several have been applied) who have been plucking people off the street and carrying them in unmarked vans to undisclosed destinations for interrogation, seems to be exacerbating the tension and stiffening the resolve of the demonstrators. And it ought to; the feds may be wearing camouflage, but they’re acting exactly like the Sturmabteilung – the Brownshirts.

The opening of schools for the fall term is a perfect example of a problem the administration has found overwhelming: As with the response to the virus, nobody knows who’s in charge. The bluster about withholding funds from recalcitrant districts is just that. District superintendents will make the calls.

Protecting the environment; getting armed goons and Klansmen off the streets; stemming bankruptcies caused by uninsured medical expenses; maintaining international relations; protecting the integrity of our voting process; taking seriously the implications of runaway global warming – all of this seems beyond the abilities of our leadership.

Now, amid frequent Presidential comments about the threats of fraud inherent in voting by mail, we also hear that our postal service is possibly to be undermined by a crony, newly appointed to cut costs and “straighten things out.” And in answer to the question from an interviewer, “Will you accept the results of the election?” Trump responds, “Well, we’ll have to wait and see.” You don’t suppose there’s a connection, do you? If this thing goes to the courts, I’m going to Canada. Well, I would, but they won’t let me in.