Fear

When in danger or in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout!
Anon.

March 4, 1933, at the heart of the Great Depression President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address. Almost nine decades down the road, the prescience of his admonitions is stunning,

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect . . . I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured will revive and will prosper. So, first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days . . .

Our common difficulties . . . concern, thank God, only material things.

Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”

(My emphasis.)

March 20, 2020, as America’s numbers of OCVID 19 infections and deaths ramped up, NBC’s Peter Alexander asked President Donald Trump, “What do you say to Americans right now who are scared?” Our leader responded,

“I say you are a terrible reporter. That‘s what I say, and I say that it’s a very bad signal you are putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope.”

Right Mr. President, answers and hope, not insult and bluster! You were handed a gilt-framed opportunity and you blew it, Big-Time!

In 1933 Americans’ fear focused on loss of jobs and income, of sleeping on the sidewalk, of standing in soup and welfare lines. Today’s fear revolves around suffering and death from a physical disease. Whether from of loss of income or pain and death, President Roosevelt articulated a crucial fact: our emotional reaction to fear can paralyze our capacity for rational corrective action. Never surrender to “fear itself!” Amid England’s “darkest hour,” Roosevelt’s ally Winston Churchill admonished, “Never, never, never give up!”

Failing to act on COVID 19 warnings in January and ignoring the virus through February, in March President Trump predicted it would vanish by “magic,” attacked a “terrible reporter” for raising the specter of fear, anticipated packed April Easter services
and, the latest, hatched a moronic notion to assess the risk of contagion by county.

Thankfully, as diagnosed COVID 19 cases rocket past one hundred thousand, Americans may rely on state Governors to value their constituents’ health over economics. In March, to mitigate spread of disease Governors asked citizens to stay home and maintain public physical separation, businesses elected or were compelled to close their doors, sporting events large and small have been postponed or cancelled. Even birthday parties, memorial services and funerals are curtailed.

Rather than appreciate the wisdom in these actions, characteristically, President Trump predicted out-of-work, out-of-paycheck Americans would give up in mass suicide. This slap-on-the-face and “terrible” assessment of Americans’ mettle, reveals the values of a man conceived and raised amid the bare-knuckled, back-alley brawling over New York City Real Estate, of business, where return-on-investment, profit-and-loss and stock portfolios measure all things.

No doubt the Great Depression drove a few to the ultimate act of despair. From our President’s perspective, it may be instructive that suicides making 1929’s “News” were men in three-piece-suits leaping from Wall Street windows.

Fear seems to paralyze and incapacitate our President’s capacity for rational, constructive action. Rather than manage the crisis—the job we hired and pay him for—Donald Trump predicts miracles and hopes COVID 19 will go away by “magic.”

Captain Queeg comes to mind. Alone in his wheelhouse, a run amok skipper steers hard to port, then starboard. On and below deck his crew scrambles, shifts cargo and ballast to keep the vessel from turning keel-up.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” “A terrible reporter.” The difference in focus, personality, articulation, emotion and thinking is stunning! One based in ignorance and fear, the other in wisdom and courage.

Two Months With Trump

Jan. 22: “We have (Corona virus) totally under control.” (Just ask Kellyanne.)

Feb. 25: “We’re very close to a vaccine.” (May be a year.)

Feb. 26?: U.S. is the ”most prepared country in the world.” (After proposing budget cuts to the CDC and National Institutes of Health.)

Feb. 28: “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” (Twenty days later the U.S. has nearly 13,000 cases and 176 deaths.)

March 4: Flu is worse than corona virus. (It’s not!)

March 6: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it . Every one of these doctors say, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.” (Maybe a brain surgeon?)

March 7: “Anyone who wants a test can get one.” (Not even close!)

March 17: Knew it was “a pandemic, long before it was called a pandemic.” (Feb. 28: “it will disappear.”)

March 18: I’m a “wartime president” in the Corona virus fight. (What?)

Air

Canceling and postponing events to avoid spreading the Corona virus got me thinking about air. In high school chemistry, Mr. Tuft taught us pure air is a mix of gases. Mostly Oxygen, right? Wrong! As memory serves, pure air is around seventy percent Nitrogen and twenty percent Oxygen. Hydrogen, Helium and other inert gasses make up the rest.

Most animals can’t live without Oxygen, without air. But everyday air carries a host of freeloaders: water vapor, methane, CO2, scents, dust, fungi, bacteria, viruses, God-knows-what else? For our biological wellbeing this excess baggage can become a Really Big Deal!

Back to public events. Portland’s Moda Center seats 19,393. At a fully-packed Trailblazer game, 19,392 others—the jerk in the sweaty T-shirt two rows down, the squealing teenager behind me—are sucking in and blowing out the very same air I’m sucking in and blowing out. The same Nitrogen and Oxygen—our lungs capture only a small percent—the same vapors, gasses, dust, pollen, fungi, germs, viruses, not to mention farts. I’m told farts are flammable methane. In a three hour basketball game how many lungs suck in and blown out the very same air my lungs suck in and blow out!

Just our little Moda Center. How about swapping air with thousands at a rock concert, tens-of-thousands at a World Series or Super Bowl game, two million circling the Kaaba at Mecca? Think about it—or maybe better not.

It’s disturbing.

2020

Fearing that our Ship of State had listed dangerously to port, a cabal of passengers and crew hired a new captain. Grasping the wheel, trimming the sheets, sailing into the wind, the new skipper employs all means at his command—some he doesn’t—to reverse course to safe, familiar water.

More than half those aboard are alarmed by this abrupt list to starboard, this frenzied struggle to change course. Since turning back is never an option, we search for a stable-minded captain. Before turning keel-up or hitting an iceberg, we need someone to chart a forward course, adjust the rudder and balance the cargo. Most important, we need a skipper to muster all of us amid ship, pass out the grog and lead in an ol’ sea chantey. With storm-tossed water ahead we need a commander who can deliver us and the cargo to distant, uncharted shore.

Abraham Lincoln knew, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present.” It’s a challenge to cross Captain Ahab’s eyes.

Who?

Who,

  • publicly mocked a physically handicapped man?
  • promised Mexico would pay for “The Wall,” then shut down the government when Congress wouldn’t and now funds it with taxpayer dollars appropriated for our military?
  • said “I love the old days when campaign (protesters) would be carried out on a stretcher folks.” “I’ve actually instructed my people to look into” paying legal fees for supporters who punch out protesters!?
  • boasted of grabbing women by the “pussy”?
  • paid a pornographic movie star $135,000?
  • had children separated from parents in families seeking asylum,?
  • called Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us!”, driving a car into a crowd killing a young woman, “good people”?
  • with gun deaths Daily News and mass shootings in America commonplace, with Australia’s and Britain’s restriction on gun ownership resulting in drops in gun related crime, with Canada’s parliament considering a “full ban” on handguns and assault weapons, welcomed Wayne LaPierre to the White House?
  • with his own intelligence agencies in unanimous agreement that Russia meddled, and continues to meddle in, our elections, believes Vladimir Putin that they did not?
  • establishing a model for discrimination, even violence, against Muslim, and by extension all non-Caucasians and non-Christians, bans citizens of Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, North Korea, Yemen and Somalia—his “Muslim Ban”—from entering the United States?
  • boasts and blusters liked a Sixth Grade Bully?
  • ignores, indeed flaunts, centuries-old protocols of civil decorum and discourse?
  • appears ignorant of, again indeed flaunts, standards for ethics, morals and honesty?
  • disputing irrefutable evidence and scientific proof of Global Warming, puts corporate profit over the future of the planet?
  • stunned a National Prayer Breakfast by responded to Arthur C. Brooks’s call to love your enemies with, “Arthur I don’t know if I agree with you.”
  • as the Washington Post reports, “In 2017 . . . made 1,999 false or misleading claims. In 2018 . . . added another 5,689, for a total of 7,688. Now, with a few weeks still left in 2019 . . . has more than doubled the total number of false and misleading claims in just a single year. . . .  (After) 1055 days in office . . . made 15,413 false or misleading claims”?
  • was never loved?
  • and on
  • and on
  • and on

Will it never end?

Live Theater Revisited

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.  It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
–Macbeth, Act V, scene v
–William Shakespeare

Morose sentiment notwithstanding, the corpus of he who penned poor Macbeth’s prose is testament to a profound belief in Life’s significance!

As always, the Bard’s metaphor is spot on.  Life is theater.

To expose and explore the human experience, theater employs props, busy-ness and dialog.  Live Theater’s props, our “Stuff,” go far in defining its performers.  When I was a kid, props were few and simple.  Today, costumes in an average American’s closets, shelves and drawers would clothe a neighborhood.  Overflowing great-rooms, kitchens, bed- and  bathrooms, props fill garages, basements and attics.  Rented storage spaces are stacked with chairs, sofas, tables, beds, boxes, PCs, TVs, and microwaves with like-new exercise bikes, dirt bikes and road bikes parked against the walls.  Auctioning contents of abandoned storage units is cottage industry.  Wal-Mart, Costco and Amazon are Live Theater’s Prop Masters.  Since few can’t afford a ticket, for upwards of twelve percent interest and penalties, Visa, Master Card and American Express sell stage money

Then the busy-ness!  Blaise Pascal postulated, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” But who would pay, much less sit, to watch a silent performer stage-center for ninety minutes, even with an intermission?

After a five-thirty a.m. alarm and a stop at Starbucks, we crowd Interstates and streets in fender-to-fender combat with Jaguars, Kia, F-350s, eighteen-wheelers, pickups with dented fenders and Harleys.  Ten hours later, following a commuter combat act encore, we retreat to happy hour at “Larry’s Lair” or home to crash in front of the thirty-five inch, flat-screen Motorola.

In Live Theater much of what passes as dialog is serial monologs.  While a twenty-four hour tally of the words spoken on planet Earth may not rival the number of atoms in a kumquat, most of us don’t really listen.  iPhones, iPads, lap-tops and social networking propel dialog into forms few imagined even three decades back.  Echo, Alexa and the www render notions of privacy anachronistic.

So what makes Live Theater significant?  What did Shakespeare and poor Macbeth know?  What drives the sound and fury?  What powers the strutting and fretting?  Hiding among the props, the busy-ness, the dialog, what makes Life not “a tale told by and idiot”?

Relationship!  People!  Life Theater takes significance in the comedy and tragedy,  the confusion and conflict, the pain and joy, the love and, yes, the hate, the everyday vitality of human relations!  What matters, really matters, and, ironically, makes me happy is your happiness.  Caring for others almost as much as for my own dear self makes Live Theater worth living.