The Two Pandemics | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Two Pandemics 

Taking a Gander: Can we fix our broken world?

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I don't know about you, but I wake up most mornings feeling stressed and anxious. America—and the world—are not operating according to plan. The assumed constants and standard expectations are being challenged daily, and it's questionable just if, how, and when normalcy will return. Between COVID and politics, our world is very sick.

Interestingly, Utah is an apt metaphor for what's happening across the globe. Let's face it—the fault lines running through the Wasatch Front, and posing an ever-present potential for disaster, have been there for millions of years. But peace and stability have persisted, interrupted only occasionally by largely imperceptible tremors and a few moderate shakers. Science suggests that there will someday be a "big one," but who knows when? That description fits our present world condition to a tee.

It's very troubling. America, and many of the world's greatest societies, seem to be more fragmented today than ever before. I know, that's probably an overstatement, but the lines of division are deep and jagged—and the matter of hateful, irrational polarization, on how to deal with the problems, has burgeoned into a frightening specter that haunts our waking moments and stands in the way of effective repair. Sadly, our own melee over politics and COVID have energized similar irrationality throughout the world. (America is truly a leader!)

Certainly, the use of ground-penetrating x-rays could have detected the presence of America's insidious fault lines long ago. The weaknesses were just waiting for the right conditions. When forces are strong enough, something has to give. That time is now, and there are two distinct crises tearing away at America's heart and at the fabric of our world.

The 2016 election of a dangerous would-be dictator has set us on a course of destroying our faith in the democratic process—creating opportunity for our country's unhinged, malcontent termites to come out of the woodwork. Conspiracies were embraced as the Orange Buffoon cast the legitimate media—designated the responsible watchdog of government—as the arch-enemy of the people. Many Americans lost faith; the cracks widened.

It's an opportunistic phenomenon. Looming threats and tragedies spawn serious division in world populations, and the amoral find ways to profit from the confusion. The reality is that we're facing two frightening pandemics. Yes, two.

I'm not sure anyone could have guessed that the two pandemics—public health and the Trumpist plague—would become the battlefields of what can only be described as a new civil war. One seeks to infect and take lives; the other challenges democracy, honesty, and the law. Either way, there's no peace in our country today.

When COVID-19 hit our world, it should have been a unifying force—a common enemy to be vanquished by not only the U.S., but all the countries of our world. Certainly, in its earliest moments, it was considered public enemy number one. Everyone's eyes were focused on how to stop the virus from spreading and how to save the lives of those who were unfortunate enough to get infected. Then it all fell apart. Vaccines, travel restrictions, and the issue of masking became battle-cries instead of unifiers, and insane politics created havoc. One would think that people could face a common threat with a bit more objectivity and compassion, but that hasn't happened.

COVID-19 is definitely something to fear. I was one of the earlier cases, apparently contracting the disease during a two-week vacation abroad in February 2020. My wife got it too, and both of us suffered long-haul COVID symptoms. We were in a touch-and-go state of worry, considering our futures should the symptoms worsen. There were multiple times when, struggling to breathe, I thought to myself, "If I don't go to the hospital, I'll die." But, in each of those frantic moments, I worried that the doctors would surely put me on a ventilator and, to me, that was a death knell. (The statistics had been so gloomy, and it seemed that few intubated COVID patients survived.)

After more than half a year, my sense of struggling to breathe improved and I gradually regained my energy. My multiple daily tests for oxygen saturation rose from the low 80s back to solid mid-90s. Silly me! I felt so good, I went dirt-biking with my older son. That adventure ended painfully on a steep, gnarly mining road. The pain was truly awful—four broken and displaced ribs and enough internal bleeding to turn me blue from my shoulder to the bottom of my left foot.

In summary, 2020 was a lost year, one in which I accomplished little and hurt plenty. Sadly, much of the world could delete that year and never miss it.

As for vaccines and masking, I believe they both hold answers for stemming the COVID pandemic, but the in-fighting has prevented the proper development of unity in both our country and world. And sadly, those who have thus far escaped the virus continue to face the other plague.

The shadow-presence of Trump continues to fracture our nation, and, though he should have disappeared after his sound electoral trouncing, he is still poisoning America—preaching a standard of partisanship-over-sanity, impeding our progress as a nation and spreading the big lie. Even worse, he threatens to run in 2024.

Remedial progress for our national and world problems has been abysmally slow and largely ineffective, and the brotherhood of our citizens is threatened by a new standard: politics-over-reason, and brainless loyalism.

Frankly, we're not going to vanquish our two enemies until we all start working together. It's time to stop COVID and Trump. Can we fix our broken world? Only time will tell.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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