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H2O Man

H2O Man's Journal
H2O Man's Journal
April 29, 2020

Dr. Bandy Lee interview #2

This is my second interview with Dr. Bandy Lee, the Yale forensic psychiatrist and author/ editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”

(Q) In our February interview, you noted that you “have always conceived of this presidency as a reflection of the poor state of collective mental health in our society.” A significant number of my friends in the mental health profession found that to be such an important part. I immediately was reminded of Erich Fromm's 1955 “The Sane Society,” in which he said that the same conditions that create dysfunctional family systems will, when wide-spread, result in society becoming dysfunctional. Some of the psychosocial factors Fromm listed include addiction, violent crime, and suicide rates. Can you expand on those factors that result in the poor state of collective mental health in the United States?

(A) Yes, these effects are pervasive. This week, Yale Law School communicated with me through its office of public affairs asking me to misrepresent my teaching activities there so as to minimize them. After devoting 15 years of my teaching career to the School, I was shocked. But I have also witnessed it gradually siding with power interests over public interest, when it had been known for the latter for so long. I am not especially criticizing Yale Law School, but many of the luminaries who made the place so exceptional are gradually being replaced. This is a trend we have seen all over the country: power-hungry personalities, who are in fact wounded and disordered personalities, particularly seek out storied institutions and deplete them from within. Healthy societies keep them out of power positions from the start, but societies of poor health are drawn to them, as pathology attracts pathology. Soon, healthy individuals will fall away or be taken out, as we see with our own federal government. We think of psychological disorders as individual-confined, but they have no bounds; they can afflict a family, a community, an institution, or a nation. The dynamic principles we observe are the same as what we examine in individuals, and addiction, violent crime, and suicide that are probabilities in individuals translate into percentages in a population.

(Q) There was a John Hughes film in 1985, “The Breakfast Club,” that was a “teen flick” on the surface, but that also highlighted the roles children tend to play in dysfunctional families. It was a model that we used in social work, with the family hero, lost child, the scapegoat, and the clown. In the movie, the students learn to start the day at their negative potentials and transition to their positive potentials, despite the interference of the principal/ father figure.

(A) In real life, rather than “reel life,” it takes more than two hours to make those changes. The behaviors that children learn to get their needs met within a dysfunctional family rarely translate smoothly into the larger society. Currently, due to the levels of stress, fear, and anxiety, might some of the unattractive behaviors of Trump supporters be caused by their reverting to old behaviors in order to try to get their needs met?

(A) All individual ailments are ecological, and vice versa. There is certainly an astonishing level of free will within the human mind, even when one is handicapped—which is why I keep emphasizing that a person can be, and overwhelmingly is, still responsible for criminality, even if they are found to be “insane”—but we also cannot discount the profound influence of environment. When you have a population, you can almost quantify cause and effect, which will also follow like clockwork. My specialty has been to study macro-level societal factors that act on the individual psychology to produce violence, which led me to the conclusion that violence is a societal disorder. The inequality, deprivation, and propaganda to perpetuate and exacerbate unjust conditions were bound to produce a portion of the population that would manifest the larger pathology in their person, many who have become Trump supporters. This is how we understand and know the societal effects of Donald Trump, much more precisely than any individual patient, and have been able to predict his behavior as well as society’s response with great precision, almost every step of the way: the disastrous summits with North Korea and Russia, the problems of delaying impeachment, the massacre of our Kurdish allies and the assassination of an important Iranian general, and now the pandemic response…. You will find articles or petitions from us outlining how things would unfold, usually days or weeks before they happen, before any of the details are revealed. A “sick society” has a prognosis, just like sick individuals, and its behavior becomes all the more predictable with sickness.

(Q) Why do people react so differently to a threat that appears immediate, such as the corona virus, than to one that seems more distant, such as climate change? An example that comes to mind is the hostility that many in this part of rural upstate New York expressed when New York City residents ventured up to their second homes here at the beginning of this crisis. They tend to be people who support Trump's hostility towards immigrants from Central America. Large scale immigration in human history is frequently tied to climate change, which increases the risk of a violent competition for resources. Is there a psychological reason that helps explain why society waits for a potential problem to become a crisis before beginning to deal with it?

(A) Since all these issues have to do with prevention, it is a matter of education. What distinguishes our time from an early medieval era of calamities is the science and knowledge that we have accumulated and put to use, not the microbes or natural law. We have seen how, through willful ignorance and superstitious thinking, the president singlehandedly led us into a plague in this country like few other nations in modern times, and is still trying to undermine medical experts’ and others’ efforts to pull us further down. This should be a cautionary tale for climate change, as well as for mental health. Mental health is taken as a subjective non-science in this country, just because it cannot be seen, when all research evidence and clinical practice reveal it as no different from any other area of medicine. This is how we pretend it does not exist, that our president is normal, and that we do not need mental health expertise to understand what is happening—and live out all preventable consequences as if they were inevitable. This is how we have defeated ourselves in many areas, in everything from politics to civic life to yielding to a devastating pandemic. Hostility against immigrants and refugees is another psychological matter that has much to do with deflection of guilt through the blaming of victims, since most of the things they are fleeing—wars, oppressive regimes, economic exploitation, and climate change—we have caused.

(Q) Earlier this month, Donald Trump tweeted: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It's under siege!” Can this be interpreted as anything other than a call to arms, increasing the potential for violence in a tense time?

(A) It is exactly a call to arms. It is a way of diverting the frustration and anger from extreme lockdown measures and the loss of 27 million jobs, which the president knows his own negligence has caused, and redirecting them to his own ends. He is building an army for himself and testing it.

(Q) In 1952, Erich Fromm published his book, “Escape from Freedom.” He examined the differences between “freedom from” and “freedom to.” He noted that “freedom from” social conventions without “freedom to” could be abused by a “leader” intent upon destroying the stabilizing institutions of a nation. In the 1970s, while discussing this, my late friend Rubin Carter said that throughout history, tyrants have known that if they could promote hatred for a minority population, they could get the masses to forget their own low level of being, thus allowing for the destruction of those stabilizing institutions. Does this explain Trump's on-going attacks on immigrants, the FBI, the intelligence community, and the federal courts?

(A) Exactly—this is a known tactic, made more efficient when you have the emotional drive of symptoms behind it. You might notice that societies under disordered leadership always exploit problems but fail to provide improved goods, since they are incapable of it. And so the solution for the leader becomes to redirect that suffering and anger against scapegoats, usually vulnerable groups in the population that cannot fight back (“strongmen” are actually cowards). “Losers”, meanwhile, are prone to feeling contempt for lesser “losers”, as they cannot stand the reflection of themselves, and become willing persecutors. Their tendency to identify with the oppressor, or the desire to see the success of their exploiter as their own success, altogether collude to make this method of madness work.

(Q) One of the dynamics of the corona virus crisis that is curious is the toilet paper hoarding. Is this a behavior in which an individual seeks to exert some degree of control in the face of an unknown situation that is marked by anxiety about the future and a general feeling of helplessness?

(A) I think you put it very well. Obsessional behavior is usually a sign of anxiety.

(Q) As the year 2000 approached towards the end of 1999, there was also hoarding. This went beyond the right-wing, para-military survivalists, and the mega-churches seeking to hoard contributions for “the end of times.” In one of my interviews with Chief Paul Waterman of the Onondaga Nation, he taught that his people, in times of crisis, knew that “divine intervention” is found in people's sharing, especially with those who are poor and in need. My generation remembers President Johnson's “War on Poverty,” and investments in efforts for prison reform. Yet, even within the 2020 Democratic Party's primaries, only one candidate included dealing with poverty as a serious campaign issue. Why has caring about the poor gone out of style? What is the impact, for example, of self-identified Christians ignoring Jesus's teaching about the Good Samaritan upon a nation?

(A) This is a theme for a whole book, but the broad trend is for individuals or societies, when pressured or with low emotional resources, to turn inward. Our state of collective mental health certainly has all the signs of decline since the days when our aim was to lift everyone up; now, we disdain and persecute the poor. Having also done divinity studies, at the same time as medical studies, I have viewed a spiritual state—where you feel unity with the universe and charity for all—as an advanced psychological state. But religion can be used as a defense or a way of hiding opposite motives. Humans were able to perpetrate the greatest atrocities of history in the name of Christianity because it provides a good cover and assuages guilt when one can define oneself as “good” based on Christian identity alone.

(Q) Recently, a number of friends have described growing difficulties in talking with people in their lives that blindly support Trump. I try to keep in mind Malcolm X's teaching that if you want people to act differently, you must first encourage them to think differently. For example, during the House's impeachment hearings, I attempted to start by finding common ground – in that instance, respect for the Constitution. Then I would recommend they read the letters from various Founding Fathers that shed light on what they intended. The Federalist Paper #65 describes the necessity of removing someone like Trump from office. I am concerned about the growing divides in our society. What are the stumbling blocks that prevent Trump supporters from recognizing the obvious? How can rational people maintain relationships with family and friends who have “drank Trump's Kool-Aid?”

(A) I would take Malcolm X’s maxim further and say, if you want people to think differently, you must first help them to feel differently. Ideology is not what most Trump supporters are after; they are clinging to a sense of identity, belonging, and having a place in the world. As a predatory personality, Donald Trump fully exploits this need. If you can provide your loved ones with acceptance as human beings, with a place to return to if they ever abandoned their cultic programming, you would lessen his pull.

(Q) Another divide that concerns me is that between those who support Joe Biden and those who had supported Bernie Sanders. A similar divide in 2016, along with other factors, allowed Trump to claim victory in the presidential election. This November, we will need unity to defeat Trump, and possibly shift the balance of power in the Senate. What are your thoughts on this?

(A) The larger divide is fueling the smaller one. The larger divide is between pathology and health, which is why no debate or negotiation is possible, since the goal of pathology is to destroy. The relatively healthy factions are not fully healthy, either, since fragmentation alone is a sign of poor health. I see the disagreement as being between those who believe only incremental change is possible (limiting expectations) and those who believe only profound change can alter the status quo (taking risks); these are not irreconcilable differences. If we were healthier, I would recommend sweeping changes that would correct the sources of our current problems—what I learned from violence prevention programming is that changes come sooner than we think—but there is also a limitation in what people can take emotionally, after the chaos and destructive changes of the last three years, and the gravitation toward the familiar is understandable.

(Q) In April of 2001, Rubin Carter spoke at Binghamton University. A professor who was writing a book on forgiveness – in her case, attempting to forgive abusive parents – asked me if I could talk to Rubin about possibly writing a chapter for her book. In his chapter, Rubin wrote about the power of forgiveness, and how while it does not include a willingness to be victimized, it was required for the evolution of human consciousness. Do you think that is an important teaching for people to apply in this strange time?

(A) Recognition of our shared human frailty will help us to forgive one another and to achieve healing. As a health professional, my enemy is clear: pathology, not the person. Offering the president the right treatment is the best thing to do for him, no matter how he objects. Intervening so that people’s minds are no longer hijacked to serve a deficient leader is humane, too. Enabling pathology while intending to respect “both sides” causes needless suffering for all, including those who are supposedly getting their way. I have experienced too many people returning to thank me, once they were given treatment and freed their minds, as if it were the most liberating experience imaginable. So, to me, the solution is clear, and it comes out of compassion and love for our common humanity. Refusing to respond with complacency, complicity, or even active collusion with pathology helps us to forgive ourselves, not to mention pathology’s victims.

April 14, 2020

The Eternal Return

“All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

A human being recently said, “You might not like him, but Trump is your president” to me. I responded, “You are correct in that I do not like him. But you are wrong about him being 'my president.' Granted, he is 'the president,' but he is definitely not mine.” That person could not distinguish the difference between power and truth.

It's curious how some people can be intelligent in some areas, but simple enough to believe Trump is doing an “incredible” job fighting the corona virus. Why? Because “he holds press conferences daily, explaining what he's done.” Clearly, it would require a concrete example to illustrate why Trump is not “my president.” I noted that my ancestors in Ireland did not recognize a woman in England as “their queen.” He saw no connection.

There are a good many similarly disconnected people in the United States, who plan to proudly vote for Trump this November. While they are not the majority of the population – including the voting population – we do well to remember that there were enough of them to win electoral vote by a wide margin, despite the popular vote.

I do believe in the concept of one person, one vote. I accept the fact that the most ignorant, uninformed and misinformed Trump supporter's vote is equal to my own. I know that there are more of us than there are of them. There is no justifiable reason for the November presidential election to not be an overwhelming rejection of Trump and his ilk.

“In individuals, insanity is rare, but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I had a phone call from a man who suffers from a severe and persistent mental illness. His first comment, sans greeting, was, “Cuomo Trump.” After he repeated this several times, I was able to get him to expand on this. Earlier in the day – at 3 am – he had called the local State Troopers barracks, to discuss his anxieties regarding the failure of the community to stop the corona virus. A news report that a senior housing complex a block away from his apartment had four cases upset him.

However, he told the Trooper that he was Robo-Cop, armed with a hand gun, ready to patrol the streets to insure public safety. The Trooper kept him on the line, telling him that Governor Cuomo and Donald Trump were doing everything possible to keep people safe. As they were talking, another State Trooper arrived at his door. This man did not have a gun, and so the Trooper simply talked to him, trying to reassure him that he was safe.

In our conversation, I said that I think Governor Cuomo is doing an outstanding job. I know that for decades, he has operated under the delusion that he is an under-cover sheriff's deputy, including during a few periods of incarceration in the county jail.

At the same time, I've read a number of conspiracy theories by republicans not deemed insane, who have been convinced that the current crisis was manufactured by the “deep state” to damage Trump's reputation among voters. That is, of course, no more reality-based than Robo-Cop. The difference is that they do have guns.

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Thank goodness for Andrew Cuomo. I've known of him since his father served as Lt. Governor from 1979 to 1982, when Mario earned the respect and trust of the traditional Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy's leadership. As the governor of our state, Mario Cuomo was definitely one of my very favorite politicians.

I knew Andrew was very capable – the word “shrewd” comes to mind – but he was not among my favorite Democrats. Still, of course, I have always voted for him, because one does not always, or perhaps often, get the opportunity to vote for their personal choice for governor or president. Real life does not allow for that very often in general elections.

Yet today, without question, Andrew Cuomo is providing the highest level of leadership that people desperately need during this crisis. It is important to appreciate that in the most difficult of times, that ability is essential. More, Cuomo has assisted other government officials to really step up at a time when the Trump administration not only fails to be helpful, but the president is the greatest stumbling block that gets in the way of meaningful action.

I saw high lights of Trump's melt-down at yesterday's press conference. It was easy to predict that he'd have a brat attack after Governor Cuomo's two press conferences. It should be enough to make all rational people – no matter who they may have favored in the primaries – to recognize the absolute need to vote for our party's nominee in November.

Still, in a variety of settings, I've seen how bitterness has infected many people's thinking. This includes some of the supporters of both Sanders and Biden. I'm confident that everyone else has seen the ignorant and self-righteous comments of people on the internet attacking both men and their supporters. In general, this isn't a surprise after a hard-fought primary. But it needs to stop.

Yesterday, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders made it clear that they are united in purpose. Both men recognize that it both essential and urgent that people at the grass roots join together. We are confronted with dual crises right now – the corona virus and Donald Trump. You aren't too pure to vote for Biden, and you are a damned fool if you think Biden can win without Sanders's supporters. Do your part in arresting the spread of such dangerous infections.

April 7, 2020

Darkness & Light

Days and nights have begun to blend together as the social distancing and isolation bring news of sadness and horror. My daughter tells me about one of her best friends, who was in the middle of a break-up with a long-time boy friend. She was in the process of looking for another apartment in Boston when the corona virus appeared in the city, resulting in her having to postpone a move. The tensions and verbal abuse have increased, making this – at least temporarily – a case of accepting the unacceptable.

I live in a typical rural upstate New York township. There are two small villages, two hamlets, and a dozen crossroads neighborhoods, all of which arose during the 1800s, but have long since seen their heydays disappear into the past. At the edge of one of the hamlets, which peaked during the era of a river-powered mill in the mid-1800s, there was recently a violent outburst outside of one home. The residents there are a young lady who was about my nephews' age – I remember her attending their state championship basketball season – and her two teen-aged daughters.

The girls' father is a former military man who has had long periods of being MIA as a father. While I do not know all the circumstances, he recently physically assaulted his daughter, his newest girlfriend, and her daughter. This included choking one, compressing the throat of another, and threatening all three with a gun before the police arrived. Off to jail with him, as he clearly presents an immediate threat to others. However, a few days later, his mother bailed him out, and so he now is supposedly residing with her in another part of the township.

I generally try to process my thoughts about such things in one of two ways: thinking about them while engaged in otherwise mindless house work, or while taking a walk. Because my house was already relatively clean, with no dishes, laundry, or dusting needing to be done, I decided to go for a walk. My younger son, perhaps sensing my mind was troubled, suggested driving to a nearby field and looking for artifacts. Since there was zero chance of encountering another human being there, this was a safe option. Though the field is not plowed, it has been one of my favorite places to walk during the hard times of recent decades.

It's a large, isolated river flat, with two small streams running through it. The streams surround a small plateau before entering the river, with a swamp on its backside from the river. I've found four distinct settlement areas on the plateau over the years. My son favors a different spot, near where the river bends. A decades ago, he found the base of a fluted Clovis point there, and he is determined to find the rest of it. So for a while, we are further apart than the recommended social distancing by hundreds of yards.

I think back to times when I was subjected to threatening people. I remember one gym coach in particular, who had a strong dislike for me in grade school. One afternoon, when I got done with 5th grade wrestling practice, he found me alone when I left the locker room, and beat the hell out of me. I remember him saying, “Your hair reminds me of a cat, and I hate cats.” By chance, my older brother, a professional boxer, had come to pick me up that day, rather than my father. He asked me who assaulted me, then went into the school, finding the gym coach alone. When he came out, his hair was a bit messed up, but he wore a huge grin. “He'll never bother you again,” he said. Indeed, that cowardly prick pretended we were buddies from then on.

Eventually, I grew bigger than my brother, and no longer had any fear of physical confrontation. Yet, as I walked the field, I remembered how I had still allowed myself to be spoken to by some of the people who were supposed to be close to me. It took years before I would come to the realization that while I had zero control over how anyone spoke about me, I had total control over how I allowed people to speak to me. This resulted in tightening my circle of family and friends., even since the corona virus hit. Yet, I realized this is not always an option for others, such as children with fucking assholes for parents, teachers, etc,or for my daughter's friend in Boston at this tense time.

I found a small, re-chipped projectile point, dating in the neighborhood of 4,000 years old. I walked to where my son was to show him. He had found something much older – a fossilized bone of some type, that we will eventually be able to bring to a local university for a friend to identify. A short time later, we headed home.

I got on the internet with the intention of writing an essay on this general topic. But before I started, I got a message that a close friend of 40+ years had died from the corona virus. He was a retired teacher from a community college, a man who I had introduced to both Rubin and Paul over the years, and who had had me speak at the college frequently over the decades. He had started feeling sick one evening, and died within 48 hours. Those are the only details that I know.

I've tried calling another friend who taught there, who was best friends for over 50 years with our late friend. But apparently the number I have is for his former land line, and like so many people, he uses a cell phone these days. I remember his mailing address, so I'll send him a letter. I'd much rather visit him, or speak on the telephone, but that is not an option right now. So for the past 70 hours, I've been trying to process this in isolation.

It's a strange time to be an old man. I have a pretty good idea how the current crisis will impact my generation, which has experienced both its fair share of both good and bad times. These combine to form the general mindset found in my generation. I do wonder how these times will influence the mindsets of the younger generations. It's a bright, sunny day, allowing me the opportunity to think more about that as I take my dog for a walk in the wildeness.

H2O Man
April 3, 2020

Good Samaritans

I generally prefer Martin Luther King's birthday, rather than the anniversary of April 4, 1968 assassination. But April of 2020 is different than most, and so I find my self both reading and listening to his last speech. There were, of course, countless men and women, children and elders, who were the foundation of the Civil Rights movement. There were the famous and the unknown. They sacrificed, too many with their lives, in an effort to make America better.

Still, King is rightfully recognized as having played a unique role in American history. While serving as the most recognized leader of the Civil Rights movement, King participated in numerous “direct actions,” often being incarcerated. He authored books and articles, and gave numerous speeches that students of social action study to this day. Among those speeches, two are known best: the August 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC, and the April 3, 1968 “I See the Promised Land” speech in Memphis.

For most people these days, each of these two speeches are most familiar from highlights that have played on the news, in documentaries, and can easily found on the internet. The “Dream” speech is noted for its optimism, the “Promised Land” for being his most apocalyptic. At the end of that speech, King spoke about his own death, in terms that are haunting in the context of his death the following day.

King had been under an intense level of consistent pressure for the last year. Since his April 4, 1967 sermon at the Riverside Church in New York City, King was attacked by many “liberals” and others in the Civil Rights movement. And many of his close associates were opposed to his planned “Poor People's Campaign,” to be held in Washington, DC, in the summer of 1968. A respected US Senator had been calling for the federal government incarcerate King, calling the proposed campaign to be a dire threat to national security. All of this was on top of the years of threats from the Ku Klux Klan, and the very model of self-righteousness, J. Edgar Hoover.

Fewer people remember or re-visit the entire “Promised Land” sermon these days, though I think it is an essential message for April 4, 2020. King started by talking about his close friend Ralph Abernathy. Next, he spoke in a way that today seems to mark his place in history Then he identified his focus, saying, “The issue is injustice.”

King quotes the prophet Amos: “ 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” He speaks about the need for unity of purpose as a requirement for bringing about social justice. As a central requirement for social progress, King then speaks about the story of the Good Samaritan. He wasn't the first social justice advocate in the US to make reference to this story from the Gospel of Luke – most notably, William Jay the son of USSC Chief Justice John Jay, has spoken of the clergy who ignored or approved of slavery as “following the example of the priest and Levite.”

But King went further. He knew that knowledge of the oppression of the Samaritans had faded over the centuries, making the meaning of this essential parable of Jesus's difficult to put in the then-current context. So he brought it to life. He started by telling how a man, sometimes referred to as a lawyer, attempted to trick Jesus with questions. King said this man may have been trying to show that he was smarter than Jesus. But Jesus responds with a question regarding the Great Commandment.

When the lawyer then questions him about this commandment, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, taking place in the setting of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. King tells of how he had told his wife that traveling that road on their visit to Israel made clear why Jesus selected this road. It was known as the “Way of Blood,” due to the numerous robberies, assaults, and murders that took place upon it.

We are all familiar with the story's basic outline. A man is injured along side of the road. A priest and then a Levite pass by, walking on te other side of the road to avoid the injured man. A third man came by, tending to the man's injuries, placed him upon his own animal for transportation, took him to an inn, paid for his stay, and promised to pay for any extra expenses when he came back. Jesus asked the lawyer which of the three men had followed the Great Commandment? The answer, of course, is the “enemy” of the injured man, the Good Samaritan.

For centuries, the most common answer to why the priest and Levite had passed by the injured man was out of the fear that attempting to help him would put them at risk. Indeed, high risk, considering the road they were on. But King went further, using some of the biting humor that was usually known only to his closest associates.

King said that maybe they were intent upon being on time for a meeting of the “Jericho Road Improvement Association.” He noted that they may have mistaken the injured man as part of a trap, and wondered, “If I stop and help this man, what will happen to me?” But, King said, the Samaritan reversed the question, and asked, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” For that is the real question that society must answer in the most threatening of circumstances in the most dangerous of times.

I've noticed that, among my circles of family, friends, and associates, that there is an interesting dynamic. Everyone feels the weight of the anxiety and stress of this time. But none of the nurses an doctors that I know are complaining. None of them asks those requiring treatment if they are Democrats or republicans. Not one of them allows the question, “If I help them, what will happen to me?” No, they are motivated by the question, “If I do not help, what will happen to them?”

I know how much stress that having a family member on the front lines causes. I've been talking to one of my closest friends for the past 40+ years. Ted's daughter is on the front lines. I know he is mighty proud of her, but for Ted and Mary, it is a difficult time. I think about that every day, and am convinced that King woul say that they, and parents like them, have raised Good Samaritans in the truest sense.

H2O Man
April 1, 2020

Pseudacris crucifer

I'm lucky that I'm enjoying the “spring peepers” in the late evening -to- early nighttime in recent days. I also like to listen to the birds during the day-time. Twice I day, I get to see both deer and wild turkey on my lawn, making their rounds. The pond has come back to life, and there has been enough rain so that plants are turning green on the ground.

It was tempting, as I wrote that last line, to think of a joke about the president refer to the floor in the woods when he visited the site of a western fire after it had been put out. Now there is a human being who is one with nature, surely more so than Chief Joseph, who said, “The Earth and I are of one mind.” I recognize that for me, watching Trump is as bad as drinking a glass of water polluted with industrial waste.

There have been other crises that have threatened large portions of this country before. From among these, I've been thinking about “The Blizzard of 1949.” Probably some here are unfamiliar with that episode, so let me give a brief description. Four states in particular were hit the hardest: Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The first wave hit between January 2nd and lasted, at full blast, until the 5th. The ability to forecast the weather accurately had left this region unprepared for the high winds, bitter cold, and 30-foot snow drifts that followed. Towns and cities were virtually shut down, and in an isolation made worse by the inability to clear roads or railroads. Then a series of blizzards would continue for the next two months.

Stores ran out of groceries. Bars ran out of liquor. People on passenger trains were stuck. Plows were frequently not able to plow roads, and even when they could, the snow quickly drifted back in place. It was difficult-to-impossible for ranchers to feed their herds of cattle and sheep. Wild animals, with the lone exception of elk, suffered and died in large numbers.

This is obviously distinct from the current crisis in many ways. It wasn't a threat invisible to the eye, for example. But there were other differences that stand out, at least in my opinion. Every community, from the smallest town to the largest city, had active crises-response plans, that coordinated with state and federal agencies remarkably well. For people did not have a “it can't happen here” attitude. On the local level, the passengers on the trapped trains were welcome to stay in local homes, since hotels were full of the stranded.

President Truman called upon the military to assist in everything from delivering food and fuel, to clearing roads and railroad tracks when possible, to assisting in the feeding of domestic and wild animals. This included delivering supplies to Native American families, many of whom lived in canvas tents, rather than buffalo skin teepees. As horrible as those months were, there was a community spirit that included coordination with all levels of government.

It's getting later, as it always is, and the peepers have become quiet. Sam and I head inside. I begin taking phone calls from family and friends, all of whom need to vent anxieties and frustrations. All of those who have watched Trump's daily press conference express outrage at Trump's most recent tedious babbling. I listen to their stories about themselves and others at different degrees of separation who are struggling, including examples of people losing their temper over otherwise trivial things, and even one example of an assault that landed an area man in county jail. As harsh as it may sound, it is exactly where he needs to be right now.

John Donne was correct in that no man is an island, although we all wish we could deliver Trump to a solitary one far from civilization. Yet we are becoming a cluster of homes that are islands throughout the nation. We are all taking conscious steps to avoid contact with the corona virus. We need to take conscious steps to avoid contamination from other social toxins, including all of the negatives that are accurately associated with Trump and his ilk. Do not drink from that cup.

I'll end with a quote from the last interview I did with Onondaga Chief Paul Waterman:

“Live. Don't be afraid to live. We can live through this time.

“I did reburials at the Penn Site.Germ warfare killed them. At the Bloody Hill Site, it was small pox. Some of the burials were of parents and their children. They were holding hands. This seems to happen when germ warfare kills families.

“But we are here today. It's our turn to live now. And if you're reading this, it's your turn as well. Make the most of it. Enjoy your family.”

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