Historian Paul Hudon sent his fourth week of diary entries during the virus crisis. Along with him we are all feeling “the world is too much with us” (nod to Wordsworth) with this long-running health catastrophe. Making sense of this new condition takes all our wits. Late in the week he reflected on place and history, his particular living place and its quality of light and then his memory of a key date in U.S. History.– PM
One of my KeepBusy options these days has to do with my books. The operational verb in that sentence, do, is not operational out here in the real world. The preposition, with, is also problematic. All I know for sure is that it’s time I deal with the books. Mostly, I move them around. Maybe in my current base of operations, after (how many?) weeks of lockdown, I’m not thinking clearly. Full stop.
Mostly I move them around. This means I handle them a lot — and to hell with the gloves. (“Books are your friends,” said Sister Mary FourthGrade.) If I can move them around fast enough they could just disappear, and that would be just perfect. Magical thinking rules.
Anyway. That’s where I was when I picked up A Culture of Fact: England, 1550-1720. This is the sort of book I was eager to read back in another century, where I had all the time in the world. But this week, May 2020, reading that title conjured up The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Us (tip of the hat to Delmore Schwartz). Trump, le trompeur, “the central ton of every place.” He insists on his own facts, and day to day, they’re liable to change. Trouble is he’s been successful grafting them onto the ruling party, and ‘flooding the zone with shit.” The zone being the place of public discourse, where policy is debated. Result: no one knows where they are. Fenton calls it the unavailable present. Nothing can be done there. Action has no traction.
Building a culture of fact was not easy to do. It was long work. The hard part was making ‘the methods of fact determination comprehensible’ to the general population. Now that will have to be done again by whoever survives in the post everything world.
In a conversation with a friend, soon after the election of Trump, I said it seemed to me the Republicans had proved Reagan right: Government is the problem. My friend called this week and said, Yes, it took forty years, but they’ve finally done it. “The res publica is now la cosa nostra.”
Conservative, conservatism have been redefined. I hope someone is keeping tabs on the judicial appointments being done under the McConnell directorate. We’ve read this administration backwards.. It’s Trump who’s the “enabler,”not only of McConnell, but of others like Bill Barr and Stephen Miller, and a whole menagerie (https://prospect.org/mapping-corruption-interactive).
“The indispensable nation,” Madeleine Albright called the U.S. That was in 1998, while she a Secretary of State in Bill Clinton’s second administration. Two decades later, this no longer true, if it ever was.
Here’s a headline from yesterday’s Washington Post,
International donors are on track to raise $8.2 billion to mass-produce drugs, vaccines and testing kits. The Trump administration says the U.S. remains the world’s largest health and humanitarian donor.
The Trump administration says and then reneges on its commitment to the World Health Organization. The gap between what gets said and what gets done hasn’t gone unnoticed by the world. Trump built his 2016 campaign on the promise to Make America Great Again. It hasn’t worked out that way, not if you ask world opinion.
Community/Thursday April 23, 2020
The rest of the world knows we’re being led by a dangerous and incompetent buffoon, even if 43% of Americans don’t. In three short years, Donald Trump has squandered most, if not all, of the respect and admiration this nation had accumulated since World War II—by needlessly alienating our closest allies, embracing the world’s worst dictators, reneging on painstakingly negotiated treaties and, above all, showing his complete and utter contempt for governance. The administration’s catastrophic failure to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is just the final confirmation for the global community that the America they once knew and respected is gone.
Trump and the coronavirus have exposed America as a declining empire: Time to face the facts
Trump’s tragic clowning — and his global surrender to China and Russia — have made certain hard truths unavoidable
Andrew O’Hehir/April 26, 2020
Fintan O’Toole, in Irish Times (Saturday, 25 April)
There more world opinion of America and Trump at watchingamerica.com
There’s one bright spot that does a lot for me in my lockdown. I have two west-facing windows, but I count them as one.
I’m on the seventh floor at Lord Manor and I face out at almost exactly two hundred and seventy degrees. Straight on I see Lowell General, at near eye level. In between there is the School Street bridge, the Northern Canal gatehouse and gatekeeper’s house, and of course the Merrimack. Just now conditions are right and I see the face of the dam with the occasional splash-over. I can see the north bank of the river clear up to the beach. At night I follow car lights along the VFW. With a little effort, I can watch the fireworks at Dracut on the 4th of July.
I’ve been here since April ’04. Sixteen years, but I’m at a time of life when time speeds up so it seems to me like five or six. Age also robs energy, eventually becoming a lockdown of its own.
For most of those sixteen years there were a lot more trees in my windows. In the spring and summer, with the trees in leaf, I saw almost nothing but green out there. The trees were cut down when the Ayer mansion and the Franco-American school were sold. That opened up my view, and that made for a change I’m still ambivalent about. In the last year or so I’ve been watching work on the conversion of the mansion and school, and the restoration of the grotto and stations of the cross. That came to a stop sometime in March. I expect it will start up again when the rest of economy gets into gear. It’s a quiet place except for the ambulances. With the relative locations of the bridge and hospital, I hear them just about every day.
The sunsets can be spectacular, especially in spring when the sun goes down — from my perspective — over the river. The sunrise can be almost as impressive. In a cloudless sunrise, light hits the hospital full-on for a few minutes and the hospital has a bright copper brow. In thunderstorms, in snowstorms, in any weather, corny as it sounds, those windows and the view have been a treasure.
Those windows, I should have said, are six-by-twelve in one room — 72 square feet in three panels — and nearly the same in the other room.
VE Day. I was there, six years of age, but I don’t remember any of it. I don’t remember much about the war except the victory garden and a couple of visits from men in uniform. An older brother, Bob, joined the navy, just out of high school, rather than wait to be drafted into the army. He was lucky. He was stationed in Brazil, listening to German radio traffic in the South Atlantic. Could he possibly have been in a safer place and still be “in the war?” He was one of the two stars in our street-facing window on Gershom Avenue. The other was for still older brother, Al. Al was not lucky. He got Guadalcanal.
[Here’s a photo courtesy of Lowell National Historical Park This is Kearney Square in downtown Lowell on VE Day. Young Paul Hudon was in the crowd. Click on the photo to enlarge.–PM]
On the front page at Huffpost today, Dr Irwin Redlener, “disaster expert,” tells us that Trump and Pence don’t “grasp the impact of what they do and what they say on the American public.” Yet on the same page we’re told that, “President Donald Trump hosted nearly 20 House Republicans at the White House on Friday to talk about rebuilding the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic ― and not one of them wore a mask or practiced social distancing.” There are pictures to prove this (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-republicans-coronavirus-masks_n_5eb5aeecc5b6a673354216b4).
I think it’s Dr. Redlener who doesn’t “grasp” the situation. Trump and Pence and all the others in those pictures know exactly what impact they’re having on the public. Those pictures are practically a directive: Go about your business, Go back to work, Go shopping.
It was at that meeting yesterday Trump put a caption under those pictures. Here’s a third story from the same front page: Trump Declares COVID-19 Will Vanish ‘Without A Vaccine’ “I feel about vaccines like I feel about tests. This is going to go away without a vaccine. It’s gonna go away, and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time,” Trump said. He did admit there might be some “flare-ups” before COVID-19 goes away, but “maybe not” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-covid-19 vaccine_n_5eb5d1b5c5b6c3bd86ff0b9c ).
Got that? There may be flare-ups but maybe not.