a journal of the plague year, part the third

“I get why people want this to be over. I want it to be over. But it’s not over, and until people are willing to do what is necessary, it won’t be over. And that’s what America feels like in 2021: a huge group project where only a handful of people are actually doing their part of the assignment.”

-27 Feb 2021


800,000 dead and counting. We got the vaccines we needed, and tried to get them into as many arms as possible, but because the Stupid-Worship party immediately made vaccine-refusal its latest shibboleth of fealty, we didn’t get enough shots in arms quick enough, and we got caught by Delta. And even then, it wasn’t enough to change people’s minds, and we got Omicron. And predictably, the same people who have taken a giant shit on science for thirty years are painting viral evolution as a socialist hoax while red-state cities and towns report positivity rates over 25% in daily testing.

We’ve lost half a million people, easily, to the doctrine of “choose your own reality.” If we had responded to this in the way we claim we responded to September 11 – hell, if we had responded to this in the way we did for the first couple of weeks, only for a couple of months instead – we might have avoided this and gotten out with deaths comparable to a very bad flu year. Instead, we have basically the equivalent of metropolitan Nashville wiped out, and the response from actual Nashville is to open everything up and throw off the masks and chant anti-Biden slogans at Kid Rock’s Great Big STD Palace or wherever. For whatever reason, we have evolved a minority population in this country that worships its own obstinance and is willing to die or kill just so that they never have to abide by what someone else said. WJ Cash’s Southern disease has metastasized outside Dixie, and the necks are everywhere now, and there are enough of them to make it worse on everybody – especially if a good chunk of everybody else is willing to indulge them for their own benefit.

I was right to predict scorched earth. I wasn’t expecting actual insurrection, more fool me, but I wasn’t surprised by it, and I’m absolutely not surprised by the ongoing complicity of the GOP. What is shocking, under the circumstances, is that you can’t get the marginal Democrat to go along with his party. Time was, having Robert Byrd in charge of the Senate meant that West Virginians were wiping with federal money. Joe Manchin has the Biden administration by the nuts and could probably get the streets and I-79 paved with actual literal gold for his vote, and instead he wants…nothing. Stasis. Status quo. Never mind that West Virginians seem to want the Build Back Better package, or would at least benefit from it; he’s not even out there angling to get other things in exchange for his vote. It’s just one long “NOOOOO” which is why I am assured, much as the Pope is assured of the existence of the Blessed Mother, that Joe Manchin will change parties the day after the 2022 midterms once the GOP takes control of the Senate. Unless it can be prevented.

And so now it’s just another layer of daily fight. I was hoping that the new normal would be less obtrusive by now than it was after September 11 – sure, you have to put your shoes on the conveyer belt and you get robbed for $50 to check your bags or change your seat, but at least you can still fly. Going up to the city and having the vaccine card scanned to get into the bar was not too much to ask, but no place else seems to be doing it. Boosters are out there free for the taking, but that small yet telling minority of rednecks won’t get them. And so we limp along with the same voluntary half-measures we’ve been stuck with for months and months, and nothing ever gets any better, and it’s as unsafe as it ever was just to pop down to the pub for a nice leisurely pint. 

And this has all been the backdrop for a highly liminal year. I had no idea twelve months ago that we would bury my remaining parent-in-law, or try to move into their house and sell our own, or that the financing would jerk us around for literal months, or that I would spend six months at war with my employer over whether they or I knew more about my area of expertise after 25 years, or that I would spend the last third of the year flinging around resumes like Elizabeth Taylor did wedding invitations and still come up empty-handed. And every time it feels like we might have a handle on the pandemic and a view of a finish line, here comes yet another variant to knock it all off course. We managed as far as Disneyland and Seattle this year, but until there’s a vaccine mandate for air travel I don’t know how I’m going to handle a notional 10 hours to London.

2020 was, for the most part, the longed-for dull moment – a stressful one, fraught with peril, but at least carrying the sense that if you could just endure to the end there would be a path back to the light. 2021 proved the light was an oncoming train. I don’t know what to expect for 2022, but “better days coming” is a prayer, not a realistic appraisal.

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