Where am I?

Yesterday, June 1, 2020, was one of the darkest and most frightening days of my almost sixty years as a citizen of the United States.

President Trump is pressuring governors to use the US military against protesters in their states and is threatening to use the military, beyond the National Guard which is under the jurisdiction of each governor, within the states if the governors refuse. To do this, he would have to invoke the Insurrection Act, which, in the rare instances in which it has been used, has only been applied to a small, specific area for particular isolated incident. If the president tries to invoke this act across different states and regions, is he surmising that a widespread insurrection is underway? The Cambridge Dictionary defines insurrection as “an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country, usually by violence.” This is not at all what is happening. Even if you add civil unrest as a possible cause, the vast majority of the country is seeing non-violent protests, which are within our rights to free speech and assembly. The limited amount of violence and destruction/theft of property are matters for local law enforcement, sometimes aided by the state’s National Guard, if the governor sees fit to use them.

The president seems to think that his bravado makes him look strong, but the opposite is true. His resorting to such threats shows how weak he is as a leader that he cannot talk to the nation to calm the situation and take effective action to address the injustices that have so many millions across the country taking to the streets.

The most horrifying part of yesterday was that the area near the White House was cleared of protesters so that the president could go to a nearby church for a photo op. These protesters were non-violent and the curfew had not yet taken effect when they were attacked with teargas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and physical violence. Clergy and volunteers who had been offering water, snacks, and assistance to the protesters throughout the day were also driven from the area.

These actions ordered by the president violated the free speech and freedom of assembly rights from our Constitution, as well as interfering with the religious expression of those who were there to serve others to fulfill the calling of their faith. The president also did not inform the clergy of St. John’s or the Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde that he would be clearing the church grounds and using their sacred space for a photo op. Rev. Budde and other Christian faith leaders have objected to the president’s actions and rhetoric, pointing out that he is espousing views antithetically opposed to the tenets of Christianity.

Donald Trump has no moral authority whatsoever. He says that he wants “law and order” while himself violating the Constitution that he has sworn to uphold.

I am afraid of what will come next. I don’t have a vivid enough imagination to envision what will happen beyond the pandemic, injustice, and widespread suffering we have all around us.

We need competent and compassionate national leadership as soon as possible. There are millions of us all over the country ready to embark on the gargantuan task of building back a country worthy of our highest ideals of equality, unity, peace, and community.

New York State and plans

Every day, I listen to Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York give his daily coronavirus briefing and take questions from the press.

I am definitely not alone.

I often watch through Facebook Live, so there is a comment stream during the briefing. While some of the people are, like me, New York residents, many others tune in from other states and countries. While there are some trolls, many people thank Governor Cuomo for his candid, factual presentation and his compassion. There are always some calls for him to run for president. I admit to having the occasional, totally improbable political fantasy that both the nominating conventions decide to choose a governor who has handled the pandemic as well as possible to run for president, so that instead of Trump versus Biden, we would have, say, Hogan versus Cuomo. Not going to happen, but I, for one, would breathe easier if it did.

This is a big week for New York State. Our current stay-at-home order expires May 15 and it is expected that some regions, including the Southern Tier where I live, will qualify to enter phase one (of four) for expanding what businesses and services may be opened and under what circumstances. There are a number of criteria to meet before being eligible, including at least a two-week decline of new cases, hospital and intensive care unit availability, and testing and contact tracing capabilities. All the businesses have to have plans in place for safe working conditions and customer delivery protocols. If COVID-19 cases start to increase, the state will go back to its prior level of operations until conditions improve again. The New York plan is based on medical science and the experiences of other countries and cities around the world as they try to increase economic and social activities after outbreaks of the virus. For reference, businesses like hair salons and dine-in restaurants don’t re-open until phase three.

Because of the planning and vigilance of our state government, I feel relatively secure that New York will be able to protect public health while gradually opening more and more public and private entities. I remain very worried, however, about the majority of states who are re-opening without even having had a decline in the number of cases. Indeed, right now, if you take New York out of the national statistics, you find that while New York’s infection rate is on a steady decline, the rest of the country is still on the increase. In addition, some countries that had contained the outbreak, such as Germany and South Korea, are having to back off with some of their re-opening of businesses because their case numbers are rising again.

I am hopeful that our region and other New York State regions that qualify will be able to move forward with our slow and thoughtful plans while still protecting public health. If that happens, I hope other states and countries will study our approach and adapt it to their regions.

With over four million confirmed cases world-wide, we need the best practices devised and enacted as soon as possible around the world.