The Day the Music Died
While much of the rest of the world recovers, COVID-19 maintained its absolute dominance of us, with over 5.4 million confirmed cases and more than 170,000 deaths.¹ California topped 600,00 confirmed cases. Congress had yet to pass a stimulus package, while 17 million workers remain unemployed and millions have lost their company-provided health insurance.² The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences postponed fall sports until 2021, joining the Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Mountain West and Ivy League conferences in deciding to protect players, coaches and their families despite the massive monetary losses the conferences and colleges will incur. Meanwhile, elementary and secondary schools everywhere resumed instruction.
On the political front, within a day of her being named the presumptive vice president nominee on the Democratic presidential ticket, the president began his attack on Kamala Harris by suggesting, as he did with Obama, that she may be ineligible to run for the office because she may not be an American citizen.³ The very nature of this spurious conspiracy theory is demeaning and repugnant. That it was offered last week by the president several times on national television is an embarrassment and further degrades him, the office he holds and anyone or any network that does not immediately and vociferously reject his claim. Someone, anyone, should explain to the president that Oakland, Harris’s birthplace, is in California and, despite his antipathy for the state and its people, it remains part of the country. Someone he trusts might also suggest to him that his game of floating conspiracy theories is old, tired and entirely predictable.
This leads to three questions:
1. At what number of deaths will the millions in this country who are writing off COVID-19 as ‘just another flu,’ ‘nothing serious,’ a ‘politicized thing being used against the president’ admit that they are wrong and begin to take the pandemic seriously?
At 250,000 deaths? At 500,000 deaths? At a million deaths? When someone they know or love dies? Ever? I ask because, at the rate we’re going, given the number of people who are proudly eschewing masks and other basic health precautions, we will get there. We achieved the most recent million new cases in a mere 17 days.⁴ And, remember, it’s still summer. As the weather changes, predictions are that the rate of cases and deaths will increase substantially. According to Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we should be prepared for ‘the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had.’⁵ This is in large part because far too many people are not taking the virus seriously, putting others in danger as a result of their selfishness.
2. How ignorant are elected officials willing to be in public?
As science-defying and no doubt flat-Earth-believing as Marion County, Florida sheriff Billy Woods, who has forbidden his deputies from wearing masks?⁶ Or as synapse-deficient and oxygen-to-the-brain-deprived as Florida governor Ron DeSantis? Who, last week, while insisting that in-person schooling be mandated throughout the state — despite Florida being only the second state to exceed 500,000 confirmed cases — compared reopening schools to the challenges facing Navy SEALS as they took out Osama bin Laden.⁷ Really. As DeSantis put it, if Home Depot and Walmart can reopen, why not every school in Florida? You failed math, science and logic, did you, Ron?
Justifiably, both Woods and DeSantis qualify for our Fool of the Week honors. The competition was incredibly fierce, but it’s tough to beat such blatant and astounding ignorance, especially when it’s in full view of the public. Congratulations, of sorts, Billy and Ron. Your awards are in the mail, but bound to be late.
Which brings us to our most serious question:
3. When we look back on this period, assuming we survive, at what moment in time will we pinpoint a turn away from democracy to a form of government devoid of personal freedom?
While too many possible dates exist — where ‘too many’ is any number more than zero — might it be when the administration began to dismantle, to systematically destroy, the United States Postal Service (USPS)? Shockingly, this is taking place in real time, in public, right before our eyes. It is happening now.
Mail service in this country predates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, having been established on July 26, 1775 by the Second Continental Congress.⁸ Benjamin Franklin was our first postmaster general. The mail service’s original purpose was and continues to be a pillar of the Republic, binding together millions of Americans.⁹ It is the most popular agency of the federal government.¹⁰ We all depend on it. Even so, the administration is taking specific steps to reduce its efficiency, its timeliness and its ability to serve the country as defined in the Constitution.¹¹
In recent days, Louis DeJoy, the newly-appointed Postmaster General of the postal service, a Republican mega-donor and major contributor to the Trump campaign, has:
- Instituted sweeping and severe budget cuts
- Restructured the department, removing or reassigning 23 executives
- Prohibited overtime
- Ordered the removal of a substantial number of collection boxes
- Taken out of service possibly hundreds of high-speed mail sorting machines,¹² and
- Halted late mail deliveries.
Not surprisingly, these actions have resulted in a significant backlog of undelivered mail. If, like many of us, you’ve experienced delays in receiving mail — including checks and prescription medication — you have DeJoy and the administration to thank.
Last week, one motive for these changes was revealed. It was reported that the agency’s general council in late July informed in writing nearly every state and the District of Columbia that voters could be at risk of not getting their November ballots back to election offices in time to be counted because of the USPS’s inability to deliver mail in a timely fashion.¹³ This was consistent with statements the president made on national television in which he suggested yet again that voting by mail would lead to massive voter fraud — despite any evidence to support this false claim — and must not be allowed. His intent, which he said out loud, in clear English, on Fox News: to make it more difficult for people to vote in the November election.¹⁴
Thursday, August 13, 2020. The day the president told the nation that he is opposed to allowing all citizens to vote safely during a pandemic while his postmaster general is systematically destroying the agency’s ability to handle mail-in ballots.
It was the day the music died.
Give the president some credit. Want to increase the odds of being reelected? Think suppressing the vote is a viable way to remain in office? Believe that limiting the ability to vote by mail will keep people who might support the opposition from casting a ballot, especially since many may be unwilling and/or afraid to go to a polling place due to the coronavirus? Talk is cheap. Think big. To Hell with the Constitution or the idea that voting is patriotic and, arguably, the most American thing we can do. Take out the postal service.
And then go one step further: shift blame to someone else. In this case, the Democrats.¹⁵ A day after the president lost his younger brother, he was back at it. Who lets death of a loved one get in the way when there’s a self-serving story to be told and an election to be commandeered?
What makes this worse — if that is even possible — is that not one prominent Republican elected official has voiced opposition. Not one. Nor has the Republican party issued a statement questioning the undermining of our right to vote by reducing the efficiency of the postal service. Nor has any Conservative talk-show host on radio or television wondered aloud about the morality of such blatantly unpatriotic acts. Again, not one.
We live in at least two Americas. In one, we believe that voting is among our most important responsibilities and that it should be made as physically accessible, as easy to do, as possible. In the other, voting is viewed as something to manipulate to maintain power. Even if illegal, against the Constitution, and it means irreparably harming a service designed to bind us together, one we rely on, one we cherish, one we need.
Which America do you choose? Decide fast, while there’s still a little time. Because the music is dying, right before our eyes.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, August 16; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/ These data are from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), so who knows?