Dear Mr. Fowle,
Within this email I have written a mammoth a letter. I hope you will forgive me for any headaches or eye soreness induced if you humor me and read it. I started writing and did not, and frankly could not, stop. Then I edited, and rather than excising content like any good editor would, I added even more. A previous letter in your paper by a self-proclaimed “doctor” about the ineffectiveness of mask-wearing combined with recent reports of conspiracies, fraud, and violence from little boys who call themselves “proud,” triggered a flurry of words and emotions that I, for whatever reason, felt compelled to send your way.
I in no way expect to be printed in your wonderful paper, given my letter’s colossal-ness, cursing, and sentiment. Nevertheless, I am truly appreciative for your time and do hope my introduction doesn’t frighten you off.
With many thanks and my wishes for the safety, support, and happiness of you and your loved ones. Thank you for all that you do for and give to this community.
Two catchphrases have emerged in my day-to-day when reeling from the throes of this year: “for f*ck’s sake!” and “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” the latter howled and muffled into my rather emotionally traumatized pillow.
When embarking to compose a tangle of sentences with which to reflect on the events and people of 2020, I have found myself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted before even considering the first word. There is simply too much, too many problems and words, too much pain, ignorance, hate, anxiety, and uncertainty, too many subgroups within each category, and subgroups within the subgroups. Foremost on my mind of late, however, amidst a third and most horrific spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths nationwide, is the pure, intractable anger and exasperation I feel toward a particular “strain” of person that encompasses personal philosophies and dispositions of selfishness, ignorance, malice, apathy, and outrageous entitlement: self-proclaimed “anti-maskers,” inflamed racist liberty bells, manager-seekers, and conspiracy theorists—commonly lumped together and referred to as Trump supporters. Of course monsters walk among every social group, but particular ire is due to this Klan. My employment of name-calling may read a tad hypocritical, however I am disinclined to feel any degree of hesitation or sympathy toward a group of individuals who applaud the separation of families at the border and the caging of children, call for and engage in racially-motivated discrimination and violence, threaten horrific acts of terrorism when they feel “triggered,” place personal preference and gain over the greater good, willfully maim our nation’s core tenets of democracy, are complicit in the deaths of over 230,000 Americans, and, least importantly, told me my “dumba*s libtard tears” tasted delicious back in 2016. I could scan the catacombs of my mind for every “naughty word” that made me giggle as a child, and the resulting aggregation would be far too charitable.
As those of us with intact and functional consciences contemplate the demand to “build bridges” with such bigoted, barbaric, truth-depraved narcissists—who beneath my verbal cheapshots are really just the reification of terrified, confused, misinformed children—I do not yet feel ready nor willing to forgive. Frankly, I am furious, and tired of the abominable nonsense they verbally and digitally vomit that distracts from, and ultimately hinders, much-needed efforts to curb this pandemic (among other terrifically pressing social needs) and save lives. I have read letters to the editor containing baseless claims of election fraud, ironic statements about how the “democRATS” have politicized this virus, harmful untruths about mask efficacy, vaccine conspiracies, complaints of “obstructed liberties,” and other “opinions,” all of which qualify as free speech, but ultimately distill to petulant whining. And so, before I try to locate a sense of forgiveness and gather my tools for bridge-building, if I may, I would like to address this group directly:
For. F*ck’s. Sake.
Over 230,000 Americans have succumbed to Covid-19 in less than a year. Around a quarter of a million people. The equivalent of more than five baseball stadiums. A majority of that figure died isolated from their loved ones, breathing their final choked breath over a Facetime call. Current models are predicting over 280,000 lives lost by December, which is just weeks away, and over 400,000 by March. Refrigerated trucks are arriving at morgues and hospitals to tackle the overflow of bodies. Some hospitals have begun to contemplate turning away patients whom they deem have little chance of survival.
Does this sound like “just another flu,” which takes an average of 12,000-60,000 lives per year, has well-known and effective treatment protocols and an extant and readily modifiable vaccine of varying annual efficacy? Disturbingly, individuals young and old, those with preexisting conditions and those without, suffering from Covid can experience Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), cardiac, lung, kidney, and liver injury, blood clots, septic shock, and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children, to name a few. And the complications are still unfolding. A frighteningly high number of individuals who are fortunate enough to recover endure a “long haul syndrome” that can occasion memory loss, cardiac damage, and breathing difficulties. Some patients as young as their early twenties now require lung transplants.
Care professionals were already overworked, overrun, and under-appreciated prior to this pandemic; now they courageously battle existing causes of severe sickness and mortality (i.e. heart attacks, strokes, influenza and other infectious diseases, chronic illnesses, accidents, &c.) and a novel pathogen that has yet to be fully understood. In some capacity-breached hospitals, nurses are being asked to work while actively sick and symptomatic with Covid. And they were woefully under-protected from month one, most given only one N-95 that they have to look after like it is a godd*mn black opal. They are risking their lives every single day, and still, nationwide, people continue to possess the audacity to protest the simple acts of wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance, acting as if they are being forced to donate an organ.
Each time a surgery team dons PPE before a procedure, it is not for sh*ts and giggles. Since the late 1800s, we have known such measures to be effective in protecting both professionals and patients alike from opportunistic microbial agents. Now we as the general public have been called upon to demonstrate similar consideration, education, and altruism through the basic, cost-effective, unintrusive actions of mask-wearing and distancing, minor inconveniences at most and both holding the potential to drastically reduce the spread of and deaths from Covid (a fact confirmed time and again by countless peer-reviewed studies). And still, still, people refuse, cross their arms, take to social media, and shout “what about my rights?” in an unconscionable and utterly embarrassing display of arrogance and selfishness tied together with a bow of counterfactuals stated with nausea-inducing conviction. And you fail to stop at your loud refusals and threats of bad Yelp reviews or *gasp* the loss of your precious patronage, no, that would be far too generous; you also escalate, insulting and physically threatening those asking you to show an atom of empathy. All this over a face covering that would save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Now let’s pivot to politicizing biology. You want to get political? Fine. Let’s talk about what politicizing a virus looks like. It looks like the President back in the early days of Covid infections in the U.S. calling the virus a “Democrat hoax,” his dismantling of the Obama-era pandemic response protocol out of spite, his using the virus to propagate and encourage xenophobia, his balking at and failure to readily engage the Defense Production Act which would have expedited and expanded production of PPE and ventilators early on, his ridicule and dismissal of mask-wearing, his nonsensical statements aimed at downplaying the virus, touting that it is “just the flu” and will “disappear on its own,” his declarations that if we stopped/slowed testing or if we “didn’t count the blue states” we would have the “lowest number of cases and deaths” and be doing “the best,” his attempts to force misleading and non-factual guidelines upon and gag and re-route crucial hospital data from the CDC, his departure from the WHO, his shameless attempts to promote a drug (hydroxychloroquine) that had not been approved for use in Covid patients and has since been found to be ineffective and in some cases harmful, his failure to produce an adequate and regular economic stimulus package to the working class (while inordinate sums and “personal favors” were distributed to large corporations and CEOs), his baseless promises for a vaccine “ready before election day” that contradicted the timelines of every active research team, his withholding of aid from and abhorrent insulting of “blue run” states hit hard by the virus, his calls to “liberate” states on lockdown and encouragement of the sort of rhetoric that led to the terrorist plot against the governor of Michigan, his allegation that doctors “greedily” profit off of Covid-related deaths, his contracting the virus, receiving immediate, free (aka “socialized medicine”), groundbreaking, and publicly inaccessible treatment, and then, once recovered, using his privilege of position to downplay the pandemic’s severity again, the list goes on. This copious and incomplete inventory represents but one facet of the many failures of his presidency.
Allow me now to home in on the vaccine. To even suggest a vaccine is being withheld by Democrats like some partisan game of keep-away until Biden takes office, a theory propagated over both the dark boneyards and favored vistas of the web, would be laughable were it not so dangerous and morally repugnant. Vaccines take, on average, 12 months for R&D. Although research teams have made ground-breaking progress in record time for a potential Covid vaccine, since the beginning they have consistently projected, as has Dr. Fauci (who was appointed by President Trump and is a leading infectious disease expert), that a safe and efficacious vaccine will not be ready for public distribution until early 2021, and at the very earliest and luckiest, late 2020. The company heading the recent announcement, Pfizer, is not politically affiliated on either side and immediately spoke out against the President’s claims that a vaccine would be ready for public distribution before Election Day. Most companies and teams are still wrapping up phase three trials. Additionally, President-Elect Biden’s camp does not have access to current vaccine research data or production models, let alone the ability to influence them. The Trump administration, on the other hand, is purposefully withholding crucial data that would afford a well-informed, safe, and smooth presidential transition—an unprecedented, tantrum-esque, and wholly authoritarian move.
A virus does not care if you politically align red or blue, nor does it discriminate on the basis of social demographics. People do, particularly the people who weave and sustain our social and institutional fabrics. President Trump’s actions and inaction, and those of his followers, government and public alike, have further lanced an already gaping wound in this nation. And what is our “esteemed” POTUS doing now? As states are forced to shut down yet again, hospitals overflow, and scores of people suffer and succumb? He abandons his post to continue to sling baseless and debunked conspiracy theories of election fraud on Twitter and hurl frivolous lawsuits at any lawyer willing to debase their careers and accept them. And to golf. He has never been nor will he ever be anything that even slightly resembles a true, decent, democratic, compassionate, and intelligent leader. He knew from the beginning this was not “just another flu.” Moreover, its havoc was preventable. This outcome, these lives lost and those forever altered, it was all preventable. Had we had leadership committed to action and unity, who cared about the wellbeing of the people and not personal acclaim or profit, provided economic support that would have enabled proper lockdown procedures, engaged the necessary manufacturing to provide protection for our first responders, encouraged basic public health consensus and education surrounding mask-wearing and distancing, acknowledged and addressed social disparities in healthcare (among other institutions), engaged the necessary supports to ensure more families do not fall victim to hunger or homelessness, had they led by example, with integrity, transparency, and compassion, more than 100,000 lives need not have been lost, nor our country be on the brink of social, biological, and economic ruin.
Now for a more personal note. My immune system is, for lack of a better word, eccentric. I suppose the more appropriate word is “compromised.” Thus, I have fallen just short of digging out and living in my own little hobbit hole these past eight months. Beloved members of my family are also considered “high-risk” in the face of Covid, and not a day goes by in which I am not paralyzed with fear for them, praying, despite my atheistic belief systems, that they will neither encounter nor contract this horrid virus, and remain in good health. A hope I extend to everyone, including you callous, conspiracy-shouting pr*cks. We are all some combination of exhausted, strained, scared, depressed, angry, sad, frustrated, lonely, and anxious. All imperfect with no one solution or salve in sight. This is uncharted territory for those of us (most of us) who did not live through past health crises, such as that of 1918. Still, the confusion and uncertainty, emotions felt, emergent longings and preferences for normalcy expressed, do not, under any circumstances, justify risking lives to sate. Now is not the time to cry conspiracy or freedom infringement, it is a time for basic care, empathy, education, unity, and action. I am sorry if you feel personally threatened by the results of the election (the irony), I am sorry if you are hurting, but that which you expel as “fact,” is anything but, and your self-perceived “oppression” and subsequent refusal when asked to cover your mouth and nose are in actuality willful acts of apathy and abuse toward yourselves and your family, friends, and communities. I implore you to instead consider channeling your loud voices toward the efforts to quell this pandemic—encourage loved ones to wear masks, to abstain from holiday gatherings, to keep their distance so that everyone might have the chance to embrace their families and friends when this has passed. And that is the key: it will pass. This is temporary, these actions for the sake of public health momentary, and how we choose to act will ultimately decide the historical record of this pivotal fleck on our species’ chronology. We have the power to curtail this virus’s timeline, to limit suffering and mortality, this potential a monumental gift. The rebuffing of such a capacity will be a phenomenon historians will spend ages trying to understand, ultimately failing to locate an answer that truly does not exist.
So here we are at the third peak and final paragraph that should never have come to be. As nationwide we approach the “point of no return,” the power of choice endures. You can remain loud, aggressive douche canoes masquerading as “patriots,” or you can embody what true patriotism can be, making conscientious sacrifices and choices for the sake of the people, loved and beloved, whose smiles, voices, identities, experiences, talents, passions, memories, and bonds, now fill those five+ baseball stadiums, and those who remain fighting on. You are the first group to vividly and passionately detail how you would die for your country, willing to bear arms and take to the hills to protect the America you love. In this delusional and feral fantasyland, you are asked to kill, an idea you approach with disturbing ease. In reality, you are simply asked to be kind. And toward this you shatter like glass over and over and over. Your freedoms are very much alive and well, it is your hearts that have been challenged and atrophied.
I close with a final plea: May a conscience be cultivable, may each of you experience the kindness, humility, safety, and support you fail to extend to others, and may we all, somehow, claw and crawl our way out of and douse the dumpster fire that is 2020.
Sincerely and with lingering threads of hope,
Thank you, from the heart, for this remarkable letter. Under ordinary circumstances we might have asked you to re-write this, cutting it down in the process from 2,000 words to about one-third that number. As you have gone to great and entertaining lengths to establish, however, present circumstances are, to be brief, rather bizarre.
However, reading your letter we were reminded of times when, walking through the Square, we have been stopped in our tracks. Sometimes a musician—on a piano, a saxophone, a musical saw, once—simply must be heard.
Furthermore, with our history, we feel a certain responsibility to the future, such as it might be. Many of these facets and angles you have eloquently compiled could easily be lost, like tears in rain. If we are so fortunate as to be read, years from now—an increasingly dicey proposition, to be sure—your letter will give readers a fuller picture of this time than anything else we have to offer them.
Besides, as you say, we did more or less provoke your response.