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  • Jan Flynn

Fighting For Air

Struggling to breathe in America

Photo by David Ramos on Unsplash

It’s Sunday morning as I write this

And I would rather be thinking about something else, something hopeful and uplifting. That’s what I would rather be sharing with you: hope and uplift. The past three months have been hard, hard on every single one of us to one degree or another.

Some of us have lost people we love. Some of us have lost businesses. Some of us have lost jobs. Some of us have lost dreams — of the wedding we’d planned, of the graduation for which we worked so hard, of the family reunion trip that took years to coordinate. All of us have lost time.

On the crest of another month of the pandemic, what we need — I certainly do, and I must assume the same for you — is a breath of optimism. We long for some surety somewhere that things will get better, that somehow, somewhere, things are getting better.

And somewhere, they must be. But in America?

In my tucked-away corner of Northern California, things look as bucolic as ever. Birds sing, grape clusters form on the vines, people walk their dogs and nod to one another above their facemasks. But we know we’re in a bubble here. Outside the bubble, cities are on fire, shattered by outrage and frustration and despair.

At the epicenter of the carnage is an image I can’t wash from my mind: a Black man lying on the ground, shackled and helpless, calling for his mother in his extremity. A white police officer drives his knee into the man’s neck, calmly, inexorably, for nearly nine minutes. Two other officers stand by, either approving or too cowed to intervene. The man on the ground pleads, over and over: I can’t breathe. Until, at last, he goes still, beyond hope of resuscitation.

After months living in fear of a disease that robs its victims of breath, seeing George Floyd coldly asphyxiated by a cop is the spark thrown into dry kindling. The inferno of rage it touches off bursts into desperate violence, a fire that consumes all the oxygen around it.

In America, we all struggle for breath

We need fresh air; we need healing; we need justice and wise, dispassionate leadership. Instead, we’re barraged by violence-inciting tweets from a President whose only talents are disruption and deflection. Echoing a racist police chief of the past, he declares, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

An hour previously, he had retweeted a video from a group of his supporters saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” At a time when the nation most needs calm reassurance, its leader incites bloodshed.

The only thing we can count on Trump for is further division, and his dismissal of those who object. The first tweet about dead Democrats? If I take him at his word and find it disturbing to know that POTUS wants me dead, it means I’m a hysterical, PC liberal who can’t take a joke. The remarks about shooting protesters? Don’t be ridiculous, people: what he means is, looting is bad, and violence is sad, and by the way, he is very upset about George Floyd.

Meanwhile, he’s retaliating with an executive order against the very social media outlets that he feeds on so avidly. How dare Twitter fact-check his tweets and flag both his and the White House Twitter accounts for glorifying violence?

At the same time, he closes off a major airway

As his nation erupts in pain and outrage, and as it sails past the 100,000 death toll mark, Trump chooses this time to exit from the World Health Organization. Since the U.S. is, or was, the single biggest financial contributor to the WHO, his action is a gut-punch to public health worldwide and a frightening setback to ending the pandemic.

It’s also a bewildering move. How does it help anything to sever ties with the largest health organization in the world, at a time when we desperately need the combined resources of all nations with any capacity to combat COVID-19, to say nothing of the cooperation we can no longer count on when a treatment or vaccine is developed, as it very well could be, outside our borders?

What explains such a self-destructive action? Trump’s pique at China. The Washington Postreported this weekend on Trump’s decision:

In the remarks made in the Rose Garden on Friday, Trump blamed China for the covid-19 pandemic and accused Beijing of effectively controlling the WHO and pressuring it to “mislead the world.”

Medical experts all over the globe, including here at home, are dismayed, to put it mildly. And if the idea was to push back at China, Trump’s retreat from the WHO gives that nation a veto power in the organization that we will no longer have.

If you’re looking for logic to explain this, there is none. There are only the Trumpian principles of disruption and deflection.

But November is coming. Isn’t it?

Those of us who are appalled at the current administration look to the coming election as the possible light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. If there is one thing we can rely on in America, it’s our faith in free and fair elections and the peaceful transition of power.

But even that is coming into question. For the past two years, I’ve been inclined to discount doomsayers who fret that Trump and his lackeys will either steal the election or refuse to accede power if he loses. But with his relentless attack on mail-in voting (the topic that originally had Twitter pushing back due to his baseless claims), his continual pandering to the most dangerous factions of his supporters, and his unrelenting assault on facts, I’m no longer so confident.

According to federal law, Trump can’t simply cancel or even postpone the November election. But with the vehement loyalty of so many Republican legislators behind him, Trump could subvert your and my right to vote at the state level. Jeffrey Davis explains this, with alarming credibility, in The Atlantic (“How Donald Trump Could Steal the Election,” March 29, 2020):

The danger begins with the fact that, regardless of what people believe, the Constitution does not give Americans the right to vote for their president. Rather, the Constitution says that a college of electors votes for the president, and Article II of the Constitution gives states nearly unlimited power to decide how these electors are chosen.

So, red states, which control 305 electoral votes (270 are needed to win), could simply change their laws to allow state legislators to appoint their electors who would, presumably, vote for the Republican ticket. Would that really happen? If it did, could such a thing stand up in court?

Remember the 2000 election?

As Davis writes,

In Bush v. Gore, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court held that the state “can take back the power to appoint electors” at any time.

Davis also notes that even if only a few states make such an extraordinary move, and a few others simply fail to suitably prepare for voting under pandemic circumstances, the result could throw the entire election into question.

And the Supreme Court hasn’t exactly leaned more liberal since 2000.

All of this presses on my neck, and maybe yours too

I wish I had a brighter take on things with which to cheer or entertain you. But I’m gasping here. What sustains me right now is the will to keep struggling — not with violence, not against anyone, but for something: the prospect of a saner, healthier, more just, and sustainable future.

We’re not done yet. There is hope, if we lift up our voices to decry hatred and bigotry, to demand justice and the rule of law, and especially if we vote in such numbers and with such irrefutable unity that we overwhelm all attempts to throttle us.

That thought, I sincerely hope, is a breath of fresh air.

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