Well, what a year it has been...
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
One year on. Sometimes I think I’ll wake up and find the pandemic has been a dream. On a good day it now seems quite normal to live in a world where we can’t visit family, meet up with a group of friends, plan a holiday, shop for clothes or go to the theatre. On a bad day it is more of a nightmare, like being part of a Science Fiction novel. People wearing masks, and the knowledge that anyone we come into close contact with could be our killer. It sounds dramatic, but the Covid death toll in the UK now stands at around 126,000, and is still rising. Some 3.7 million people here have had the virus. How can anyone look at these figures and decide not to have the vaccine. The impact of Covid on families, health and the economy has been huge. All this and Brexit too.
One of the benefits of the pandemic must surely be a greater appreciation of what it means to live in a free society. Another is realising how much joy there can be in life’s simple pleasures. We’ve spent more time in the garden than usual. Looking back over previous Journal entries I see that our highlights of the past year included our first trip to the coast (only a few miles away) for a pebble hunt after 88 days of staying close to home. We have spent more time than ever walking on Westwood, and have really appreciated the changing seasons. A few days in Norfolk last Autumn, including visiting Margaret and Peter at Old Hall, and our friends in Norwich, was a real treat. In the street there has been a true sense of community. It’s the first time for many, many years that I’ve decorated an Easter egg or grown a sunflower for a competition. And I’ve never made a wooden spoon doll for VE day before!
There’s no doubt the first lockdown, although strange, was much easier than the present one. It was a new experience, and people pulled together. We had no idea how long it would go on for. It was more like being snowed in for a few weeks. On the other hand we now have the vaccine. It won’t give us 100% protection from Covid, but it does bring hope that things will improve. We have no great plans, but we are looking forward to picking up the threads of life as it was in 2019. Things won’t ever be quite the same again. The unthinkable has happened, and at the back of our minds there will always be an awareness that it could happen again.
A heartfelt thankyou to fellow Journal writers (not to mention editors!) for providing both entertainment and stability over the last year, and for sharing a small part of your interesting lives. I hope some of us will be able to meet one day. Xx
Coronavirus rabbit’ egg; sunflower; Westwood; Girl Guide VE day wooden spoon doll; garden; beach
Walking in L.A.
Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA
As Chooch and I took a walk in Kenneth Hahn Park this morning, I ruminated upon the preceding year and these are some of my thoughts:
As a retired person, I realize that Covid has not impacted my life nearly as much as it has the lives of younger people, working and raising families. I have seen the effects on my daughter and her family since both she and her husband are essential workers. Their stress levels have gone through the roof. My son-in-law is an occupational therapist working with patients in a clinic and he has to be constantly tested for Covid in order to keep the patients safe. Would that they had done so for all the old people in assisted living communities and retirement homes who became infected with Covid, were taken to hospital only subsequently to be returned to where they came from to not only die but infect their fellow seniors. To make matters worse, in New York people sick with Covid were moved to senior living instead of being isolated elsewhere. So many mistakes were made and so many old people died as a result. I am fortunate that none of my family or friends has become seriously ill with Covid or died.
One impact on my life is that I have not seen my daughter and granddaughter for over six months but I realize that some people have not seen family members for much longer than that. I am happy to report though that we will be reunited over Easter. My other hope is that it will not be too long before I can see the rest of my family in England.
My granddaughter is one of the more fortunate school children who has been able to go to a converted after school care center to do her school work on Zoom with her two best friends. Not only do the staff there help the children with their class work but also provide activities such as art, dance, outside activities, etc. These are the luckier children. Too many children have suffered from being shut up at home and stuck in front of computer screens for hours on end. No wonder there is an increase in mental health problems and children committing suicide. I only wish that they would open the schools now instead of waiting for the new school year in the fall.
Things will never return to ‘normal’ but I think most of us have learned from the events of the past year how important it is to slow down, stop rushing around, and appreciate our families because they are the only things that truly matter in this life.
Pedagogy and print
Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire
I've had a cough for almost one and a half years. It started the autumn before Covid broke, so it's not a Covid cough, but a viral infection exacerbated by my generally fairly mild asthma. Coughing throughout this pandemic has socially speaking been a bit like suffering with terrible flatulence, people move away! Fortunately, my socializing has been limited!
Due to my asthma, I was able to shield during the first lock-down. Despite what was going on in the world I remember last spring as a golden time. My wife, Tilly, and I went on endless walks which utterly transformed our relationship with the local countryside. We found new footpaths, discovered beautiful areas we didn't know existed, and saw wildlife that we had never seen anywhere before, let alone in the fields and woods around our little town. I'll spare you the list!
Although I worked on a school project during this time to appease my conscience, I also had more time for my own art and was more productive than I've been for years. I posted some of the results in journal entries here last spring and summer.
I returned to teaching in September and found the adjustment difficult; for a few months there it felt like I was already retired. This lock-down I didn't have the option to shield; I'm not vulnerable enough, despite spending most days struggling to clear my airways from viral infection detritus.
The winter has felt long and tough. The influence of the first lock-down is a life-long one however. I look forward with great excitement and anticipation to this spring and more long walks with Tilly. And there is always hope that this summer, as coughs all over the country at last fall silent due to the vaccine roll-out, my own cough will also finally heal.
All is quiet
Tilly Wonham, Hertfordshire
Here we are a year on. Has it gone slowly? Has it flown by? The covid lockdown has been a different story for each of us. Things missed. Things gained. Lessons learnt. Lexicologists have had fun with an array of new words. Even the term COVID-19 was only coined in February 2020 apparently although Coronavirus goes back to the 60’s. I remember asking my daughter to spell ‘furlough’ because it was a word that I wasn’t familiar with. Now we use it so often, I even heard someone on the radio saying that her handbag had been furloughed. Other words that have become familiar include; ‘lockdown’ ‘social distancing’ ‘ self isolation’ ‘support bubble’ ‘zoom/zooming’. The word, however, which I was totally fed up with was not a new word at all – ‘unprecedented’. How many times did we have to hear government ministers talk about this unprecedented situation? If I could have had a penny……………….it would have taken the edge off my lack of income!
This past year has had highs and lows like any other. In my home we haven’t suffered at the hands of this virus for which I am grateful. My woes are small compared to other people’s. My personal lows have been not seeing our family enough (hardly at all). My highs have been seeing our family in small doses. My son has his second lockdown birthday coming up. Last year he was meant to celebrate in Barcelona. He was still 23 when this all started. He will be 25 on Tuesday.
The past year has also given us the gift of time. I feel fortunate to be able to paint almost every day. I will look back and realise how special this year has been for my creativity. Sometimes the painting goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. I always feel better for having done it. It has a positive effect on my brain. Perhaps it’s just being in the moment, like a form of mindfulness. I love painting, but I have to set my own brief which can be a challenge. I’m exploring texture, layers and colour through my work, but look forward to getting some more inspiration from the world outside.
So where will we go from here? When this is all over and I have hugged the people I miss, this is what I look forward to doing again: days out in Cambridge, exhibitions in London, seeing the sea, driving somewhere further than a supermarket, chatting in someone else’s house drinking tea out of their mug, eating in a restaurant, popping into a café. One day maybe, not wearing a mask in public and feeling well adjusted to being in a crowd again. In the meantime I wait patiently.
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
There were positive and negative events during the last week. The negative one being the dominance of B117 (responsible for 75% of all infections), accompanied by rising numbers and a partial halt in vaccinations. The states had just about started to ease restrictions a week ago to varying extents. About half of of all students returned to school, my vocational students were not among them. Therefore online lessons continue and they are mostly really fed up with them. Well, some of them work with small children and are theoretically eligible to a jab now, which is not available at the moment. I also know several over 80s who are still on waiting lists for vaccinations.
The positive events are the turnouts of the state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate because the current prime ministers were re-elected and the contentious right wing party AfD had a massive loss of votes.
I was really touched when reading last week´s journal because of the report of the Macrae children. It was very moving to see how much you were looking forward to returning to school. I hope the first week turned out well. Even here the welcome back video by the teachers at King’s School in Rochester went viral on the net.
We still have frosty nights but a few flowers are already on display in the attached picture...
From the black shed
David E, East Norfolk
So a year has gone by since the first edition. Did anyone imagine how many wonderful contributors would continue to write daily then weekly pieces for the journal? For my own part I have to admit that I haven't put finger to keyboard for a while, not because of lack of interest but perhaps because of a desire to avoid inflicting boredom on the audience. The lockdown since January has so restricted outside activities that the days merge into one another without generating enthusiasm for telling anyone what we've been thinking or doing. That makes me sound as though I'm in low mood but that's not the case. I'm ever an optimist and now that spring is definitely here there is lots to look forward to.
First there is the prospect of my new greenhouse which will arrive in pieces next week. I'm in the process of dismantling the old cedar building which was in imminent danger of collapse. Our son Jonathan and I moved it from a neighbouring house over twenty years ago where it had already stood for generations so it hasn't done too badly. The new one is powder coated aluminium in a sort of grey/green colour so should fit in well with the surrounding garden and woodland. Then I'll have to get sowing!
Next is a mixture of pleasure and sadness. Daughter Jayne and family are moving to Uganda for work at the end of March. It's great for them to achieve something they have been planning for ages but sad for us as we won't see so much of Reuben, age 2, as he grows. We're already used to remote video links with Jonathan and family in Toronto so in future our Sundays will have that extra frisson.
Now we're trying to plan how and when we can escape lockdown restrictions so that we can visit our holiday home in Perthshire. The house has been empty and lonely since last summer so we hope everything is still in order. There is a greenhouse there too which is empty apart from two grape vines. Have they survived the winter? Nicola says the English/Scottish border won't open until late April although Bojo says we can move about from 12th April. I suppose we'll just have to be patient.
Meantime who knows how we will eventually emerge from this pandemic year, influenced as it is by politics, half-truths, misinformation of all kinds and an alarming level of public mistrust in many countries. Even Sir Ian Diamond, our chief statistician, had to eat his words this week though this was to do with stating one's preferred gender in the upcoming census rather than covid. My go to statistician is of course Sir David Spiegelhalter who always talks complete sense. The next question will be: can Ursula VDL survive the vaccine chaos in the EU which Merkel and Macron, both with an eye on the polls, are doing nothing to help. One can't resist just a tiny sensation of schadenfreude and thank goodness the UK steered clear of the EU vaccine procurement programme.
In the words of Tennyson "The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true."
Happy days and well done Sheila and Margaret.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia
End of Term Report
Two weeks ago I was vaccinated in a mass vaccination event arranged by The Blue Ridge Health Department. Having a combination of age (+65) and what is ominously described as an “existing co-morbidity” I was now just a few steps away from a degree of certainty. I went from living with the constant background of fear, to receiving enough protection that, given a fair wind, I wasn’t going to be hospitalized, put on a ventilator and die. Enormous relief was my overwhelming emotion as I sat post shot, a tad tearful, in the high school auditorium waiting to be released.
The journey my wife Judy and I have been on during the past year began with a move from suburban DC to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our house sale was planned and underway when news of the virus first began filtering through. A generous sprinkling of magical real estate and logistical fairy dust meant we moved and were in Central Virginia just as the state of emergency came into effect.
Since then, privileged as we undoubtably are, life has been mostly positive. Aside from the occasional manifestation of stress mostly through minor health issues, we have been fortunate to have spent the last year settling in, able to walk in the fresh air everyday. I have been productive creatively and Judy has been working from home. We have been safe and well. One period of — depression is too strong a word, a black puppy rather than The Black Dog would be more accurate — was solved by a friend, Charlotte, who lives in the Devonshire countryside. She said, wisely, that being quite socially isolated we were experiencing what it would be like when we were considerably older, effectively skipping some serious golden years and ending up in the twilight. Once I had understood that, and an old school friend RCW, FaceTimed me out of the blue I managed to work out of my funk.
Work has been going on apace. After all I have what I always craved: space, peace and quiet, lack of distractions, nature and most importantly fast, reliable internet.
I have seen some pretty wonderful TV, none perhaps more universally brilliant than Call My Agent. I have come to enjoy the Amazon deliveries. The twenty minute drive to Harris Teeter grocery store and onwards into Charlottesville to the Chiropractor have become special events, the open road, a glimpse of a wider world.
A couple more weeks to go and I will be able to go to the dentist at last. Maybe even go and see Steely Dan and Steve Winwood at Wolf Trap in the summer.
I have only recently started to wonder about overseas and internal flights. Missing friends and family aside and given the amount we have travelled over the years I have barely missed security lines, airline extortion of economy class passengers, jet lag, and the maskless yellow bear in Dubai International Airport terminal.
I am home, feet on the ground, writing songs, walking, sleeping like a baby and recently have been fortunate to welcome Sasha into our lives. The future is still uncertain, but there is at last confidence in our ability to survive. Without Judy I would have broken more social distance than a marathon runner.
My thanks especially to Margaret, Sheila and this journal who gave me a weekly goal of having something published. I am certain I am not the only one who benefited greatly from that routine and the sense of belonging to a wider community of the like minded enduring it all through particularly dark times. And lastly Johnson and Johnson without whom I would still be vulnerable and experiencing vivid nightmares of finding myself maskless in crowds of people.
Musings from self isolation
Billy Hearld, York
Over the third lockdown, on my daily walk with one other person, we took to walking to an empty car park, where grass cracked up through the concrete.
In the rain, the carpark was glistening.
And we stood at the wall, looking out over the floods as well as they burst the river banks under the bridge.
I returned to school recently and seeing corridors and classrooms bustling again felt alien but it was extremely invigorating to see people again. We wear masks in lessons now, and the windows are open which, with the fair weather, is quite nice and let’s a breeze into the classrooms.
It’s strange to think quite how long it’s been since I was last at school. At the time, two months seemed to be a very long time but now, looking back, it seems to have gone by with alarming speed. Being back at school all of a sudden is quite a shock - for one thing I can’t have cups of tea and biscuits during lesson as I could in online school - but it’s a welcome shock and I look forward to hopefully spending my last few months of school in the building itself.
Jean, Melbourne Australia
It's autumn and I think the very best time to be in Melbourne. We've had some perfect late summer, early autumn days, warm and bright, with the intensity of the sun now subdued. All interspersed with grey rainy days, a touch of coolness and a sense of melancholy in the air.
It's now a full 12 months in one spot with zero overseas trips (the first in a very long time), a year since I got my Australian citizenship on March 10th, and the first year of a retirement that was COMPLETELY different from what I'd imagined back in November 2019 when I put down tools for the last time! And a whole year of being without with the girls - that's the biggest and awfullest negative of this year.
A big positive has been weekly zoom chats with my Michigan brothers and sister-in-law. We have never talked so much or so regularly and even though I've never doubted our connection, I feel we are much closer than I would have thought possible before.
Moving forward, after some long and very restricted lockdowns, we're fortunate here to be moving into 'a new normal' and this has been harder than I thought it would be - mainly because my system seems to have adjusted to the limitations of restriction so well that anything surplus is super-stimulating and exhausting. I'm taking it slow. Invitations involving more than 3 for 4 people are out! I don't think this situation will last forever - but perhaps it's good to acknowledge the process of re-acclimatisation into society is not necessarily straightforward.
Because of the restrictions, there's been plenty of time for reflection - perhaps too much? I've been made aware over and over again of my failings and foibles - my inability to stick to things, my impatience, my lack of charitable feelings toward others with views different from mine, my tendency to dwell on past hurts and disappointments. On the other hand, there's been time to enter states of mind more meditative - thanks in part to doing yoga regularly with a wonderful yoga teacher - Iris in Castlemaine! And it's been a year of walking which encourages looking and noticing what's on the ground, in the sky and in your mind.
In the wider world - I just have to acknowledge - Trump sent slinking off the stage, and Biden triumphantly at the centre, looking after the business! Gratitude.
It's been a joy and privilege to be allowed into the lives of the writers of the Journal - I'm in awe of everyone's creativity, thoughtfulness, kindness and fortitude, and for letting us see so much beauty. Thanks to Margaret and Sheila for everything they've done to make this possible.
The undivided self
JH, East Sussex
THE PLAGUE JOURNAL OF MERRIMAN LYON, FOUR-LEGGED DOG
Today has been a good day, and yesterday was also a good day. My earlier memories are hazy, but I have a warm and trusting disposition so I can only assume that life has been cheerful for quite some time. Perhaps for as long as a year. Certainly, I have come to expect the constant presence of the two-legged dogs. Once they would leave the house for hours on end and I would lie dejected on my sofa, occasionally standing up at the window to look for them and barking sadly at passers-by. It is very different now, for they have sensibly chosen to spend their days with me. I allow them to rub my tummy, stroke my fur and smooth down my ears, as these occupations appear to provide them with amusement and do not trouble me. In return, they honour me with the scraps from their table and a twice-daily bowl of crunchy stuff. In the afternoons, I take them on their training exercises. The male two-legged dog throws a ball and I bring it back to him relentlessly. At times, he stops throwing the ball, but I use firm discipline with him and he resumes his exercise. They are simple souls, the two-legged dogs, but they respond well to barking, whining and love eyes. The female two-legged dog does not throw the ball with her own arm, but with a blue plastic arm that gives her supernatural powers.
The ball travels extraordinary distances from the blue plastic arm, but in bizarre directions, and I am sometimes hard pressed to find it among the scrub and gorse. Occasionally, I am forced to punish the two-legged dogs by eating their ball. This makes them cross and upset, but they must learn. The two-legged puppy does not attend the training exercises, so I make it my business to visit him in his room, which I routinely inspect for treats. He hides many empty treat wrappers in a basket under his desk, so I take them out and distribute them around the house to ensure that everyone can enjoy these delights. In the evenings, the two-legged dogs crowd onto my sofa and stare at an odourless box in the corner of the room. I walk up and down their laps to ensure that none of them get too comfortable and fall asleep, and I also make regular patrols of the eating area, in case any food has been left near the edge of the table, in which case I leap up and tidy it into my mouth. At night, the two-legged dogs retire to their upstairs kennels and I keep watch from my basket. I can assure you that all is well in my household, and my two-legged dogs are well-trained and in good health.
View from a town formerly known as crazy
Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.
A CRAZY WAY TO LIVE
It is often said that journalism is the first draft of history, but this week our Dear Editor has set us the task of looking back over the past year and reflecting on what has changed, how we have changed, and what we have learned. In short, she insists that it’s time to attempt a second draft. For that, Your Intrepid Reporter feels it would be prudent to yield his keyboard to his former self. A misbegotten career has prepared that former self to pretend for a day that he’s a foreign diplomat tasked with drafting a “Crazy Town, one-year later” message, trying to discern and make sense out of, as well as explain to his capital, the larger patterns in the swirling craziness that has unfolded over the previous twelve months.
The conservative blogger and thinker Andrew Sullivan (a transplanted Brit) argues that the COVID-19 plague has done just what other plagues before it also did: “By shaking society up in so many ways, by suspending it in mid-air while forcing the population into mass and fearful isolation, by shattering so many familiar patterns, it has blown the future wide open.” The past year has been remarkable for the impact of the corona virus on American life and society, but it has been equally remarkable for the prospects for change that have begun to emerge out of all the fear and loss.
The sights and sounds of the pandemic year are seared in America’s memory: sirens wailing on the otherwise empty streets of New York, the images of coffins stacked in refrigerated trucks, of mass graves, of lonely patients dying in isolation wards, and the spontaneous banging of pots and blowing of horns in honor of the front line healthcare workers. Yet, as powerful as these are, they compete for space in the nation’s collective psyche with the shocking, almost-too-literal-to-be-real imagery of a white police officer putting his knee on the neck of a Black man and squeezing the life out of him. This one scene, set against the backdrop of an already inflamed moment, jabbed right at the still-raw wound at the heart of American society. It triggered a mass social movement for racial justice, and for the first time this gained the support of a majority of white Americans. The movement’s months long presence on the streets and refusal to back down further contributed to the sense that the mold had been broken and that long-overdue change was coming. Combine this and the pandemic with severe economic dislocation, reflected in the collapse of the stock market and massive unemployment (and the continuing inequality which the recovery of the former and continuing hardship caused by the latter only underscores), the rocket fuel of social media and “information silos”, presidential politics, and a cunning and unscrupulous New York bounder with an eye to the main chance willing to use every possible means to hold on to power, and you have the makings of a very volatile society indeed. All of this craziness came to a symbolic head on 6 January, when the adherents of the defeated president stormed the Capitol building itself in an attempt to overturn the will of the democratic majority. The guardrails ultimately held, largely because the courts and a few brave Republican officials refused to go along with the Big Lie, but as Wellington once said about Waterloo, it was a damned close run thing. Damned close run, but decisive in the end: the Democrats took back the Senate and the White House, effectively routing the Republicans on all fronts, consolidating their hold on the levers of government, all of which underscored an authoritative rejection of the former president and his mishandling of the pandemic.
In short, over the last year we witnessed a classic case of fearful, reactionary forces trying to defend and preserve the old order against a rising tide of change. The now ex-president marshalled the forces of reaction to his side and nearly succeeded by turning face masks into a political litmus test; promising miracles through quack cures (hydroxychloroquine and bleach) while downplaying the death toll; making overt racism acceptable again; encouraging his supporters among Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, and QAnon conspiracists to take up arms against the government he led, and lending the power of his office to the growing effort to suppress the voting rights of large portions of the population or failing that, to throw aside democracy itself. Yet even with the added help of Russia, these weren’t enough to defeat the forces unleashed by a microscopic virus. As if to give life to Sullivan’s observation that anything is possible in such times, a 78-year old politician, written off as a has-been by most as the pandemic was first hitting, not only rode the wave of change to power from the moderate center, he then confounded almost everyone by embracing and encouraging the call for change - cloaked in the message of simply returning to normalcy. As a result and against all expectations, Joe Biden may well prove to be a transformational figure in American history.
In just a few short weeks in office, the President has passed the most sweeping social policy changes in a generation (which his opponents have correctly pointed out were buried in his $1.9 trillion pandemic recovery plan), has hinted at a willingness to abolish the Senate filibuster (one of the last bastions of the reactionary minority’s hold on power), brought women and minorities into his Administration in record numbers (including the first Native American to serve in the Cabinet), broken the forty year stranglehold of Ronald Reagan’s ideology (government is the problem, not the solution), and is about to launch a sorely needed effort to rebuild the country’s long-neglected, decaying infrastructure. The increasing success of the U.S. vaccination program has demonstrated the reach and skill of the U.S. government when it is mobilized, focused and properly led, while the spending bill reminds those with the greatest needs just how much government can do for them. It’s a surprisingly simple formula: “shots in arms, money in pockets.” Moreover, it’s working. Biden’s polling numbers top anything his predecessor ever enjoyed, while 75% of the public (and even 40% of Republicans) support the relief package. Congressional Republicans meanwhile do little more than fume and fulminate that Biden hasn’t tried hard enough to work with them (pretending they might have been willing to cooperate on something at some point), while Fox News and other far-right pundits grumble as their time-tested formula – when in doubt, stoke the culture wars – fails to gain traction..
None of this is to say that the outcome has already been decided or the future secured. At the state and local level, the ever more authoritarian Republican party, egged on by the exile in Mar-a-Largo, is working flat out to limit and suppress voting access for minorities and Democrats. This may be the issue which finally forces the Congressional Democrats to eliminate the Senate filibuster in order to pass a package of democracy-strengthening countermeasures. In the meantime, the Democrats are showing unusual discipline, staying on message and refusing to take the bait of engaging in the endless culture wars. President Biden is also ignoring the noise, keeping a relatively low profile, and charting a course for the country based on policies and programs rather than symbols. A surge in immigration of unaccompanied young people on the southern border may, however, give the Republicans the fuel they need to force Biden to engage them in a renewed battle on immigration, which has been one of their most effective wedge issues over the last four years.
Looking abroad (this is, after all, the supposed analysis of a foreign diplomat), the outlines of a “Biden Doctrine” are starting to emerge. In a single phrase it might be labeled “strength abroad through renewal at home.” Here as well Biden’s campaign slogan “Build Back Better” is at work. Contrary to what many expected, the President has gone beyond merely rejoining a handful of agreements and making nice with traditional Allies. He’s introduced new goals, values and standards into American policy, for example making climate change and renewable energy integral parts of America’s engagement with the world. Biden and his Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, have also stressed that their foreign policy will be nested in domestic policy and guided by a few simple questions: what will our foreign policy mean for American workers; what do we need to do around the world to make us stronger at home; and, what do we need to do at home to make us stronger around the world. The Administration is already demonstrating how its domestic and international agendas can reinforce one another by offering the world proof of American competence of the kind that has been sorely lacking in recent years. The contrast, for example, between Europe’s flailing vaccination efforts with the growing success of America’s program speaks for itself, and by the time this is published around 80 million doses will have been delivered in the U.S. (From exile in Mar-a-Largo the former president demands credit for success in developing vaccines, so let us give the devil his due: despite the chaos of his administration, the U.S. did design, test, produce and approve three vaccines in record time; that said, it was left to his successor to demonstrate the discipline needed to see that they get used quickly, something the previous team couldn’t be bothered to figure out.)
The ex-president’s most powerful weapon was always the fear of change and his assertion that he alone could restore a supposedly ideal America, when men were men (preferably white), women were women (and demure and no one was confused about their sexual identity), minorities “knew their place,” cars were big, shiny gas guzzlers, and everyone ate bologna with ketchup on Wonder Bread (always white), washed down with Kool-Aid, before going to church on Sunday (OK, church on Saturday if you happened to be Jewish). Change IS scary and this appeal to a reactionary populist mood (and some legitimate grievances) carried the now-defeated president further than most thought possible. Then along came the coronavirus and as Andrew Sullivan says, the future was blown open. But, as President Biden himself would say, “here’s the thing:” America has always been about change, and it’s constantly re-inventing itself. The process has always been messy, often painful, generally chaotic, and progress uneven. But Americans have had a lot of practice at managing change and they have as good a shot as anyone at navigating these latest upheavals and emerging stronger on the other side. It’s a Crazy way to live, but it’s what they do best.