All I Want for Christmas

All I Want for Christmas

Dear Santa,

Ok, ok, I know — I’m old enough to know better than to write to you, I have a responsible job that expects me to be pragmatic and refrain from idle wish lists.  But my Christmas wish list is not idle thoughts but urgent needs, and we’re going to need some Santa-level magic to get these gifts fulfilled.  So, Santa, you be you and indulge some fantasy thinking.  I only want 3 things, how hard can that be?  Here you go:

1. End the Pandemic

Yes, I know, there’s no magic here, only science … and human behavior, more on that below.  But The Number One item that should be on everyone’s list right now is to do everything possible to end the Covid-19 pandemic that has consumed 300,000 lives in the United States alone and sickened nearly 18 million here; worldwide nearly 1.7 million are dead and more than 75 million sick.  Beyond the death and sickness, economies are shattered, children are falling far behind in learning, and the very fabric of human life in community is fading fast.  Hospitals and healthcare workers are exhausted, but the surge continues.

The arrival of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna seems like good news, but there will be insufficient vaccine distribution until late spring.  So, lockdowns, shuttered schools and businesses will continue for months.  (Oh, and endless zoom meetings, punctuated by a webex or, heaven help us, Microsoft Teams.)  I miss our students at Trinity, and I worry that the longer this drags on, the more fragile our sense of community becomes.  We are one college among thousands, one school among tens of thousands.  As our school communities wither, so, too, the larger community suffers.  And education is just one industry — the damage to restaurants, hotels, airlines, stores, churches, recreation centers, and so many other industries and places of commerce is astonishing; the loss of jobs, the loss of colleagues and friends in the workplace, the loss of a sense of belonging to an enterprise larger than your living room — beyond the measurable economic impact, there’s the unraveling of our social fabric that is the often-hidden work of institutions and enterprises.

The outgoing political administration failed the American people on coronavirus, this is just a fact.  Whether the incoming administration can accelerate solutions remains to be seen.  But there’s one thing that could happen to hasten the end of the pandemic: a change in human behavior, widespread cooperation in the effort to eradicate the virus.  Which leads to my second wish:

2. An Infusion of Enlightened Self-Interest

I was going to say something ridiculous like “end selfishness” but not even Santa can do that.  But an infusion of enlightened self-interest — surely we can do a whole lot better to convince our fellow humans that wearing masks and avoiding crowds is NOT a diminution of human rights but, instead, a guarantee that they will continue to enjoy human rights in a healthy community for years to come.

How did it happen that millions of people drank the Kool-aid on refusing to wear masks as some kind of claim to individual rights and liberties?  Never have so many been so clueless, so stupid and selfish.  Yes, of course, the leader of this nation and his minions encouraged this utterly ridiculous and self-destructive behavior — we still don’t know how many of the rally-attendees in the campaign months were infected, but an analysis of the state-by-state data surges suggests some correlation.  But the lemming-like behavior of large swatches of the American population cannot be explained by demagoguery alone.  What we have witnessed — continue to witness — is a massive failure of people to be able to think critically, to make choices informed by facts and science, to follow the most basic safety and health protocols which are not very hard to follow because they have set aside reason in favor of blind Pavlovian responses to the crowd they run with, the celebrity they follow, the demagogue they admire for unfathomable reasons.

On Twitter the other day there was a video posted of a parade of people invading a Walmart maskless and chanting slogans.

I posted a response that said, simply, “The failures of mass public education…”

The blowback was immediate and swift.  People took my comment as a criticism of teachers and schools, and as Twitter will do, spun the issue into something I never intended, but it was fascinating.

However, I stand by my observation — NOT as a criticism of teachers and schools, but rather, as an observation that we educators must accept the fact that we have failed to reach a fairly large swath of the American public when it comes to some very basic skills like critical reasoning, the ability to distinguish real facts from mere opinion, and cultivation of the understanding that what is in the common good is also good for the individual — enlightened self-interest is not selfish, but self-empowering in the best sense.  Choosing acts that keep the community healthy — wearing masks, social distancing, refraining from parading like idiots into Walmart at the height of the Christmas shopping season — all contribute to individual well being and the individual’s ability to live in freedom.  The common good is not the enemy of individual liberty, but rather, the essential means by which individual liberty is able to flourish.

Ok, Santa, I’m off my soapbox… and I do want one more thing:

3.  A Peaceful Transfer of Power

I’m not among those who wish harm to the outgoing administration — frankly, that would keep them in the news too long.  I want them off the front pages.  I don’t want to have to hear their names or think about their misconduct any more.  They can go to Mar-a-Lago and golf every single day from here to eternity, that will be fine with me.

But they need to leave the White House.  Sooner than later, preferably. Peacefully and with no more drama.  The news this week of talk of some kind of martial law is an abomination, a crude and cruel abuse of the public psyche.  The refusal of current President Donald Trump to acknowledge the impending presidency of President-Elect Joe Biden is a scandal, a mortal sin against our Republic and the oath of office he took to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Trump, his family and his minions must go.  Peacefully, quietly, quickly.  Now.

January 20, 2021 at noon will be the real Christmas for the United States of America.  On that date we will be able to move forward at last, restoring the fabric of our national community, rebuilding a sense of hope and optimism for the future of our country.  We have years of work ahead to undo the damage of the last four years — for immigrants and refugees, for the poor and sick, for those who have suffered so much racial hatred, for our environment, for international relations and U.S. leadership in the world.

That’s it for now, Santa.  Oh, I have more on my list, of course.  But if you can help to fulfill those wishes, the rest will be up to us.