A Yankee Notebook, Columns

When We Lose Sight of Reasons to Hope, We’re Licked

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – My son reminded me recently of the encouragement I sometimes offered when we were climbing through woods toward a summit or a ridge. Keep your eye on the line between the land and the sky, I told him. That’s where you’ve got to get to be over this. When you see that line beginning to descend toward the horizontal, you’re getting there.

That wasn’t always true. The line sometimes turned out to be an intervening ridge or a false summit. But it’s usually worked for me. Deep, and even devastating, disappointment is something we occasionally face; but it’s when we lose sight of reasons to hope and go on that we’re licked.

In that vein, I’m constantly eyeing the angle of the horizon ahead of us as we approach the summit of our long uphill slog to the looming election. We all know which way Vermont’s going, but it’s not Vermont I’m concerned about. It’s the so-called battleground states where passions are running high and obvious impediments to voting have disingenuously been set up.

Then there’s the factor of cluelessness that’s so troubling. A relative of mine in deep-red southwestern Pennsylvania (former coal country) reposts a lot of stuff that jams crosswise in my crap-detector, and I’m hard-pressed not to respond. The latest: Joe Biden, if elected, will “install MUSLIMS in every level of government!” There’s no point in disputing that; it’s written on the wind. Still… So I answered simply, “The horror!” In response, I got a thumbs-up icon. Not only did she miss the allusion to “Heart of Darkness”; she missed the irony, as well, and thought I was agreeing. Sigh. To paraphrase Nathan Hale, I regret that I have but one vote to give for my country.

It’s difficult to make sense out of what’s happening to that country without growing cynical. Folks on both sides of the current obvious divide genuinely fear what may happen if “the other side” wins. That’s how far apart we see ourselves. The distance isn’t as surprising as is how short a time it’s taken to create it. What’s in the offing for us in the next few weeks and months, and what can be done about it?

Keeping my eye constantly upon that horizon above me, which is now almost down to my eye level, I’m looking beyond a probable Biden win – though who of us can forget 2016? The October 5 issue of The New Yorker is quite instructive and comprehensive on the subject. Expanding its usual “Talk of the Town” feature into a frankly partisan editorial, and augmenting that with the opinions of five regular contributors, it deals with the five major problems of our time: National Health Care, the Climate Crisis, the Rule of Law, Civil Rights, and Foreign Policy. (The writer on the rule of law, Jeffrey Toobin, is currently in his room doing time-out for some very stupid misbehavior, but he’s nevertheless excellent reading.)

Considering all these issues, with which the President must deal simultaneously, reminds me of nothing else as much as a reflex exercise I once watched my son do. He was a hockey goalie, and at one point in practice, with several pucks on the ice, his teammates took random shots at the goal from all angles. He was good, but he couldn’t stop ’em all. Remembering that drill and considering the magazine’s list of problems, you have to wonder: Who’d want the job of President?

Only, I suppose, somebody who thought he could make progress in at least some of them. Our national health care system, if the Republican challenge to the ACA in the Supreme Court is successful, will be in utter shambles, especially during mass unemployment and a currently runaway pandemic. As someone who’s been on Medicare for twenty years, and during my wife’s illness, Medicaid, I’m mystified by those who warn darkly of “socialized medicine” – which, of course, is what it is. The new President, assuming he enjoys a working relationship with Congress, must get behind the revised Voting Rights Act à la Lyndon Johnson, and snuff out once again the voter suppression made blindingly obvious by 12-hour lines at the polls where minorities vote. Rising sea levels, drought, savage weather, and gigantic fires are only early symptoms of what’s on the way. There’s demonstrable disparity, based on race, in the administration of justice. And on it goes. The day may be coming we’ll have to put out a Help Wanted sign for the job of President.

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