A little prayer for RBG, and notes on Portland, Hiroshima, and QAnon
by Rob Tiller
I have a lot of things to be grateful for, but even so, there’s a lot to be anxious about. I try not to worry too much about those things that are well beyond my control, but it’s hard. For one thing, you can’t always tell what’s completely beyond your influence. You might be wasting your time, but then again, with a little more effort and a little help from friends, you might accomplish something.
The health of Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg is almost certainly beyond my influence. She’s done a lot of good in this world, and now she’s old and very sick. I assume she’s trying to do her job and stay alive until we have a new president. Although I am not a praying man, and consider the likelihood that praying would do me or anyone else any good at close to zero, I’m making an exception for her.
The Black Lives Matter protesters are still in Portland and other cities. Whatever the Trumpist plan was in having federal agents attacking peaceful protesters (like making a frightening vote getting spectacle for Fox News or provoking a race war), it didn’t work out, and the troops left. In that battle at least, the protesters won! It doesn’t look like Portland will be our Reichstag fire.
The protesters across the country have already accomplished some of their political objectives, like more oversight of police in some cities. It’s hard to tell how much progress they’re marking toward the larger objectives of ending police discrimination and violence and building a more just society. Our society still needs a lot of work.
Police unions are a significant impediment in many cities. There’s a very good piece in The New Yorker by William Finnegan that explains that those unions have strongly resisted attempts to reign in police violence and get the worst cops off the streets. The unions are a lot more powerful than I previously understood, and state and local politicians have been unable to control them. Another serious problem that needs protesting.
The pandemic is still raging, the average global temperature is rising, and the risk of nuclear war is increasing. Sorry, I know it’s a lot, and I’ll stop soon. But I’m hoping a few more people, and then a few more, will realize we’re on the edge of a nuclear precipice, and we need to carefully work our way off it. To put it another way, because of nuclear weaponry, what we think of as normal life is extremely perilous, and what we think of as necessary and unavoidable nuclear policy desperately needs changing.
This week was the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, the first use of a nuclear weapon. There were a few editorials along the lines of it was too bad that we had to kill so many civilians, with vague hope it wouldn’t happen again. I read one op ed that took the strange position that nuclear weapons had made us safer. In the publications I follow, there was no great show of remorse or sense of urgency about preventing the sudden end of life as we know it.
Hiroshima is, in addition to being a Japanese city, also a famous book by John Hersey. As a young reporter, Hersey went there a few weeks after the bombing and wrote about the horrors he saw. The U.S. government concealed and played down the terrible human cost of the Hiroshima bomb explosion and its deadly radiation, and so Hersey’s book came as a big revelation to many. See Washington Post piece.
It’s possible that Hersey’s writing on the subject, which made more real the brute horrific reality of nuclear war, inspired world leaders to give that reality an extra moment’s thought at some critical junctures and prevented more mushroom clouds. He may have saved the world, at least for the time being. As I mentioned, you can’t always tell what you might change.
But we’re still susceptible to enormous errors of judgment, such as the idea that nuclear weapons, which today are inconceivably more powerful and dangerous than the one at Hiroshima, are keeping us safe. It’s all too possible that a technical glitch in missile detection or control, of which there have been several, could set off World War III. It isn’t hard to imagine leaders with control of nuclear weapons making a mistake or having an emotional outburst. We have a president who shows no sign of understanding the tremendous risks, and no interest in reducing it.
And, at least in theory, whether to launch U.S. nuclear weapons that could destroy the world is entirely up to Trump! This is not a good system! Having withdrawn from treaties that provided a measure of safety, he now hopes to continue that project and resume nuclear testing. As he probably doesn’t know (and I didn’t until recently), radiation from nuclear tests killed many thousands of Americans in the mid-twentieth century.
Speaking of delusional thinking, the Washington Post had an interesting piece this week about QAnon and Trump. The QAnon ideas are vague and bizarre, but to believers, powerful. They somehow manage to view Trump as a messianic figure fighting against a shadowy deep state and liberal Democrat criminals, and oppose science that conflicts with their opinions.
For some, it’s a kind of game, involving hours of dredging the internet for clues. A subgroup of them believe strongly in the need for guns to protect themselves from people of color and the government, or to fight for Q and Trump. No one knows who Q is, but surprisingly or unsurprisingly, Trump and his circle have been supportive of him, her, or them.
With a bit of luck, this nuttiness will be gone, along with Trump, in a few months. But it’s worth thinking about how some people’s thought processes could end up trapped in such a place, and how to help them escape. Pondering this, I composed the following, which I meant to be in good fun, though it may not succeed.
FEW ARE THOSE WHO KNOW THE TRUTH
My Facebook page has many friends
Though most I don’t quite know
They tell me some alarming things
It’s quite a horror show.
The secret plans of government
To take away our guns
And plans to let the deviants
Sodomize our young.
They’re letting foreign immigrants
Come take away our jobs
The dark invaders with long knives
Advance in violent mobs.
We know there is an ancient tribe
That sits on massive wealth
They secretly control the world
And operate with stealth.
They want to take our liberty
To make us take vaccines
To celebrate satanic rites
Blood sacrificial scenes.
Few are those who shall be strong
To fight with all their might
To master those who hate the truth
To stand up for the right.
Few are those who know the truth
Of the chaos that shall be
And the great man who shall save us all
From sea to shining sea.