We have close relatives in Wyoming—my brother, his wife, and their daughter. We have been, by necessity, "socially distancing" every Christmas for the past fifteen-odd years. This year would not have been, and will not be any different.
Other customs have filled in for family gatherings: every December my wife and my sister-in-law haul packages to the post office for mailing, and every Christmas Day we speak and exchange greetings and thank-yous and wishes that we could be closer than a phone call or FaceTime.
Wyoming. Connecticut. They live in a deep red state; we, in a blue.
But that’s the political map. On the Covid-19 map, we share a vivid and menacing maroon, just like every other state. Viewed through almost any metric, the differences between Connecticut and Wyoming, between Massachustts and Kansas, between anywhere and anywhere—are minimal.
Almost every metric. Some differences are more subtle.
Yesterday we received a text from my sister-in-law: our gifts had arrived but she was reluctant to pick them up at the post office because, in order to do so, she would have to stand in a line with maskless people not socially distancing. Just another day in a state that Trump carried with 70% of the popular vote—in a county that Joe Biden won handily. Without a state mandate though, rules become mere suggestions. Red state.
Here in Connecticut one of the few places I feel comfortable visiting these days is the post office in the neighboring town of Berlin. The floors are marked with spacing and directions, and a sign indicates masks are mandatory. Plexiglass separates the postal worker from the customer and a comically large container of hand sanitizer rests on a table. Nothing is 100% safe these days, but this post office—post offices in general—are certainly trying around here. Blue state
I know from talking to my brother that there are many people—maybe even a majority—who wear masks out there, but there is little in the way of a mandate and almost no enforcement—if someone wants to breathe on your neck while you’re waiting for service, there is little you can do. This is what happens when you have a President of the Red States who has declared war on everyone who didn’t vote for him. The chances to mitigate the spread of the virus are diminished, and deaths, already at a frightening level, keep increasing.
Wyoming is solidly Republican, the party of Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson who this past week brought two quacks to speak to a Senate committee on Covid-19: One, Ramin Oskoui, a cardiologist in Washington, said that masks do not work, nor does social distancing, scientific proof notwithstanding. The other, Jane M. Orient, cast doubt on vaccines and promoted hydroxychloroquine, the old Trumpian standby.
Red state, blue state.
Look, a few delayed Christmas presents are trivial when 3000 Americans a day are dying—I get that, but the incompetence has spread to every level of society and to every aspect of our lives. It’s there in so many intangible ways that we can hardly keep up any longer. I agree that we don’t require more proof and we don’t need more anecdotes—but they're inescapable. All most us want now is for some things to work occasionally with some semblance of normality, because the more we normalize the thoughtless and the callous and the ignorant who have set us on this path, the more depressed we become.