“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
–Benjamin Franklin, 1789
You want an uplifting story of deliverance from the darkness – a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ feel-good fairytale of redemption and recovery?
Unfortunately, you are not going to find it here.
Look, I am not a sociologist (I consider myself lucky to have escaped the Volusia County school system with a high school diploma) – just a cantankerous old crank who sits on the proverbial park bench of life watching the world go by.
What I’ve seen of late isn’t pretty. . .
I spent the bulk of my life in public service – studying, developing, and exercising the art and science of emergency management – determining best practices and protocols for protecting life and property during emergent situations, working from a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing experts together from law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, public works, civil engineers, and other government and private entities to plan for the worst when things were calm.
Then, when the chips are down and the wolf comes to call – hurricanes, hazardous materials incidents, wildfires, etc. – those responsible for emergency management, operations, logistics, finance, and their myriad support functions all work cooperatively – reacting almost instinctively in a dynamic environment, practiced to such a degree that even when we get small things wrong, nobody notices.
Those times are where friendships, collegiality, and community partnerships prove their value.
I knew my counterparts in other agencies, and they knew me.
We spent time together at large-scale exercises, conferences, and advanced training programs at places like the National Emergency Management Training Center at Emmitsburg, Maryland, where we socialized together, traded ideas and experiences, broke down barriers, and developed confidence in one another’s abilities.
As a result, there were few offices at the local, state, or federal level of government that I couldn’t pick up the phone and reach a friend – someone who would drop everything to help solve a problem in my community – confident I would do the same for them.
That included our partners in the media – who play such a crucial role in pushing time sensitive information during a crisis.
Our success in the areas of disaster mitigation, response, and recovery developed internal and external confidence in the “system” – which is why in an emergency, the public has faith in their emergency management officials to do the right thing – a relationship that transcends their well-developed suspicions of general government.
It is why we willingly make personal preparedness plans, heed official warnings, follow evacuation orders, and engage in mitigation efforts before disaster strikes.
It’s called hard-earned trust.
When the coronavirus pandemic emerged early last year, I felt certain that our public health service and emergency management agencies would quickly have the task well in hand – providing proven prevention strategies, calming the fears of a worried public with a skillful and organized public information campaign – our political leadership taking a step back and allowing the experts to manage the crisis, media outlets working cooperatively to assuage fear with fact – and our friends, family, and neighbors coming together, putting our social and political differences aside, in a united effort to eradicate a dangerous scourge, just as we have done before.
Yeah, right. . .
Don’t get me wrong – there was a moment in time when the “we’re all in this together” mantra seemed to gain traction – but it was tragically short-lived – ending the exact second egomaniacal politicians began preening, posturing, and grandstanding in an election year – and corporate media conglomerates opted for sensationalism and speculation over fact-based reporting.
Like falling dominos, one-by-one our local elected and appointed “leadership” proved to be anything but – abdicating their sworn responsibility, some transforming into dictatorial tyrants, corrupting both the meaning and purpose of “local emergency declarations,” while trusted emergency management professionals were pushed aside, given little (if any) role, as our public health services became withdrawn and uncommunicative under orders from above.
Then craven politicians sought to control the message with self-aggrandizing shills who took over our televisions – spouting conflicting recommendations peppered with wild political rhetoric cleverly designed to divide us along ideological lines – and any doctor, director, or scientist who didn’t toe the official line was discredited and destroyed.
Widespread and wholly subjective “mandates” were implemented, state and local governments shuttered certain businesses while bolstering others, the newly unemployed forced into a demonstrably broken system, the core recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (which changed little since the early days of the outbreak) were ignored, schools were closed with a generation of students unable to read or write effectively, and many rightfully felt our foundational liberties were being eroded in exchange for a marginal degree of “safety.”
Because they are.
All while the campaign season reached a fever pitch and Republicans and Democrats engaged in trench warfare – both sides using the abysmal response to the crisis as a weapon – rather than demonstrate unity and purpose of action in the public interest.
And the body count continued to mount.
Then, it was every man, woman, and child for themselves. . .
Instead of responding in accordance with established emergency management protocols governing mass immunizations – early distribution sites turned into disorganized cattle calls, with the elderly and infirm forced to sleep in their cars, enduring freezing temperatures on the shoulder of the road in the hinterlands, only to be turned away when supplies were exhausted.
Then, young, healthy politicians (and their immediate family members) who were implementing draconian measures under emergency ordinances, bankrupting families, and destroying long established businesses, were seen sauntering past queues of senior citizens who were waiting for limited doses, literally pushing aside those with comorbidities who urgently needed the vaccine to survive, in the most grotesque display of political privilege in history.
Quickly, trust in the process evaporated as the media opted to fan the culture wars – pitting the “vaxxed” against the “unvaxxed,” masked against unmasked, flaunting dubious daily statistics which were later proven to be weeks old or have no basis in fact – ultimately turning a public health crisis into an “Us v. Them” political battle royale divided along “blue” and “red” lines.
Now, as the Delta variant sweeps the nation, it is no longer about protecting the public and managing a crisis, and all about who can stoop lower to debase and dehumanize the “enemy” – and I’m not talking about the virus. . .
Don’t believe me?
Last month, The Daytona Beach News-Journal lost its last shred of dignity when it ran a bold headline over an incredibly callous Letter to the Editor which announced, “It’s hard to feel sympathy for anti-vax, anti-mask people who get sick or die from COVID.”
Part of this heartless screed read:
“The first thing that actually comes to mind when I read articles about these folks is “good riddance.” That’s a horrible reaction for any fellow human to have, but it’s there. The sooner they leave, the sooner responsible people can get our society back to respecting one another and looking out for the common good.”
“Respecting one another”?
It’s hard to feel sympathy for those who are sick and dying?
Was this the lowest of the low?
To add insult, Volusia County officials are now meeting to discuss how they plan to spend millions-of-dollars in virtually “unrestricted” (thanks to what the News-Journal called “creative accounting”) federal coronavirus relief funds – so much “free” money floating down from on high that our politicians don’t have a clue how to squander it all.
For instance, of the $77 million being spent – with hundreds of our neighbors hospitalized or dead – just $1 million has been budgeted “…for remaining COVID-19 expenses, like PPE, testing and advertising.”
Of course, they kicked off the spending spree by showering the bureaucracy, top to bottom, with cash bonuses while maneuvering to raise property taxes on already strapped families desperately seeking a way out of a dark hole, in some obscene grab for more, more, more.
A recovery “plan” as disastrous as the response – guaranteeing even more death and taxes. . .
Let’s hope that when COVID-19 is finally curbed We, The People never forget how we were manipulated, and so horribly divided, by those in government and the media – the very foundational institutions of our democracy – who turned a viral public health threat into a political shitshow to further their own craven self-interests.
This afternoon Barker’s View joins GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.
We’ll be taking your calls and talking local issues on the fastest two-hours in radio!
Join us at 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).