Magical thinking

Larry Van GuilderEar to the Ground

The writer Joan Didion passed away last month at age 87. At the time I was reading “The Year of Magical Thinking,” her Pulitzer Prize winning account of the year following her husband’s death in 2003.

The book’s title refers to grieving behavior bordering on denial. Didion, for example, wrote of her reluctance to dispose of her husband’s clothing in case he “came back.”

But magical thinking also suggests the way many continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic: ignore it, act as if it isn’t real, and it will “magically” vanish. To their shame, hundreds, if not thousands of politicians across the country subscribe to that dangerous lunacy.

Nearly all who do are Republicans, and like modern day Pied Pipers they lead their Trump-following, mask-shunning, vaccine-avoiding lemmings over the cliff in the name of “freedom.” From the start of the pandemic early in 2020, they have taken their cue from the former president, who proclaimed dozens of times that the coronavirus will one day magically disappear.

According to the CDC, about 850,000 have died nationwide due to Covid-19, including nearly 1,100 in Knox County. Trump’s prophecy turned out to be as bogus as his claim of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, another “Big Lie” tacked onto his legacy.

It’s impossible to grasp the enormity of the loss felt by those left to mourn 850,000 dead. Knox County’s losses are just as painful for the parents, siblings and children of the deceased.

Some reading this column might have known some of the local victims as friends, colleagues or relatives. Some surely voted for the very people in local government who, not so long ago, decided to pander to the worst elements of their “base” and neuter the Knox County Health Department, stripping it of its authority to enact regulations dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, instead of an actual “board of health” composed of appropriately educated professionals, Knox County residents must rely upon the wisdom of their mayor, Glenn Jacobs, who provides “supervision” for the department. Maybe Jacobs studied epidemiology in his spare time and his “Kane” mask is a camouflaged N-95 respirator.

But Jacobs would not be “supervising” the Health Department were it not for an 8-3 vote by the Knox County Commission that created the situation. Only Commissioners Lundy, Durrett and Jay voted against “restructuring” the administration of the health department.

It took several months for the initial proposal by Commissioners Justin Biggs and Kyle Ward to “mature,” but in the end six Republican colleagues agreed with Biggs and Ward that local government had no business protecting citizens from a deadly, easily transmissible disease.

At last, we come to the punchline: Biggs and Ward will be asking for your vote! The legislators who demonstrated how little they care for your wellbeing will seek your endorsement, Biggs for higher office (trustee), Ward to extend his time on the commission.

If these two would be so careless with your life, would they be any less careless with your tax dollars?

Before I drown under a wave of “what abouts,” I confess that in the column I wrote last week about Biggs’ candidacy I sacrificed candor in the name of “fairness.” In doing so I came close to losing my self-respect.

Today, I reclaim it.

Larry Van Guilder is a former editor, reporter and opinion columnist for Knox TN Today and the Shopper News. Serious illness forced him to step down last year. He’s back.

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