My uncle was a New York City police officer, and eventual detective, before becoming a crime novelist. I was raised with him and his cop friends around. I usually liked them.

But I do NOT approve of the blatantly POLITICAL use of the…

[“Blue Lives Matter” flag. Wikipedia. Public Domain.]

“blue line” police “blue lives matter” flag. The flag itself has existed for a few years. However, it is far more commonly seen now since the police murder of George Floyd in late May and the subsequent protests assailing police brutality. (I have already shared a view on that situation.)

Disturbingly, that version of the flag is often displayed alongside a “Dear Leader” (failed) 2020 campaign flag (and, worse, even alongside a rebel – white supremacist – Confederate flag). Understand too I do not approve either of the “peace sign” hippie flag replacing the 50 stars. I believe strongly that our “Stars and Stripes” is NOT to be ALTERED in any way as a “statement” by ANYONE.

As for police and law enforcement “needing” our support by us flying that bastardized version of our US flag? They can LEGALLY kill us even if we have done NOTHING wrong. They are not some charity; they do not NEED my “support.”

Given their ULTIMATE power of life or death over all of us, WHAT POLICE NEED TO DO is to do their jobs PROFESSIONALLY and without BIAS. Our “support” is neither here nor there. They are SUPPOSED to be SERVING THE ENTIRE PUBLIC RESPONSIBLY AND LAWFULLY. Period.

When I see that “blue line” flag now I sense it is being flown by a “Dear Leader” supporter who is messing with our Stars and Stripes in the way fascists attempt to rework and warp national symbols to suit their “movement.” That activity is, I feel, merely an outward manifestation of a national mess that has been increasingly brewing since at least 2000. It has only become more pronounced since “Dear Leader” became president in 2017.

And the Covid pandemic has made it even more obvious. New York State provides some free Covid tests; but try, first, to navigate around the New York State Department of Health web site – full of lengthy officious-speak pdfs and explanations of this or that, and links that too often take you nowhere useful, leading you eventually to want to throw your iPad out of the window in frustration. Moreover if you are uninsured (or have a very high deductible) and cannot get a state free test, tests privately cost on average $85-$175. So the choice may be to feed your family or have tests? Which would you do? (Even if you have decent insurance, many insurers will NOT pay for a test unless you have symptoms and a doctor’s prescription. So you had better read the fine print.) And all of that is here in New York. I don’t even want to guess what is going on in the likes of Oklahoma and South Dakota.

[From my UK “National Health Insurance” (NHS) card. Photo by me, 2020.]

It is bizarre. So many Americans of no first-hand experience of it bash the British National Health Service as “socialism” and “long lines” and “rationing.” Hmm. Here is an example of actual reality not invented by Fox “News” Channel: it took us around 36 hours to receive the negative results of Covid tests taken by the NHS on November 11; in comparison, having had the Covid tests done in New York on November 18 it took over 72 hours to receive them from a private lab that is contracted to do those tests.

The lack of a “national health service” in the U.S. has been a big part of the reason this Covid has gotten so out of hand. In Britain and in Europe you do NOT routinely see people walking around with the obvious physical ailments you often see here because they can see doctors without facing bankruptcy. Many Americans, especially those less well-off financially, were obese and unhealthy BEFORE March 2020; and they also rarely if ever saw a doctor because they were uninsured (or had very high deductibles) and could not afford to, so they “self-medicated” or simply struggled on and “lived” with their troubles – and we know pre-existing conditions and obesity make Covid worse, even fatal. If such uninsured people have caught or eventually catch Covid and face hospitalization, they face “$50,000” medical bills on discharge.

One of the reasons national health services caught on in Europe was the “well-to-do” and the “middle classes” realized poorer people could make them sick; so national healthcare was motivated too by a sense of self-preservation. Well-insured and complacent Americans always argue their private insurance is good and they don’t want any change to anything; but while your private insurance could well be fantastic you could still catch and die from Covid due to contact with an uninsured person in a supermarket who did not get a test because he could not afford it. Communicable diseases do not respect wealth or status. Yet many privately insured Americans have not yet made that self-preservation-as-a-reason-for-national-health-insurance-mental-leap that well-to-do Europeans did decades ago.

Covid has become so bad in parts of the country also because the response has mostly been left to the states. States like New York have tried to do their best; but they cannot “print” money and can only do so much without federal help. States especially in the south and the west and which have far less local health infrastructure have seen their response almost overwhelmed. A major reason for that is many of their residents pay scant to no heed to the virus. And why? The root of that problem is the man still in the White House. Since March he has provided no real leadership, alternatively belittling the virus or carrying on about how a vaccine is just around the corner based on his bizarre Twitter mood of the day. (Which is it? Is the virus unimportant or urgent enough to need a hurried vaccine?) He has been a hindrance to a national response and the horrible consequences of he being president for this are now obvious: his flippancy and determined ignorance and propagandizing has swayed the outlooks of a large segment of the population and particularly in areas/states that tended to back him. As a result, 2,000 Americans a day are (currently, and mostly in areas that supported him) dying as a result.

[President Thomas Jefferson writing to Doctor Jenner. From “The Portable Thomas Jefferson,” ed., Merrill Peterson.]

On this my first visit here since September 2019, the country feels as if it is at best treading water and has been for some years – and treading water means you are going nowhere. Government here usually deals with the public in the most antiquated “horse and buggy” ways imaginable. Vehicles still have state inspection stickers physically stuck to windshields. (Gone electronic, the U.K. did away with such AT LEAST A DECADE ago.) Local taxes here are STILL routinely collected twice yearly by check and through the mail as if it were “1870.” (Yes, in the U.S. people also still commonly write – and are expected to write, by government – personal checks.) Even in the private sector, contactless payment in shops remains rare. (Retail places STILL routinely want us to pass cash to their cashier, have pin keypads, or make us sign our names with an electronic pen for credit card payment. Touch, touch, touch, as usual… in this pandemic.) Banking services are STILL as inflexible as when I was in university, and often seemingly feel as if we are forever STILL in “1990.” Broadband internet availability in rural areas remains either unavailable or ridiculously expensive. I could go on…

What the hell has happened? Many in the country are clearly fearful of innovation, fearful of the future, indeed seemingly fearful of EVERYTHING they do not immediately understand.

The gap between the rich and the poor, “the haves” and “the have nots,” is wider now than at anytime in a generation and growing. As a university student I was making $5.50 an hour working in a department store in 1991; and I get the impression now that those same jobs THIRTY years later pay only a little more than that. America has always been a great place to succeed, but usually an AWFUL place to fail. If you fail, you can literally find yourself with virtually nothing… and government provides little assistance, really.

Why so many Americans are largely unbothered by, and indeed some even seem to revel in, seeing their fellow Americans in abject poverty and desperate straits is unclear. Perhaps that goes back to the so-called “Protestant work ethic” (more accurately, Puritan) of the 17th-18th centuries and the religious belief that decrees that if you succeed you are “godly” but if you fail it is because you did not work hard enough and your failure is entirely your fault. Seeing others struggle and/or fail leads those who have “succeeded” possibly even to believe that their “success” is even “God’s will” and that they are therefore “better” people, surely, than the failures must be. Those who struggle and even fail are – as “Dear Leader” is apt to say – just “losers.”

[1929 memorial to the enslaved persons of Mount Vernon. Photo by me, 2011.]

In a far uglier sense it may reflect an ongoing manifestation of the “original sin” of our republic. State help invariably must go to poor blacks too, and poor blacks simply do not bother some whites (be they rich or poor). For as was the case when slavery was legal, poor whites in particular can still feel that no matter how poor they themselves are that they are still “better” than blacks simply because they are whites: meaning white supremacy – they would rather cut off their own noses than see blacks obtain equality on any level. (Relatedly, that may tie into why so many whites are also so “authoritarian” untroubled by police beatings and even killing of blacks because those whites feel blacks must be “kept in their place” as they were under slavery. In contrast, if one of those same whites gets so much as a parking ticket, the police are overreaching and unconstitutionally power mad.)

Having lost the November 3 presidential election, aside from firing anyone who works for him who points out the election was NOT rigged against him, “Dear Leader” has apparently largely ceased working. If he ever could have been said to “work” as president, that is. There is essentially now an unprecedented leadership vacuum at the very top of the executive branch.

This is IMPORTANT: An opposition party cannot “rig” an election. As a former lecturer in political science, I challenge anyone reading this who thinks an opposition can to provide me with an example of where it has managed it. Belarus last summer is an example of what occurs in the REAL world. Its “Dear Leader” STOLE August’s presidential election because he knew he would lose the vote to opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (after having already arrested her husband who was supposed to be the opposition candidate). With nearly three decades behind him of control of the police, the prisons, and other state institutions, using them to implement outright fraud subsequently coupled with brute force enables him to cling onto power for now at least.

[The White House, Washington, D.C. Photo by me, 2018.]

What happened in the U.S. on November 3 was that our version of “Dear Leader” – that thug and idiot Reality TV and sleazy casino owner and repeated bankrupt – LOST his bid for re-election, and fortunately he does NOT have the hold over police and state institutions to anywhere near the extent Belarus’s strongman does. So he has taken in response to his repuditation to blowing smoke on Twitter and filing empty lawsuits in various states where votes were relatively close in order to try to “delegitimize” the results in the eyes of his (minority of) voters (and likely make himself some money too by taking contributions from them to pursue his lawsuits)… despite the FACT that he as “Dear Leader” received (as of this writing) some 8 million votes nationally fewer than current private citizen Joseph Biden. Given that huge popular vote gap between the two men, there is no question a firm majority of U.S. voters want Biden to become president. “Dear Leader” cannot tweet his way around that FACT.

The longer term damage our “Dear Leader” is wreaking with his tactics remains to be seen, and hopefully it will not be as bad as we might fear. It appears that President-elect Biden is already looked to now for leadership in the pandemic and on other issues; but Biden has no presidential authority to do anything until January 20. The closest we have been previously to this situation was probably in late 1932-early 1933 after failed President Herbert Hoover had been beaten in the November election and the country was essentially paralyzed as Hoover continued to do little pending Franklin Roosevelt’s taking office (on MARCH 4). It appears as the Great Depression in 1932-33 was for millions of Americans the worst months of their lives, similarly given the horrific Covid-rooted economic dislocation for many in this American generation 2020-2021 is their personal winter… even if they do not contract Covid themselves or lose family members to it.

Be careful out there. January is coming. And with it, afterward, another spring… and, we hope, improvement.