I took this picture on a beach in Evanston, Illinois a number of years ago. It was a cold and windy day, with the wind whipping in off of Lake Michigan and not another soul around me. The red sign on the empty lifeguard’s chair reminded me that I was on my own.
But that day passed, and the sun came out again and life continued on. If only things could be that way in the post-COVID, post-rioting America that we’ll see at some point in the future. But for now, we’re in the thick of both fights.
On the day that Donald Trump was sworn in as president, I found a way to avoid the television and judged a middle school science fair, instead. I knew that he didn’t have any words that I wanted to hear. And indeed, he spoke of “American carnage” to the very people he was about to lead.
The term “American carnage” seems to fit this moment perfectly. A virus that arrived on our shores has taken 105,000 American lives, and counting. There truly is no end in sight. Whenever the vaccine comes, hopefully we can move beyond social distancing and the need to wear masks in public. But Trump’s February prediction that it would miraculously disappear when the warm weather arrives obviously hasn’t come to pass.
On top of this catastrophic virus is now the worst civil unrest that has happened in my lifetime. For the first time in my life last night, I was subjected to a mandatory curfew. It was warranted, because people who were ostenstibly mourning the murder of George Floyd in broad daylight on the streets of an American city turned into a rampaging mob, instead. So much for re-opening the American economy anytime soon.
The mayors and governors, local police and National Guard, are doing their best to deal with this unrest, but centuries of injustice and generations of hurt have been unleashed. As Malcom X once noted, in the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the chickens have come home to roost. And so many places in this country, including in my city, now resemble a war zone more than anything else. It’s American carnage, of another sort.
Through all of this, the leader who spoke of “American carnage” on day one of his presidency has been powerless to address these threats. He gave himself a “ten out of ten” when it came to addressing the coronavirus threat, and took no responsibility for anything that has happened, although a Columbia University study found otherwise. Likewise, he called protestors in the streets THUGS (a racial code word, and in all caps, to boot) and threatened to unleash dogs and weapons against anyone who would seek to do him harm. Once again, as we’ve seen throughout his presidency, Trump looks out for Number 1 only. The proverbial lifeguard of this nation has abdicated his post, leaving all of us to fend for ourselves.
What can such a man say to calm this nation’s troubles? To protect the nation that he was elected to lead? It’s painfully apparent that he doesn’t have any inspirational words, nor does he want them. Should he make any public announcement on the issue, it will be to congratulate himself and make threats against those who imperil his re-election in November. That will be the make-or-break moment for this country. Either Trump will be made into Donald I, king of the nation formerly known as the United States of America, or he will be denied the validation he so desperately craves?
Will the lifeguard’s chair that currently sits empty be turned into King Donald’s throne on November 3? I sure hope not. But for now, it appears that there’s a lot more American carnage ahead.