Split Screen, Broken World

Since the pandemic, I spend more time than ever at home. We get our food delivered and shop on-line for everything we need. No more dinners with friends. When we get together, it’s on the deck, 6 feet apart. No bars, no restaurants, no travel, no movie theaters or live shows.

So what do I do? I write every day. This is a constant that takes a lot of my time, five to eight hours depending on the mood and the day. I go on walks and play tennis. I read.

And I watch TV.

I watch a lot of TV in the evenings, starting around seven and going until midnight. A good part of what I watch, are the news. It’s interesting, fascinating even, because of the split message I get. No matter which program I watch, I get the feeling that we are at the brink of apocalypse. The world we know and cherish is no longer out there to be enjoyed. The end is near and our survival hangs on a thread.

I group my news sources in two: left leaning or progressive (CNN and MSNBC) and right leaning or conservative (the different channels of Fox News). There is nothing in between. One could watch PBS and maybe a few other local stations, but they mostly lean center left. And then there are the commercials, when I click on my remote, switch to the other station (left to right and back) and see two alternative worlds, each engulfed by a fire. Both worlds are ending, but for different reasons.

Let’s take CNN. All they talk about, or at the least most of what they talk about, is the coronavirus: what Fauci said and what Trump said and how one is a scientist with a big heart who tells the truth, and the other is a (deranged) con man and a politician who lacks empathy and lies through his teeth. Because the numbers don’t lie. Because the virus is not political. We have 3.3 million cases, more than any other country, big or small, in the world. We have become the shame of the world. We have almost 140,000 dead, 70,000 new infections a day, faulty testing, inadequate PPE, no central coordination or plan and people who refuse to wear masks. The President doesn’t wear one and his followers say it infringes on their freedom. The Governor of Georgia is suing the Mayor of Atlanta because she declared mask wearing mandatory. We tried to open up too soon and now we are paying the price. The President holds reelection rallies that become super spreaders. We are out of control. Schools will have to remain closed, at least in the majority of states. We want to reopen the economy, but before we do, we need to control the pandemic. Otherwise the cost of doing business becomes too high. We have to get serious right now. Disaster is near and tomorrow might be too late.

I am a seventy-year-old man with underlying conditions. I think: it’s true, the virus is not political and numbers don’t lie. Between Fauci and Trump, I believe the former. I look at the curves indicating the rates of infection here and in Europe and the difference is staggering. It’s obvious we have it wrong. We cannot blame the Mexicans or the Chinese, and even if we did, it wouldn’t help. Wearing a mask is not compromising one’s freedom. Think of seat belts or the expiration dates on the back of each product you buy at the supermarket. One could argue that not wearing a seat belt and dying in a car crash, or eating spoiled food is an expression of freedom, but is it? If you don’t wear the seat belt you expose yourself. When you wear a mask you protect others. Mask wearing, therefore, is a sign of good citizenship. The Governor of Georgia is nuts. The President should stop his political campaigns and focus on his duty, which is to lead responsibly, or move aside and let science prevail. Those who go to bars and say they don’t care if they get sick endanger the hospital staff. Should the hospitals refuse to treat them? As for reopening schools, yes, we shouldn’t do it before we control the pandemic. No way. Adults decide when it comes to their own actions. Children cannot. They do what they’re told and subjecting one single innocent child to the risk of this dreadful disease is too high a price to pay.

A commercial comes on. I switch the channel and watch Fox News. Suddenly, I am in a different world. The pandemic scare miraculously disappears, as if it didn’t exist. If they talk about it, they say how much we believe in science and how incredibly close we are to a cure and a vaccine. No need to worry. It’s easy to get small children to wear masks and social distance. In the next two weeks, we will upgrade the HVAC in every school — no problem at all. On Fox News, the world is ending for different reasons than on CNN: it’s the violence (carnage) in Portland and Chicago, the leftist Antifa gangs and the excesses of Black Lives Matter, and the corrupt origins of the Steele dossier under Obama’s watch. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget Benghazi! Benghazi, too, is very much in the news, although only as a corollary — Benghazi is no longer ending the world, while Trump is saving it.

I think, boy, would I want a vaccine! I’m so glad the antivax people have no voice on Fox News. I remember my kids at age five, six or eleven — having them follow orders in school for seven hours a day was a breeze. Carnage in our cities is a problem, indeed. And not just in Chicago and Portland, but in Baltimore, too. And in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Huston, you name it. This has been a problem for years and for decades and finally we started caring. Good! And good thing the civilized population of these cities is armed, and we have a ‘war time’ President, a ‘law and order’ President who wouldn’t hesitate to send in the Feds in unmarked vehicles. I bet you that as a result of his actions walking at night in the streets of Portland would become very safe very soon. But if this were the case, why are these TV pundits so excited, so indignant as if they see the imminent collapse? I’ve been around for some decades and I know that all social movements have fringes; that people with the best of intentions make mistakes. My guess is that those who vandalized shops and destroyed property represent the unavoidable extremes or even agitators sent to mix in with the protesters, who knows why. Another point: what’s with the statues? Names come and go, heroes come and go, the wind blows. I understand the symbolism, but in my opinion toppling statues dilutes the righteous goals of BLM and presents an opening for those who oppose them to exploit. Postpone it. Face it: not a single life will effectively change as a result of the fact that the statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore was taken down. Not one.

And so it goes: a commercial again and back to CNN and the pandemic. By nine thirty or ten I’m exhausted. I start watching a show on Netflix or Prime and my normal world comes into focus. Then the next morning, when my neighbor three houses down shocks me with his odd views, I have, at least, an idea where he’s getting his information and what his world looks like.

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Under the pen name Tudor Alexander I have written and published five novels and one collection of short stories. Please visit www.tudoralexander.com.