It’s 2021 and Time for a Change

Only by Working Together can we End Covid, and End Current Shocking Threats to our Democracy

I write about stress in American cities, but of course stress and its relative, depression, are almost everywhere just now. Most of us are feeling pretty low about the pandemic, and frightened about what’s going on in Washington. Just as I was finishing the post, it was announced that President Trump threatened Georgia’s Secretary of State, trying to force him to add made-up votes so it looks like he won in Georgia. It’s amid the furor created as a result of this mob-boss-like attack on our democracy that I want to encourage all of us to work together to protect that democracy, and to end the ravages of this terrible pandemic.

If you’re up on what people are going through with Covid just now you can skip this section, but I’ve put some of the latest here to illustrate all the agony for which one man is largely responsible–Trump. I do have hope that we can triumph over and begin to decrease the travesty and destruction of the past year. It’s hard to maintain that hope, since some of the darkest days in many decades, for our country and much of the world, are now upon us. To begin, here’s what we need to fix:

Hospitals and healthcare workers are stretched to the limit, physically and psychologically, as are of course patients, their families, and the growing numbers of jobless, hungry, and homeless. One nurse feels as if he’s treading water a hundred feet below the surface, trying to reach the top but never getting there, so all he can do is keep treading. Another cries as she describes how she and her colleagues can’t intubate patients who desperately need it, and can’t even sedate them because there aren’t enough supplies. Know that many of this virus’s effects are too unbearable to go through without sedation. With proper leadership at the top this horror would have been fixed immediately. In fact with a different President it never would have occurred.

So misery beyond imagining, for many months now, has been caused by Trump, master of non-caring, who will be forever deemed responsible for the deaths and suffering of many thousands. Think how many might have survived had he taken the reins and acted like a leader. If he couldn’t lead, one hoped he might turn into at least a halfway competent human being with something like a heart rather than a stone in his chest. But now we know better. Or do we?

He’s also raised most of our the blood pressures with his golfing, sulking, and tirades while simultaneously putting our democracy (emphasis on “our”) in danger repeatedly. He doesn’t get that if he succeeds in his power grab that the country will no longer be what it was. It will at best be a shaky shell of itself. He’ll be the president who destroyed the United States.

It’s almost impossible to imagine how, with all of America’s misery laid out right in front of them, Trump and his cowardly buddies don’t even try to hide their belief that the only thing of consequence in this universe is their own wealth, elite position, and power. How can they bear to know people are struggling for their last painful breath, and desperate, exhausted doctors and nurses are trying in vain to comfort and save them, without helping? Right now the doctors don’t even have enough oxygen for patients fighting for air. What kind of monster will Trump’s party be willing to accept as a future leader if they can accept this barbarism as leadership?

The lack of vision, the arrogance, and the sheer depth of utter selfishness are in the open, plain to all of us except perhaps to the unhappy base who live in fear of nonexistent threats and sadly continue to feed their hard-earned dollars to Trump and Co. But it is Trump and Co. who will be excoriated down the centuries. Their actions have lead to one of the most colossal and tragic failures of leadership and morality in the history of the world.

Congratulations, Trump and cronies. You’ll always be remembered.

(Members of Trump’s base, please have a look at the short section following this one, titled Special Message for Trump Supporters and Base. It’s written with the hope that we can work together for a better future.)

When I get depressed, I try to help someone. Happiness experts say it’s one of the best things we can do–good for the helper and helped! There are powerful actions we can take to aid those fighting to help the ill, hungry, and homeless, to preserve our democracy, to turn around climate change, to make peace and not war, to stop hatred, violence, and tyranny of all kinds, and to put an end to the cruelties inflicted on so many by the other bullies and dictators of the world. Even our smallest effort is of enormous value. Just smiling at someone you don’t know is remarkably powerful.

Some other examples of how we all can help:

Give patients, medical workers, necessary workers, and everyone you’re in contact with a chance to remain healthy and able to work by keeping your distance, washing hands often, and wearing a mask. Maybe even two masks when you enter a store, since many people’s masks slip off their noses. It’s more important than ever to do this since now we have many new variants of the virus that are even more infectious. Make sure your mask covers your nose. I walked out of a coffee shop today because the barista’s mask was completely off his nose and he was making my drink. He was also endangering his colleagues at the shop.

If you’re so lucky as to be offered a vaccine, try to fight any fears by educating yourself. If you have allergies or other conditions, ask your doctor to help you figure out if it’s safe for you to take it. The more of us who take it, the faster the pandemic ends. Some of the conditions may take some time to be clarified. I’m very allergic to the anti-nausea drug Compazine. Is that a problem or not? I don’t know yet and my doctor doesn’t either, but she’s trying to find out, and hopefully she’ll know within a few months as more is learned.

If you must wait like me, the best thing you can do is observe all the above safety precautions. The next vaccine that’s developed may be better for you and me if the current ones aren’t. Once we get our shots, whether or not we have known allergies or other conditions, we can make sure they watch us for the recommended time after the shot (I’ve heard both 15 and 30 minutes). It sounds to me as if all of the health workers know to do that. But if they don’t, ask. Make sure they have handy such treatments as Epi-pens, etc. to counter any unexpected reactions. Again it sounds like that’s required wherever they vaccinate.

Volunteer. I hear often about the joy people take in volunteering, have enjoyed it myself, and highly recommend it, though for some of us it’s not yet safe to work next to others. But we can do a lot of good by working on projects at home or by donating to groups who are helping in many causes. Get creative. I read about a woman who converts political yard sign frames into tools for the disabled.

In this atmosphere of violence and hatred that’s been ramped up since Trump appeared, we can do good by simply acting with newly conscious kindness and empathy. Don’t underestimate the power of kindness. We can be kind to neighbors and colleagues, and learn to appreciate, if not love, all people of all sorts, those we know and those we don’t.

Work to stop any suffering you know of, in both humans and animals, including animals raised for food. They are so helpless, and if you don’t think so, go to a farm and pet a lamb or goat. It can change your life. Animal agriculture is one of the biggest casues of global warming.

CharityNavigator.org is a good place to find organizations you can donate to in order to help solve problems and end suffering both near you and throughout the world. Just a few of the many good organizations that I like are World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists, World Central Kitchen, and Feed America. Some may have chapters near you where you can help in person.

Help President-elect Biden counteract the destruction by Trump of so much that is precious to our country, our people, and the world. Don’t think politics, just think kindness, empathy, and good, caring leadership, and you’ll know who to depend on and support. Even if Biden isn’t your favorite person, he has a good heart and a lot of wisdom and good will–exactly what we and the world need right now.

Be kind to yourself too. Reach out for help with anxiety and depression if you’re suffering from them. There’s no longer a stigma about this, and if anyone acts as if there is, you don’t need to hang out with them. Almost everyone has experienced those problems at one time or another, some chronically, and especially during this past year. Anyone who hasn’t been depressed during the pandemic is indeed fortunate. If you are depressed or scared or anxious, you’re not alone! Help is there, much of it online with therapists, helpful groups, and more.

One last thing we can do to help turn things around in 2021 is to ask members of Congress to do everything they can to stop the dangerous and selfish charade of Trump and cronies trying to invalidate Biden’s win as our next President, an exercise that endangers our democracy and invites the world’s tyrants to take advantage of us while destroying our reputation as beacon of freedom and justice in the world. These people are participating in nothing less than a coup, an ethical, moral, and existential danger to this country, to your own and your children’s lives, and to all those in the world whose last hope was to get help from the United States of America.

Special Message for Trump Supporters and Base

Give science a chance, even if you’ve been doubting it. Try to see the major questions of our time outside of the political sphere. Use “slow thinking,” which I wrote about a few months ago, and ask yourself if you really find a conspiracy theory or a scary statement you heard to be believable. Check more widely for evidence, beyond the social media or news sites that promote these and other upsetting theories. Away from these sites, it’s widely believed that QAnon is just something someone made up (and may be making them rich as well). Don’t fall for it. It’s a sad, scary way to live. It’s so much better for your mental health just to put your energy into helping others, maybe right there in your community.

Many people from both parties have noted that Trump’s base is being used largely to get more money for Trump to pay his legal and other bills after he’s out of office. You likely haven’t heard it if your news sources are only a few, but if it’s true, is that really where you want your money to go? Do you want to live in the atmosphere of hatred he seems to thrive on? If you believe the pandemic is not real, ask yourself how all this massive suffering and dying could be fake? Why did Trump need special expensive medicines most of us can’t get to cure his own case of Covid? Yet Trump has said again recently that the reported deaths from Covid are “fake news.” It isn’t even remotely possible to fake 350,000 deaths.

About Slow Thinking (a Good Thing), plus an Offer of Friendship from a Democrat to Republicans, Independents, and Undecideds, and a Request for Their Help

A recent program from the TV series Hacking Your Mind explains that while we imagine our conscious minds make most decisions, in fact we go through much of our lives forming quick opinions without even realizing we’re doing it, using what researchers call autopilot thinking. We rarely take time to consciously consider opinons more slowly, which researchers call “slow thinking.” They also find we tend to stick to an opinion we made on autopilot, even if we later discover we were mistaken. We especially stick to it if it’s held by groups we feel we’re part of (Democrat, Republican, White, Black, etc.)  

Knowing about slow thinking and some other ways our minds operate could help Americans right now. But before getting to those, I have a proposal. In hopes our divided nation can come together and solve problems in an atmosphere of civility and empathy, I respectfully ask those who are considering re-electing the president to read what’s below. I come in peace, and write from my heart. I hope you agree at least that rather than the conflict and angry rhetoric we hear so often, it could be so much better (and make us happier) if we could work together to solve our many problems. We might even get to know and like each other. (As I finished this post the president and first lady contracted coronavirus. I wish them a quick recovery, and have left these thoughts mostly as they were, assuming he’ll be able to continue his campaign.) 

Back to Hacking Your Mind, researchers say it’s in our history and genes to want to belong to groups, and to feel a pull to compete with or even fight with other groups. This tendency can lead to an “us versus them” frame of mind. “Us vs. them” thinking oversimplifies and distorts complex problems by dividing the world into an “us” and a “them,” and scapegoating and vilifying” the “them” according to writers for Psychology Today.* We see this in sports, politics, and other areas. 

The writers say there are two theories as to how “us vs. them” occurs.One involves competition. As I understood it, an example might be a country struggling with a terrible economy blames a particular group for it, even though that group has nothing to do with it. (A version of this occurred in Nazi Germany). Or it may arise for reasons concerning identity and self-esteem. One of the writers explains: “the mere categorization of people into an us and a them is enough to produce hostilities.” So if you’re a member of a certain group, you may think it’s natural to feel hostile toward a group that thinks differently, even if it’s full of lots of perfectly nice people. (Note from me: What if the two groups talked about their differences together over coffee? Can we not have some differences without figthing about them?)

Social media has made these tendencies more extreme, for example when it’s used by bad actors who want to get us so angry with each other that we fight with and even kill each other. Hacking Your Mind tells of someone on social media who made up names for two nonexistent groups, and statements that would make each group hostile to the other. They then announced a meeting of each group, on either side of the same street at the same hour. Hundreds of people who had identified with the two groups went to the meeting, and when they realized the others were across the street, began to rage at each other. No doubt this was very satisfying to the instigators, who now must feel they have a lot of power over us. 

This is a terrible side of social media, and makes hopes of peaceful, unified problem-solving hard to hold onto. But we don’t have to fall for it. Slow thinking and vigilance can help us avoid the lure of such fake people and groups, and also of baseless dangerous theories and the often deranged, hate-or-power-obsessed people behind them. It would also help if we used social media less, and demanded that its owners better police themselves. By the way, our using social media is making the owners very wealthy. The site Investopedia tells us:

“If you’re not paying for the product, the product is you. The real transaction here isn’t you receiving enjoyment in the form of a free temporary distraction created by a media company at great expense, but rather, that media company renting your eyeballs to its advertisers.”  

Re “us vs them,” Psychology Today’s Marika Lindholm says today we tend to take sides on all kinds of issues such as vegetarians vs. carnivores, or Coke vs. Pepsi, etc., but some will have more serious consequences than others. A solution she suggests for those is “boundary spanners,” meaning people who belong to multiple groups and social worlds, including immigrants, biracial or bicultural individuals, gay members of the military, and others. She says rather than marginalizing them, we can “honor and empower” them, because they can help us bridge “us vs. them” divisions. For more on this go to:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201908/the-psychology-us-vs-them

Now let’s apply slow versus autopilot thinking to politics. It’s clear Mr. Trump’s decisions please many people, and he’s a magnetic and skilled speaker. But did you ever feel swept up in the moment when everyone was cheering something he said, say at a rally, and then later hear a voice inside you ask, “Do I really go along with that statement?” Your autopilot thinking may have been at work at the rally, but a different decision later may be the result of slow thinking you chose to do when you got away fom the noise. 

I suspect many of us act too often on auto-pilot, not taking time to think through the country’s most serious problems and how we can solve themTake the pandemic. Say you saw photos of people on ventilators and doctors covered in protective equipment, you heard doctors say masks and distancing protect us, you saw many people wearing masks, and photos of huge new grave sites in various countries. Then you heard the president say the virus isn’t that dangerous or is nearly over. You might have made an autopilot decision to believe him, but later in a quiet moment you might have wondered what the real truth was as you slowly considered all the evidence. Even though he now has the virus, many people coming into the White House are still not wearing masks. They see how real the virus is, yet stick with their initial autopilot decisions, even at the risk of their lives!

We can find the truth by researching several sources, and asking ourselves questions such as (in this case) why would a leader we strongly supported lie to us about our own potential suffering and death? Why are so many businesses shuttered? Why do he and those around him get tested constantly, when many of us can’t get a test? Eventually we’d see that Mr. Trump got tested because he did know the virus is dangerous. Yet he needed us to feel calm and safe so we’d agree to opening businesses and schools, and would feel good about things seeming normal again. But why would he urge us to have such a dangerous “normal?” The only answer I see is that  his main goal was re-election, and it didn’t matter to him if more of us suffered and died to make that more possible. Your autopilot opinion may tell you “no way!” about this, but try slow-thinking through the facts and you may change your mind. 

Look at global warming. We’ve lost over four critically-needed years in which we could have slowed it, and not only does Mr. Trump not help, he’s done much to make it worse. As a model to the world he could help leaders work together and with us, to turn this hellish situation around. What’s worse is he does believe global warming is real. In 2009 he was part of a business coalition urging President Obama to take urgent climate action. See this link:

https://sustainabilityx.co/once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-president-that-didnt-believe-in-climate-change-21414c69e829

He has not and will not create national plans to stop the virus and global warming, but there is someone who will: Joe Biden. He’s got well thought out plans for both, having consulted the best experts he could find. Without such plans the pandemic will surely affect us deeply for another year or even more, and economic recovery will take much longer. If we don’t slow global warming we’ll soon see ever-larger areas where drought and heat force mass migrations northward; also more wildfires, loss of our remaining precious natural spaces, tropical diseases such as Dengue fever moving north, and more pandemics, just to start. (For more on this, one of many good places to look is the site of Union of Concerned Scientists.) 

There are many other issues we’ll need to think about carefully, but the virus and climate change certainly are among the most urgent. Joe Biden is intelligent, grasps what’s at stake, knows how to research  a problem, is kind, and will calm our overwhelmed nation and the world. He’s pledged to help people on all sides. So I respectfully beg you, even if you’re fond of Mr. Trump, please do consider at least for this one election voting for Mr. Biden. 

I apologize if anything I’ve written here has offended you. I hope a time comes soon in which feeling offense is rare because despite our differences we’ll have learned to respect each other. We’ll become more aware of our prejudices, substitute kindness for them, make friends with people from diverse groups, and decrease hostile “us versus them” thinking. We’re all human. It can’t be that hard to unite in peace to solve problems, especially with the extra time we’ll have that we used to use to fight and hate. Most important, we’ll gain the gift of new friends. Researchers say that if we want to thrive, the support of many good friends is crucial.     

*Psychology Today article by Arash Emamzadeh  
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201908/the-psychology-us-vs-them

A Biden-Harris Win will Save Thousands of Lives, and also Save Our Sanity

It’s not only physical health that’s been decimated in the Dark Age of Trump

Susan Cooke

​I know a lot about depression, not because I’m a doctor or therapist (I am not) but because I’ve struggled with it myself for some time. I know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the same reason. Not every depression is caused by PTSD but mine was, and from what I can tell, many of the country’s increasing mental health problems are occurring due not only to PTSD from this horrible and painful virus, but to the pandemic’s side effects of sudden grief, loneliness, job loss, hunger, and fear. We’re also stressed by anxiety about what seems an insecure future caused by the attitudes and actions of our cruel and self-serving president.

Research shows that Americans’ rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or attempts were increasing even before Trump took office, but Trump, surely one of the most toxic presidents in our history, has made our load of chronic stress so much greater that the CDC reports these mental health problems are increasing to even higher levels than before, for many people of different ages and professions, including 25% of young adults who have considered suicide during the pandemic.

US News and World Report tells us U.S. adults reported much-elevated adverse mental health conditions connected with the virus, and “younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.” The article added that anxiety symptoms were approximately three times those reported during the same time period last year.

This news didn’t surprise me, since for months before the pandemic many friends had told me they couldn’t sleep, and often felt anxious, angry, and frustrated, all because of Trump’s wanton decimation of much in our country they’d respected and thought was sacrosanct. It all was made harder to bear because they felt they had little power to stop him.

Add a pandemic and Trump’s consistently incompetent and uncaring management of it and you’ve got a perfect storm for PTSD, or at least lots of stress, anxiety, and depression. For those who don’t understand much about depression, it causes great suffering in the victim and in family members, in extreme cases makes holding down a job nearly impossible, can lead to heart disease, and can feel like a nightmarishly gloomy altered reality. It so crushes some people they can’t even swallow food. Its final result for some, if not successfully treated –and it can be very hard to treat–is suicide.

One of the best ways to traumatize people is to tyrannize, frighten, or threaten them, especially if they have little or no power to fight back. While reeling from the pandemic itself, most Americans watch in horror Trump’s destruction and rollbacks of rules and laws they thought would help keep them and their environment healthier for years to come. As early as September 2017 the site Quartz reported Trump was “systematically dismantling consumer, labor, and environmental protections, as well as de-funding studies that might make the case for new rules.” In July of that year the administration said it planned to suspend, discontinue, or change 860 rules and regulations, many of which were proposed at the tail-end of Barack Obama’s presidency. It cut rules that would make manual labor safer, “while undercutting those aimed at increasing wages and benefits for the less wealthy.” Trump also made it easier to pay women and minorities less, freezing the “EEO-1 pay data collection rule that August, which required businesses with more than 100 employees to report pay data by gender and race.”

I’m not sure at this writing how many of those changes stuck, or if they all occurred, but living with his constant attempts and threats to assail rules and laws we’d found reassuring only adds more to Americans’ chronic stress.

Other stressful changes include his destroying or degrading alliances with other countries, and his packing the courts, White House, and government agencies with people sympathetic to his frightening causes and beliefs. We see him promote crazy conspiracies that only cause more chaos, hatred, fear, and death, hear his rampant misogyny and racism, and see his open nose-thumbing at fair elections as he admits (with what seems like almost demonic pleasure) that he won’t give the Post Office funds it needs to process mail-in ballots properly. (Someone please tell me why this is not a criminal offense.) He gleefully strips away, often quietly when we’re not looking, protections from global warming and other environmental assaults, only to announce the changes later, apparently enjoying the shock and sadness he’s caused.

Along with the cruelty of his messages and methods, some of us who have experienced mental anguish at the hands of others recognize his behavior as what it also is: emotional abuse. Just as childhood bullies seem to enjoy the stress they cause their victims, and some p​eople have a pathological need to cause ​suffering in a person or animal who can’t fight back, Trump abuses the American people (except for his base) and seems to like doing it. And just as victims who cannot fight off their abusers feel helpless and hopeless, our inability to stop Trump makes us feel the same.

We may become ​chronically depressed if we don’t see any help coming, for example from​ more Republicans who could and should speak up. Mostly they have not​,​ and Democrats who have tried to help are often unable to get very far. So we continue to watch as more lies and destruction occur, when what we desperately need is​ truth, empathy, thoughtful leadership, and a feeling of​ closeness​ to our fellow citizens and with the world rather than increasing separation from them. Such sense of community and cooperation is a hallmark of societies that experience good mental health.

Given all this destruction and despair, how could the country’s mental health not be plummeting?

We are of course not alone. There is always tragedy somewhere in the world, ​but good leadership makes all the difference. As mental health experts ​are surely find​ing​ in Beirut​ while it reels from its deadly explosion​, shock and grief will fuel new cases of PTSD there that ​may last many years, especially since the ​accident came on top of pandemic-caused suffering​. But not all tragedies are necessary​, and in this case a corrupt president and government had already caused crushing poverty. If the​ ​leaders had possessed an iota of empathy, they would have​ ​protect​ed​ the people from ​the danger ​of an explosion ​in that location long ago.

Similarly, in the United States a caring president could have prevented many thousands of virus deaths and untold suffering. Instead, his cruelty and incompetence caused those unnecessary deaths, and grief and loss beyond measure.

​We are now at a crossroads. The wrong decision will harm not just our country but the planet. ​If we don’t remove this monstrously inhumane person from the White House, our future ​will be grim.

But we have two rays of hope: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They represent all that is light in this horrendous period of gloom. Just the sight of them glowing during their first appearance together after Biden chose Harris inspired and uplifted people around the world. It even helped me to be able to fall asleep after I learned of the Primary win of a scary racist QAnon-believer who may soon bring her hatred and lies to a Congress near you (with the help and encouragement of Trump).

But Biden and Harris have a tough road ahead because it will be extremely difficult to fight conspiracies, corruption, greed, interference by Trump’s pal and fellow dictator Putin, and all those yes-people Trump hires to do whatever, corrupt or not, to savage the other side.

So I want to propose, for everyone who like me can no longer sleep at night, that we all work our tails off to get Biden and Harris elected.

To that end I wanted to find the best way I could to feel confident donating time or money to help. I didn’t know much about election pacs and funding, and wasn’t sure if I should contribute to a group like Black Lives Matter, or a particular Democratic group or anti-Trump Republican group, or elsewhere.

I asked Brendan Quinn, Outreach Manager at the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics to advise me. He told me about various types of groups people donate to, which you can learn about at the Center’s site. In the end, he said for someone like me without huge amounts of money to give, “The most effective way to support any candidate is going to be a direct contribution to their campaign.” So that’s where I’ll contribute, and after the election will give to other organizations.*

So please help Biden and Harris win so we can start to heal both physically and mentally. And, as they request, please wear a mask, social distance, avoid big gatherings, and wash your hands often. If we work together on this for just a while more, we can protect not only ourselves and those we love, but also medical personnel and all others who endanger themselves in order to help us.

*Brendan Quinn says if you do want to give to an outside group not directly affiliated with a candidate, you’ll want to do some research to make sure it’s actually spending money on things you support. You can check out such groups at the Center, as long as you’re looking at those spending at the federal level. It doesn’t deal with state-level matters such as governor’s races.