COVID-19 “…Fear itself….”

POSTNOTE: I began doing continuing updates on my own feelings about the Coronavirus here (Mar. 6), updated frequently.  Your comments are welcome as well.

March 15, I begin a new post on this topic, titled “COVID19: Speaking personally“, on this same topic, also March 17 and continuing.


Yesterday, I was talking with my friend, Padre Johnson, by phone.  He and I were talking about an upcoming presentation scheduled for April 15 in Minneapolis (see note at end).  Our  group had invited him to speak, but the assorted concerns swirling about the spread of the Coronavirus caused our group to regretfully cancel plans.  There is simply too much uncertainty about the near future of getting folks together at a gathering such as we had been planning.

Padre was gracious.  He understood.  In fact, he was about to call me to talk about the planned talk.  He lives in Cody Wyoming and the talk was to be in Minneapolis.  It is a long trip.

In the course of the conversation, Padre assumed the persona of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, intoning the famous words of FDRs 1933 Inaugural Address during the Great Depression: “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”. (See the first paragraph, here).  His rendition was authentic, and particularly compelling given our present day history where Coronavirus is dominating the world conversation, and disrupting what we have come to expect is the norm.  (My own ‘spin’ on this can be read here.   I am updating this post personally, frequently.)

I don’t have a neutral view on this issue.  For me, I visualize a continuum where zero is cynicism (“hoax” or such descriptors) to 10, “hysteria”.  On such a line, I suppose I’d be somewhere around a 6 or 7, primarily due to my age and medical history, both of which mitigate towards concern about inadvertently contracting the flu, and having a severe case.  So, I’m somewhat careful, but by no means a recluse, as yet.

The fear Roosevelt intoned in 1933, and Padre Johnson recalled yesterday, is disabling, rather than enabling.  Personally I fear the push and pull within myself.  What should I do, or not?  Which advice should I listen to or ignore.  Ultimately it is up to me.


On a broader level, fear is also a useful tool in manipulating opinions, and easily misused in today’s environment of instant and universal media.

For example, in the last couple of days I heard the flu described as the Chinese flu, in effect used as a pretext for excluding Chinese from coming into the U.S.  A doctor, around the same time, was remembering the “Spanish flu”, a particularly deadly flu from WWI.

The “Spanish flu” was not native to Spain.  Rather, it originated in western Kansas quite possibly on someone’s farm, and it became more serious with the passage of time and mutations.  To label the disease by nationality or location was unfair and indeed dishonest.  But it was convenient to attach it to some other place or person, something which is, unfortunately, not uncommon.


Back to Coronavirus, the economy, on and on….

At some point there will come some type of equilibrium, and we can be on with life, hopefully safer and wiser (though that is not a sure thing these days).

I wish us well.

POSTNOTE:  Padre Johnson is a remarkable guy who I’ve been fortunate to know for perhaps 10 years.  Here is a commentary about Padre’s history and accomplishments: Padre Johnson 20200304_12272801 (click on screen image to enlarge).

More about Padre can be learned here, including an audio clip.


from Larry: Found your piece on the Coronavirus most interesting and your comments on FDR and “fear” to be thought provoking, needed and timely. We are living through an unprecedented time, but, as someone once said, “this too shall pass.” What we hope and pray will also go away next November is the extremely stupid, ego-driven, and dishonest leadership of the current occupant of the White House. There are many examples of solid governmental leadership that, contrary the MAGA cap wearers, prove that a strong, informed and fair President and Congressional leaders can make a positive difference in any crisis. We are not seeing that now. JFK had the brains and courage to take the correct action during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even George W. Bush, of whom I’m not a fan, handled the 9-11 attack aftermath with statesmanship and good judgement. And, as with FDR, Winston Churchill’s words of inspiration and his leadership actions helped get the U. K. and the free world through WWII. Government is needed. There is no “deep state.”  But there is child-like self-interest and totally political behavior by both the current President and the majority leader in the Senate.

Chuck (Former Chair United Nations Association, Council of Organizations) sent testimony he presented to Congress in 1996.  (You can this here: Chuck Woolery 1996, and also find a later reprinting of this in the 435 blog).  He says in intro:  Thank you!  And if you are interested in my former professional perceptions that were ignored…please read my 1996 Congressional Testimony and my current blogs: 435GlobalJusticeBlogspot (2017 through today); DoTheFreakinMath (2006-2016); TheTrilemmaBlogspot (2011-2013).  I hope you are a healthy boomer.  My next blog:  Covid 19 the Boomer Doomer.

From SAK across the big pond in England:

I read in your blog:

“We have an opportunity to truly ‘get’ that we are all in this together….”

but also:

“Self-interest comes first.”

The two are not irreconcilable in this case because by self-isolating & taking precautions one helps himself as well as others.

But there are other instances where the two clash at least short term. The world is facing “interesting times”, history is not coming to a happy end anytime soon (sorry Mr Fukuyama), trust is in short supply, and ‘progress’ is no longer as often mentioned in the same breath as ‘good’.

It is astonishing how quickly humans forget. After World War II there was so much “never again”. People & nations got together to come up with or reinforce commitments & institutions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations, what later became the European Union & even NATO etc. Nowadays this & that politician or leader, for I know not what silly or selfish motive, decides to attack these institutions or abandon them. None has been as competent at this as president Trump! He has attacked, withheld financial contributions or taken the US out of NATO, Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate agreement, the Iran deal, UNESCO, United Nations Human Rights Council, UNRWA, nuclear treaties with Russia . . . He has also accused the World Health Organisation of lying regarding the Corona virus (e.g. here).

Not bad for a couple of years work.

You also mentioned capitalism & socialism; both are highlighted in Orwell’s prescient book The Road to Wigan Pier, here’s chapter 12 but keep in mind this was written just before World War II & the priorities were somewhat different.  here

Excerpts that attracted my attention:


Put a pacifist to work in a bomb-factory and in two months he will be devising a new type of bomb.

In the first place he [socialist] will tell you that it is impossible to ‘go back’ (or to ‘put back the hand of progress’–as though the hand of progress hadn’t been pretty violently put back several times in human history!), and will then accuse you of being a medievalist and begin to descant upon the horrors of the Middle Ages, leprosy, the Inquisition, etc. . . . But notice that in any case this is not an answer. For a dislike of the mechanized future does not imply the smallest reverence for any period of the past.  . . . But there is no need to idealize even the Etruscans or the Pelasgians, or the Aztecs, or the Sumerians, or any other vanished and romantic people. When one pictures a desirable civilization, one pictures it merely as an objective; there is no need to pretend that it has ever existed in space and time.

Partly it is due to the mistaken Communist tactic of sabotaging democracy, i.e. sawing off the branch you are sitting on; but still more to the fact that Socialists have, so to speak, presented their case wrong side foremost. They have never made it sufficiently clear that the essential aims of Socialism are justice and liberty. With their eyes glued to economic facts, they have proceeded on the assumption that man has no soul, and explicitly or implicitly they have set up the goal of a materialistic Utopia. As a result Fascism has been able to play upon every instinct that revolts against hedonism and a cheap conception of ‘progress’. It has been able to pose as the upholder of the European tradition, and to appeal to Christian belief, to patriotism, and to the military virtues. It is far worse than useless to write Fascism off as ‘mass sadism’, or some easy phrase of that kind. If you pretend that it is merely an aberration which will presently pass off of its own accord, you are dreaming a dream from which you will awake when somebody coshes you with a rubber truncheon. The only possible course is to examine the Fascist case, grasp that there is something to be said for it, and then make it clear to the world that whatever good Fascism contains is also implicit in Socialism.

Ten years ago, even five years ago, the typical literary gent wrote books on baroque architecture and had a soul above politics. But that attitude is becoming difficult and even unfashionable. The times are growing harsher, the issues are clearer, the belief that nothing, will ever change (i.e. that your dividends will always be safe) is less prevalent. The fence on which the literary gent sits, once as comfortable as the plush cushion of a cathedral stall, is now pinching his bottom intolerably; more and more he shows a disposition to drop off on one side or the other. It is interesting to notice how many of our leading writers, who a dozen years ago were art for art’s saking for all they were worth and would have considered it too vulgar for words even to vote at a general election, are now taking a definite political standpoint; while most of the younger writers, at least those of them who are not mere footlers, have been ‘political’ from the start. I believe that when the pinch comes there is a terrible danger that the main movement of the intelligentsia will be towards Fascism. Just how soon the pinch will come it is difficult to say; it depends, probably, upon events in Europe; but it may be that within two years or even a year we shall have reached the decisive moment. That will also be the moment when every person with any brains or any decency will know in his bones that he ought to be on the Socialist side. But he will not necessarily come there of his own accord; there are too many ancient prejudices standing in the way. He will have to be persuaded, and by methods that imply an understanding of his viewpoint. Socialists cannot afford to waste any more time in preaching to the converted. Their job now is to make Socialists as rapidly as possible; instead of which, all too often, they are making Fascists.

From Norm:

Enjoyed your commentary on the virus and the fear related actions to it.  My long time friend, Julianne Johnston and I are putting together an article on fear for the April issue of the Senior News, the state wide newsletter that we publish quarterly for the Senior Caucus.  Ironically, I suppose, we begin the article with the same FDR quote regarding fear that you mentioned as well as its origin in quotations from Henry David Thoreau and Sir Francis Bacon before that.
As you noted, fear is a human emotion that we all have often manifested in the fight or flee responses that we have to uncomfortable situations especially those that are sudden, unexpected or that cause great uncertainty and feelings of the lack of control for us. The challenge always is the mechanisms that we use to try to control our fears and keep things in balance as well as perspective.
FDR and Trump were and are both aware of the effect of fear on their fellow citizens.
FDR tried to assuage the fear and uncertainty of Americans in his first inaugural speech in 1933 when the Great Depression had been raging across the country and the world since late 1929.  He followed that up with his fireside chats as time went on and as war threatened on the horizon.  Later, with New Deal programs such as the CCC that gave not only employment to many when the unemployment rate was 25% or more and soup lines often were filling empty bellies that also helped to restore the personal dignity and self-worth of so many Americans.
Trump on the other hand appears to be a very insecure albeit arrogant and narcissistic man with many fears that he has trouble controlling and understands very well that many of his supporters enjoy those same fears regarding the same unknowns: people who do not look, think, act or worship like they do, that is, “the right way”; scientists, public health experts, credible intelligence experts, and so on, folks that would likely challenge the ideas and policies of the self-proclaimed smarter than everyone POTUS; and certainly members of the LBGTQ serving in the military no matter that so many have served with distinction AND did not avoid the draft due to a sore big toe as he did.  Trump is a master at exploiting the fears that American have when faced with uncertainty.  “I will take care of you” appears to be his message to his followers driven by their fears.
The current virus pandemic is a good example of that when Trump quickly announced that based upon his superior intellect and understanding of the matter, he had a hunch that the situation was just being blown out proportion by the media and by those dad burned Democrats trying to deny him a second term.
Developments since he made that scientifically based claim seem to suggest that he just had a bad albeit self-serving hunch!
The clothes are beginning to fall off of the emperor!



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