Wrapped in brutal Kansas heat, Trump’s durability and COVID’s return can turn any stomach

August 30, 2023 3:33 am
Concept illustration Global warming around the world is about to be burned by human hands

Opinion editor Clay Wirestone laments the recent heat wave, Donald Trump’s staying power, and the resurgence of COVID-19 — all problems we know how to solve. (Getty Images)

I don’t know if the Earth has wobbled on its axis or Mount Oread shifted a couple of inches, but I’m feeling a smidgen off these days.

Perhaps it was the week of 100-plus degree temperatures. Kansans broiled underneath a “heat dome” that made most outdoor activities unthinkable unless you own some sort of refrigerated suit. Each day, I wilted inside and prayed for cooler times ahead. Reports of hurricane threats and devastation in Maui only added to the impression that we’re living through a climate crisis.

Perhaps it was the indication that, however many indictments and accusations he faces, former President Donald Trump retains the allegiance of millions across the United States. According to a CBS News/YouGov poll released last week, 71% of Trump voters believe what he tells them is true. They believe him more than their friends and family (63%), conservative media figures (56%) or religious leaders (42%). Trump’s supporters believe in him more than their own flesh and blood. If that doesn’t send shivers down the spine of every Democrat, independent and sane Republican, I don’t know what will.

Perhaps it was the ongoing surge of COVID-19 infections across the state and country. Remember, we know how to stop this virus in its tracks. Get vaccinated and boosted. Wear a mask in crowded spaces. Socially distance, if you can manage it. Yet exhausted and aggrieved Americans have shown no appetite for even modest measures to slow the smoldering pandemic’s comeback.

“This will inevitably make emergency control measures more difficult to impose,” writes Brian Michael Jenkins in Time magazine. “COVID’s biggest political casualty may be governability itself.”

What bothers me most, I suppose, is that we understand these threats.

Scientists have raised the alarm about climate change for decades. Anyone who followed Trump on the national stage since the 1980s knew he was trouble. COVID-19’s ability to sow illness and chaos has been established. No one should act surprised that we’re facing such challenges.

We also know how to address them all.

Experts have offered myriad ways to reduce carbon emissions. Candidates across the political spectrum have stood up to Trump’s authoritarian threat, some sacrificing their careers to do so. We even responded as a nation to bring COVID under control once before. Was it fun? No. Did it keep people healthier? Absolutely.

Yet in all of these cases, a vast number of Kansans and Americans sit back and watch apathetically, scratching their noses and shrugging their shoulders. Solving these problems sounds too big, too complicated, too all-round overwhelming.

Yet in all of these cases, a vast number of Kansans and Americans sit back and watch apathetically, scratching their noses and shrugging their shoulders. Solving these problems sounds too big, too complicated, too all-round overwhelming.

– Clay Wirestone

We want to remain comfortable.

When the heat wave arrives, we huddle inside next to air conditioners. I know, because I did that exact thing. Campaigning for decarbonization and clean energy takes endurance and political savvy. Who wants to get their hands dirty with all that?

And speaking of dirty hands, no one wants to face off against die-hard MAGA partisans. Eight years into Trump’s presidential psychodrama, the problems caused by unleashing such an unstable personality on the country seem so obvious that few mention them anymore. That leaves us in a dangerous position, with little hope of movement one way or another.

“Whether Trump is convicted for trying to overturn the 2020 election or not, voters who accept that argument will remain the most powerful force in the GOP coalition,” writes Ronald Brownstein in the Atlantic. “And they will continue to demand leaders who will fight the changes that they believe threaten their position in American society.”

As for COVID, the pandemic unleashed social disruption and political fallout that Democrats and Republicans have worked to artfully dodge. The slightest mention of the disease on Kansas Reflector social media channels leads to unhinged bleating about lockdowns, the sinister Anthony Fauci and a “plandemic.” Guess what, folks? COVID-19 is a virus. It doesn’t care how you feel about it.

We can see the problems, and we know the solutions.

We need the will to see them through.

Until that point, please forgive me a scintilla of queasiness.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.