All the News That Makes Me Sick

So, in a last-minute decision that staves off my inevitable demise by a few months, the Supreme Court has decided to forestall my Inevitable Demise by generously postponing hearing a case that could gut the ACA by a few months. Which is far from ideal, but, in cancer-survivor years, a few months can literally be a lifetime. In the meantime, there are some not-inconsequential elections that could suspend that death sentence by a few years.

Which, rather neatly, brings me to my real thesis: If you had the opportunity to go back in time and kill Hitler as a child, would you? Those of you familiar with my usual, seemingly-disjointed writing style should prepare yourselves for a few meandering paragraphs before I reach the point, but; the question remains: Kill baby Hitler, or just deliver a righteous dope-slap because, y’know; it’s Hitler. There are, of course, people who would argue that sacrificing one life to save millions of others is immoral, but they do not work in the U.S. State Department. And it’s really a rephrasing of the classic philosophical issue of the Trolley Problem. We’ll call my version, “The TARDIS Problem” — if you could kill an historic monster to save people and/or create greater stability, would you?

I’ll tell you who I’d unflinchingly run over with the TARDIS-trolley, without hesitation: Richard Milhouse Nixon. For those of you who have been living under a rock Nixon is one of the most-reviled characters in American politics, known not only for his unflinching devotion to corruption and abuse of power, but also for setting the political course for what would take the Republican Party from its traditional, isolationist, pro-business, small-government positions to the party now headed by Beloved Leader. If you live in America and have some sort of lasting problems that aren’t currently being adequately met by private or public interests/holdings; I can draw a (sometimes jagged or broken) line from it to Nixon in fewer steps than you can connect Nic Cage to Kevin Bacon. Can’t health insurance? Nixon’s introduction of HMOs. In jail on non-violent charges? Nixon’s policies on overpolicing marijuana and heroin trafficking. Can’t get a job? Likely benign neglect of inner cities (yes, that was a thing in the Nixon White House).

What’s not common knowledge is that, prior to his unceremonious ejection from the White House (before anyone asks, yes, I know he resigned, but, given events to the lead-up, that’s like claiming an inmate wasn’t executed because he hung himself before the firing squad arrived — it’s technically true, but deliberately misleading), Nixon had a long, sordid career in politics, including a stint as a Vice President (this is true), after being a congressman and senator (also true). The man had a weird, Cleaver Greene-esque ability to climb back from any political setback and still somehow end up ahead. During his time in office, in addition to his mishandling of domestic matters (the Kent State massacre happened on his watch, among other highlights), he was well-known for escalating and expanding the Vietnam War. Feel free to stop me when things start looking familiar.

Oh, and he also was one of the first candidates to use the phrase “Law and Order,” Which, I think most of us now know was one of the first uses of dog-whistle political messaging to code for, “Lock up any minorities and their allies in dissent.” Nixon also stole George McGovern’s proposal for federal farm subsidies that kept farmers from starving, but also artificially kept food prices low. Yeah, that sudden surge in food prices you noticed a few years ago? That was because those subsidies started expiring. Nixon was critical in reframing the American political debate from, “How do we achieve universal equal opportunities?” to, “Maybe killing the working class for sport isn’t a good thing, maybe?” If you’re a fan of modern history, as I mentioned, you could make a drinking game of linking every major piece of news to some Nixonian policy (and you’d be dead within a few hours).

The inspiration for this piece was another analysis of the upcoming election by FiveThirtyEight, when one of the staff noted that it’s hard to make any concrete predictions about this election, because “Donald Trump has always been this figure of chaos and unpredictability, and that’s consistently worked for him and against him.” Which made me want to shout, “Hang on! That man is hardly the first Nazgul to occupy that office.” And I’m hardly alone in comparing Beloved Leader to the Witch King of Angmar (er, Nixon)— it’s been the go-to comparison since he stomped into office (or, more-accurately, descended the tacky escalator into office)(The Donald has a bizarre objection to stairs, which, fair point, as another cripple with an organic brain disease, so do I, but I’m fairly open about it). The only really new point I’m trying to make is, even though the presidency may last only eight years, it can — for better or worse — shape economies, cultures, and discussions for decades to come. So, as we all huddle in our homes and try to avoid coming down with a completely novel disease (to use medical terminology)(“novel” BTW, is medical dog-whistle for, “We’ve never seen anything like it and we have no idea what to expect”)(you do not want to hear a medical professional use that word, ever), pretend that the choices we all make individually in the coming months — both in the ballot and as seemingly mundane as to whether we go out tonight — will have dramatic repercussions that may take years to manifest. Choose wisely.

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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