An Immoral and Deadly Return to Campus

Colleges and universities have to face the reality that their plans for on campus learning in the fall semester, many of which are thoughtful and well-intentioned, would be both immoral and deadly to implement when the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are surging as is the case right now.

It is the responsibility of colleges and universities as communities of higher learning that teach and value the humanities and sciences to honor the inherent worth of every person and respect scientific evidence. This requires colleges and universities to make the moral decision to honor the life of their students, staff, faculty, administrators, and the broader communities of which we are all a part by not reopening our campuses while the spread of the virus is out of control. Colleges and universities must be leaders in containing the virus through the careful application of ethics and science and not become leaders of increasing the spread of the virus, which is already out of control.

If COVID-19 were only spread through larger droplets that do not stay in the air very long, then it might be safe to hold in person classes on college and university campuses this fall under very strict protocols of social distancing and mask wearing, but the scientific evidence (something to which all colleges and universities should be paying attention) now tells us that COVID-19 is also airborne in smaller droplets in aerosol form that can stay in the air and concentrate for hours, making dorms and classrooms some of the highest risk areas for the spread of the virus.

I understand that the financials of many institutions of higher education are in a dire situation. Colleges and universities are going to lose students in the fall whether or not in person classes are held on campus. Some students will not want to come back unless classes are held in person, and some students will not want to come back unless classes are held online. Hopefully colleges and universities will be willing to lose some enrollment in the pursuit of keeping our communities safe by not attempting on campus learning in the fall, rather than risking the permanent loss of students, staff, and faculty through preventable death. As a higher education colleague said to me today: “Whatever choices we make, they won’t work for everyone and we will lose some folks. Better to lose some folks from the rolls than lose some folks from life.” In the end, if classes are held in person in the peak of a pandemic, there will likely be more loss of money through wrongful death lawsuits than there will be from lower enrollment.

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be back in the classroom in the fall more than I do. I love teaching. I love being with students. I love being with staff and faculty colleagues. It is very difficult to recreate something close to the academic community that is made possible through on-campus learning. I miss it deeply, but as deeply as I miss it, as a faculty person who is also a minister, I have had the difficult and sacred responsibility of leading funeral and memorial services for faculty, staff, and students on a number of occasions during my 24 years as a professor. The deaths of those students, staff, and faculty were beyond anyone’s control. If colleges and universities pursue on campus learning in the fall during what is currently the peak of the pandemic, there will be many funerals and memorial services across the nation in the fall for faculty, staff, and students, as well as for members of their families; and we will not be able to say that their deaths were beyond our control.

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Propaganda and Fatality Rates

The Trump Administration is full of propagandists, and the only way Trump can possibly win in November is through propaganda. Trump doesn’t have to do very much to keep the 40% of U.S. Americans who apparently would not care if he exchanged his suit and long red ties for a white robe and pointy white hood, but he will have to convince a few more people beyond his base to vote for him as well as suppress the votes of those who oppose him if he hopes for a second term.

Here is where the propaganda comes in. To attract a few more people beyond the 40% who will vote for him even if he raised the confederate flag over the White House until the November election and changed the national anthem to “I Wish I Was in Dixie,” Trump and his propagandists must get people to believe that Trump has COVID-19 under control (note Trump almost exclusively calls it the “China Virus” now to fuel the racism and xenophobia of his base and keep them energized) and that the economy will recover quickly. Their current tactic is to cherry pick from the data about the pandemic and paint it in the most positive of all possible ways.

Over the past three weeks or so, the cherry-picked numbers they are highlighting lead them to make the misleading claim that the United States “has the lowest fatality rate in the world” when it comes to the virus. Here is what they are doing and why it is so misleading, disingenuous, and simply not helpful in understanding the current status of the pandemic in the United States. When Trump and his allies state boldly that “we have the lowest fatality rate in the world,” they are using the number of fatalities per cases to make this claim and conveniently leave out that we have one of the highest per capita fatality rates and the highest gross number of fatalities in the world.

Here is what makes this claim truly unhelpful in addressing the current crisis we are facing. While it is true that our fatality per case rate has fallen significantly especially over the past month, the Trump Administration does not address the main reason for this decline – the fact that we have an out of control outbreak across large swaths of the country leading to the highest number of new cases by far than during in any other time of the pandemic. So with many more cases, even though the number of deaths has been increasing again over the past couple of weeks, the number of deaths per cases has fallen dramatically.

And here is the most dishonest part of the current claim that the United States “has the lowest fatality rate in the world” – the deaths we are seeing now are for the most part deaths of persons who contracted the virus many weeks ago. Cases lag testing, hospitalizations lag identification of cases, and deaths lag hospitalizations. The fact is that we do not yet know what the true fatality rate per number of cases will be until all of these current new cases run their course.

One can hope and even expect that the fatality rate per number of cases in the United States will continue to be lower than it was earlier in the pandemic given that many of the cases now are younger people and our treatment methods are improving. It might even be so low that we will continue to have the lowest fatality rate per number of cases in the world, but we cannot overlook the fact that unlike so many of our peers, in the United States the virus is out of control, and the end result is that we have and we will continue to have many more deaths per capita than almost all of our peer nations.

All of this is a much more complex picture than the rosy “we have the lowest fatality rate in the world” picture being painted by Trump and his associates, and this is because they are not concerned about transparency and the truth; rather they only care about what will get Trump re-elected. In summary, their propaganda is meant to energize their racist and xenophobic base by blaming China and to calm the fears of their wealthy supporters by claiming the virus is not a long term threat to the economy by highlighting only the data that support their narrative that the virus is under control and the economy is surging back.

If you combine this propaganda about COVID-19 with the propaganda against mail in ballots and the propaganda that our cities are cesspools of violence that only Trump can control; you see the path (narrow as it may be) that Trump and his associates are taking towards the election. This propaganda and the very real and systematic efforts to suppress and split the votes of those who oppose Trump in November continue to be existential threats to our democracy.

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Truth and Reconciliation

“Truth and Reconciliation” – July 19, 2020, Red River Unitarian Universalist Church, Denison, TX – online service.
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We Could Have Opened Schools in the Fall

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not treated the virus like a hoax and downplayed the seriousness of the threat in February.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump been more concerned in February and early March about the virus than he was about its impact on the stock market, if he had prioritized public health over the health of Wall Street.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had created a robust testing and contact tracing program like South Korea and we were able to contain the virus in the early weeks of its spread.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had imposed a national lockdown in early March with no arbitrary reopening date.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not tweeted that we should liberate states weeks before lockdowns should have ended.

We could have opened schools in the fall if governors had not followed Trump’s call to reopen states weeks too early in noncompliance with CDC guidelines.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not chosen to make not wearing masks a symbol of political loyalty to him instead of taking the lead by modeling mask wearing as a way to slow community spread.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had created a national mask mandate so that when the time was right the economy could open more safely.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had listened to the public health experts instead of trying to discredit them to distract from his incompetent and criminally negligent response to a global pandemic.

We could have opened schools in the fall if Trump had not done all of these things or if Trump had not been president to do all of these things, but Trump is the president and he did all these things, so we cannot open schools in the fall because to do so in the midst of a massive surge in cases, hospitalizations, and now increased deaths would be both immoral and murderous.

The only morally responsible thing to do is to reverse course on all of the mistakes Trump has made for the sake of his own political and economic gain and work as hard as we can to be able to open schools in the spring if the public health experts say there is evidence that it is safe to do so. I wish we could open schools in the fall, but we can’t because Donald J. Trump is President of the United States of America.

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In the Fox Hole with Fauci

In light of recent attempts by the Trump Administration to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci and make him a scapegoat to distract us from Trump’s abject failure to contain COVID-19, I think it is important for us to take stock of the character of these two men in a very straightforward manner. Here is the difference between Fauci and Trump in a nutshell:

When Fauci said early on in the pandemic that face masks were not effective (one of the things the Trump Administration is using to discredit Fauci), he was communicating a working hypothesis based on his understanding of the evidence at the time that wearing face masks would not keep you from contracting the virus. When the evidence became clear that wearing masks slows the spread of COVID-19 by protecting others from coming into contact with droplets potentially carrying the virus from our breathing, coughing, speaking, etc., Fauci changed his mind about the efficacy of masks based on his understanding of the new evidence and communicated his new position with transparency. This is what scientists do.

Trump on other hand does not base his views about masks based on scientific evidence. He bases them on vanity, political expediency, and whatever he thinks will mobilize his base. Trump doesn’t promote masks because he is afraid that by doing so he would be admitting that we really do have a big problem with a massive resurgence of the virus, and this goes against his narrative that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and that we are on the road to a great recovery.

Fauci – makes his statements based on his best understanding of the evidence and is transparent with the people about what he thinks is most helpful for their health and safety.

Trump – changes his message about the virus constantly with very little transparency and no regard (even an antipathy) for scientific evidence. What he tells us about the virus is what he thinks will get him re-elected even if it harms our health and threatens or even takes our lives.

In a battle against a deadly disease, there is no doubt that we need people like Fauci leading the fight, and people like Trump simply need to shut up until we vote him into the dustbin of history reserved for other demagogues who put their political and economic power over the well-being and the very lives of the people.

In the fox hole of the fight against COVID-19 or in the fight for truth in general for that matter, we need people like Fauci, and we should reject unequivocally Trump’s disingenuous and self-serving attacks on a true patriot.

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Tulsa Can’t Breathe

Holding the largest indoor gathering in the whole world since the beginning of the worst global pandemic in a century, in a city that is experiencing its highest rates of community spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, in a state that is experiencing its highest rates of community spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, in a region of the country that is experiencing its highest rates of community spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, in a country that has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country in the world is really orders of magnitude worse than shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. It is in effect one of the most Jim Jones like actions the world has seen since Jim Jones himself forced his followers en masse to drink cyanide Kool-Aid in his last desperate act of expressing his power over them. Trump’s insatiable ego is fed by the willingness of his devoted followers to drink in the COVID-19 air of Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center.

To satisfy his sociopathic narcissism, Trump is bringing tens of thousands of people into the most high risk setting imaginable for contracting and spreading a deadly virus that has already killed 120,000 of our siblings in the United States and over 450,000 persons around the world. While we know from experience that this deadly virus has an inordinately negative and deadly impact on black, Latinx, and indigenous persons; this gathering is being held in a city in which a race massacre 99 years ago killed more black people en masse than at any other time in the United States in what was the largest act of domestic terrorism in the history of our country; it is being held in a state with a large and vulnerable indigenous community whose ancestors were removed from their homes and their land and forced to come to Oklahoma, with many of them dying of disease, hunger, and hardship on the journey, by a president whose portrait our current president hangs proudly in the Oval Office; it is being held in a region of the country in which there is a large and vulnerable Latinx community, many of whom have restricted access to quality healthcare; and it is being held at a time in which tensions related to the injustice of systemic racism are higher than they have been for over 50 years.

The act of holding this rally in Tulsa at this time is potentially one of the most violent and deadly acts ever perpetrated by a President of the United States on the people of the United States. The suffering and death it will cause will not happen in the arena or in the overflow venues of the rally itself, but it will happen slowly over the next few weeks and months as the most vulnerable among us will be more likely to become ill, suffer, and die alone unable to breathe in ICUs separated from family and other loved ones, their wisdom and experience lost to us forever – all so Trump can have his narcissistic rally fix; and Oklahoma Governor Stitt, Tulsa Mayor Bynum, the Bank of Oklahoma Center, and any other person or group who had the power to stop this death rally will be complicit and will forever go down in history for being so.

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Your Presidency Might Not Be Going Too Well If…

Some signs that your presidency may not be going too well:

– You have to hide in the White House bunker out of fear of angry protestors.

– You have to use rubber bullets, tear gas, blunt force, police in riot gear with shields, and police on horseback to clear a path to be able to walk across the street from the White House.

– While you are speaking out against police brutality against persons of color, you literally use police brutality against persons of color to clear a street so that you can take a picture in front of a church with a bunch of white people.

– You have to build another fence around the original fence that had sufficed to protect the White House for all of your predecessors who lived there since it was rebuilt after the War of 1812.

– Religious leaders denounce you for using their churches and shrines as political props for your political gain and describe your actions as being antithetical to the values of their faith.

– You have given up trying to do anything to stop the most deadly pandemic in 100 years because you are utterly incapable of addressing it effectively beyond promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine, injecting disinfectants, and internal UV light treatments.

– Millions of protestors have decided that injustice is so horrible during your presidency that they are willing to risk being in large groups during the worst global pandemic in a century.

– The nuclear codes you think are at your disposal are not the actual codes out of an abundance of caution (wishful thinking on this one, but hope it is true).

– Your job performance and mental instability have led the majority of the country to know the 25th Amendment of the United States Constitution by heart.

– The words “American carnage” are trending as a description of your presidency.

– The picture of you holding a Bible looks something like a Vampire holding a bag of garlic right before sunrise.

– Your picture holding a Bible causes a photoshopped picture of Hitler holding a Bible to go viral.

– Washington, DC is beginning to look a lot like Tiananmen Square in 1989 rather than the capital of the United States of America.

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The Only Way Forward Is Justice

The following are some factors that are contributing to the uprising we are seeing across the country, beginning with the specific and moving to the more general and systemic:

1. Any non-police officer would have been arrested for probable cause immediately after authorities saw the tape of the murder of George Floyd.

2. Minneapolis police contributed to the escalation of violence by using tear gas and excessive force during the first day of protests that were mainly peaceful.

3. The County Attorney in Minneapolis made a statement in a press conference on Thursday that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.” This was like throwing gasoline on a fire after the whole world watched George Floyd be murdered right before their eyes.

4. President Trump called the persons protesting George Floyd’s death “THUGS” and repeated and glorified the violent rhetoric of an extremely racist 1960s Miami police chief, tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” thus pouring more gasoline on the fire of unrest.

5. As a country we had just witnessed the fact that the only reason arrests were made in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is because the video of his killing was made public – a video that local authorities had in their possession for two months before it became public.

6. The crimes we see against persons of color by police are just the tip of the iceberg. They have been occurring throughout our country’s entire history, and we are only seeing it more clearly now because of cellphones, but it has always been there terrorizing persons of color.

7. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has made it as clear as ever that there are gross inequities and injustices in our society as persons of color experience illness, death, and other negative consequences of the pandemic at a much higher rate.

8. We have never come to terms with the fact that our country was built on genocide, slavery, centuries of racism, and racist terrorism; with systemic racism permeating almost every aspect of our society to this day.

9. When there is no justice, we cannot expect for there to be peace. For centuries, we have prioritized order over justice to protect the status quo of white privilege and white supremacy. When the voice of the oppressed is ignored and the vulnerable are marginalized, we cannot expect the social fabric to hold together.

10. We have the worst leader at one of the most difficult and challenging times in our history. He has spent his whole presidency dividing us against one another, enacting racist and xenophobic policies, separating families of color, putting children in cages, turning away refugees, and scapegoating others rather than working to bring us together as a community. We cannot be surprised that these deep divisions and injustices are manifesting themselves in violent ways.

The only way out of our quagmire is to address the systemic injustice and racism that continue to oppress persons of color in our society. It is the only way to a peaceful future with justice – the only way.

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A Pandemic Parable

A woman went down to the grocery store where she had to work as a cashier during the pandemic to support her family. She encountered persons who did not respect the risk that her job posed to her, who stripped her of her dignity, mocked her for wearing a mask, and left her each day in danger of possible death.

Now it just so happened that an evangelical Christian was going down the same checkout lane, and when he saw the woman at the register, he crossed over too close to the woman inside the distance of 6 feet while not wearing a mask and said to her “it’s too bad you have to wear that silly mask so I can’t see your pretty smile.” He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

Likewise, an evangelical minister came by that same checkout lane, saw the woman cashier, and crossing inside the distance of 6 feet and also not wearing a mask invited the woman to come to his church next Sunday because unlike so many other churches that continued to have online services, his church decided to reopen a few weeks ago. He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

A Muslim woman with a head covering and a mask, who was also shopping in the store, came to where the woman cashier was. But when she saw her and the way the people in front of her had treated the woman, she was moved with compassion. The Muslim woman stayed at least 6 feet away from the cashier, thanked her for her help, and wiped the credit card reader with disinfectant after using it. Then she noticed that the mask the woman cashier was using was rather tattered and did not fit her well, so she placed the groceries in her basket and told the cashier that she had something in her car for her. In the next few minutes, the Muslim woman returned into the store with box of new masks and gave them to the cashier, thanking her again for her help in allowing her to come and purchase food for her family.

What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the woman?

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Pandemic Beatitudes

Blessed are the mask wearers, for they help keep persons of sacred worth from dying alone and scared, separated from family and friends.

Blessed are those who care for the sick and comfort the dying, for they are the presence of Beloved Community.

Blessed are those who mourn the dead rather than minimize their death, for they will retain their humanity.

Blessed are the scientists searching for treatments and vaccines, for they are bearers of hope.

Blessed are the food providers for those who can and cannot pay, for they are sustainers of life.

Blessed are those who keep their distance, for they allow our beloved ones to remain close.

Blessed are those who refuse to profit unjustly from the pandemic, for they bear witness to justice and common decency.

Blessed are employers who keep workers safe, for they value life over profit.

Blessed are leaders who make compassionate decisions based upon knowledge and evidence, for they forge a wise path.

Blessed are the truth tellers, for they provide the best information possible to keep all of us safe.

Blessed are those who do not use the pandemic to divide us, for they work for the common good of all.

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