Contending with Catastrophe: Expressions of 2020

By Alan Minsky

I was writing an e-mail late Friday afternoon when I noticed that my phone kept bouncing, signaling a barrage of incoming texts.  

Hmmm? I wondered what that could be, but didn't give it much mind - probably just my buddies going on about their fantasy sports teams.  Then, my phone rang. It was my sister. Uh-oh. My mother hasn't been well.

I picked up. "How's everything?" I asked

"Not well" my sister responded. My heart jumped.

"Is Mom OK?"

"Oh. Yes. She's fine, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg died."

My heart didn't settle down.

Don't misunderstand me. Along with my daughter, I love my mother more than anyone else in the world. If I do live long enough to receive dreadful news about my mother, my response will be more pronounced than on Friday night. 

Still, to use my own nervous system as a social weather vane, the fact that I responded with a physical response to news of Ginsburg's death told me all I needed to know. We were in deep trouble before, we're in Code Red territory now...

I'm privileged these days to be in a leadership position in an influential national political organization, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). With that privilege comes responsibility. I knew I'd have to pull it together and put out a statement. I sat down and knocked one out, and posted it on our website and social media:

PDA's official statement on the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Today, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the greatest figures in the history American jurisprudence, died at age 87. Progressive Democrats of America honors her life and will do everything possible to preserve and extend her legacy.

In the coming days PDA will work with all of its allies to devise a strategy to block any appointment to the U S Supreme Court until after the next Congress is seated; and the next President inaugurated.

I was happy with what I wrote, that I had come up with words that pointed towards a constructive path forward - but that didn't calm the tremble inside me....

I woke up on Saturday morning in a different mood. From the time I opened my eyes, I was reflecting on Ginsburg's death and the political insanity that we'll all be living through these next few months - only now I wasn't overtaken by fear, but by gallows humor.

My daughter is learning pre-algebra these days. So, homework time is full of equations with variables, parentheses, exponents, and annoying word problems.

As I lay in bed, I began to imagine an equation for 2020.

I came up with three variations (sorta like an out-of-tune Bach).

First up, the most complex formulation, which incorporates all of the key components. It would look something like this:

(Pandemic + (Megafires + Suffocating Heat) x (Hurricanes + Superstorms)) x (economic catastrophe x racist backlash) x Trump + a crazy-making struggle against dishonest political adversaries over any possibility of justice in our lifetime / Popular Uprising - Despondency = 2020

A simpler, second variation (albeit with hope excised) would look like this:

(Chaos  x Calamity)^ / Despair = 2020     (where ^=n)

The final rendition:

Book of Job = 2020   (with humanity in the lead role)

I got out of bed, drank a cup of coffee, and was ready for the struggle ahead.

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