Letter to a friend in Seattle as Election Day approaches

hello, John

Thanks for your latest message, your thoughts and experiences as the plague year progresses.

Yes, sadly Europe is in the midst of a full-blown second wave.  Here in Belgium, and more particularly in Brussels, we are experiencing some of the Continent’s worst infection and hospitalization rates. Daily deaths remain a lagging indicator but are still ten times what they were in July.

As in the States, each of the three regions in this country imposes its own restrictions to deal with the problem. Yesterday the Brussels-Capital Region where we live imposed a 10pm to 6am curfew, ordered all stores to shut at 8pm, closed all museums, theaters and betting parlors (!), closed all sports clubs and amateur sporting events (professional football still going strong but in audience-less stadiums).  All restaurants and bars were closed for a month earlier in the week.

How does all this affect us?  Not really.  We were not among the partying and careless youth. We were among the crazed with fear overwhelming majority of adults who to a man or woman is now wearing masks, who try to enter and leave the tram by pushing the door opening button with their elbows, who make a big arc around one another on the sidewalks and engage in other silly, bizarre acts of self-protection.

As one big skull and crossbones going into the All-Saints Day holiday (no Holloween community rounds this year) in the past week we all read with horror that our acting prime minister who stepped down two weeks ago to become foreign minister when a proper cabinet enjoying confidence of Parliament was installed, our dear Sophie, aged 46 and with no known underlying health problems, is now in Intensive Care with Covid. Caught in the family, she supposes.  Fingers crossed that she gets out alive.

As I may have mentioned to you, we turned in our 14 year old Toyota back in March when lockdown hit, there was nowhere to go, and we decided to cut our unnecessary expenses, which were very heavy for a car that was used only to do 4,000 miles a year for more than a decade.    So we were carless!  The first step to restoring mobility was my purchase of a folding bike. Haven’t folded it up yet, because it sits in our front vestibule and I take it our 5 times a week to do heavy service – a15 mile circuit out to the forest bike lanes and back.   Then several weeks ago we discovered Zen, an hourly car rental company all done via an app on your smart phone.  And, surprise of surprises, the cars are all electric.  It has been a great pleasure to find the Renault and the BMW cars I have rented from them to be peppy, with excellent steering and braking properties, as well as the usual creature comforts you associate with BMW.  So, despite myself, I have truly gone Green.

Yes, the election day is approaching.  I imagine that you, like all civilized Americans have cast your vote for Uncle Joe and the Dems.   I have become a more consistent contrarian and voted by mail for The Donald, much as I detest him.  You, like 99% of Americans are surely focused on domestic policies where Donald is Satan incarnate.  I, living abroad, am scarcely affected by what the US does with healthcare, abortion, LGBTQ rights and the environment, whereas I am professionally and personally involved in foreign policy up to my neck.  And in that one domain, Uncle Joe is an ugly American Imperialist who would never get my vote. 

Of course, my Donald vote in New York changes nothing. And even that vote is cancelled in our family by our daughter’s vote for Biden.  Larisa sagely decided ‘a plague on both their houses’ and isn’t voting.

Finally, with regard to the plague:  Donald was very right when he said in the last debate that or was it in an interview just prior to the debate that “a lot of very smart people around the world are running countries which are not doing better than here in the USA.”  Sad but perfectly true. 

In a comparative sense, all of the West has gone down hard from Covid while the much more regimented East has done remarkably well.  I think of Schoenberg’s opera “Moses and Aaron” which highlights the dilemma of leadership, namely that the smartest leader cannot get too far out in front of his people or things go awry. They start worshipping the Golden Calf, whatever Moses says.   And I think also of an interview that Italian Prime Minister Conti gave to the BBC during the summer, when the Covid was at an ebb. Asked if he regretted how he managed the crisis in Lombardy back in March, when Italy became the epicenter of the crisis and lost more than 30,000 citizens in a matter of weeks.  Conti said yes and no.  “Had I imposed full lockdown then, everyone would have said Conti has gone mad.” Yes, he would have been deposed.  The people were not ready for hardship till 30,000 innocents were dead.   And so a Biden presidency would not have produced better outcomes in the States.  Still you have lower death to population ratios than here in Europe despite all the missteps and stupidities that you see all around you.

So, let’s continue to take what pleasure there is in the human comedy. Larisa and I have been drinking up more champagne than usual and have been quaffing all of the remaining 1996 and 1998 bottles of Bordeaux in the basement.  You can’t take it with you!

all the best – and good cheer

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 

[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]