Hubris Has Always Been Humanity’s Worst Enemy

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” 

– Captain Edward J. Smith on the maiden voyage of the Adriatic in New York, 1907

I often wonder what went through Captain Smith’s mind as he stood on the bridge of his dying ship in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. The Titanic was the most advanced and opulent ship of its day, pronounced unsinkable by many. Yet it had been felled by an iceberg while on its maiden voyage. And Smith’s words, spoken with such bravado only half a decade earlier, like roosters coming home to roost, now seemed to mock him in his final moments of life.

More than a hundred years after its sinking, the Titanic stands as a testament to human hubris. Apologists insist even to this day that the disaster was a once in a century event, that all the elements had conspired against the crew and officers on that fateful voyage. There was no moon that night, the ocean was a flat calm and an unusually warm winter had resulted in the formation of a large number of icebergs that had drifted down along the Labrador Current and into the shipping lanes. The Titanic just happened to be in the right spot at the wrong time, they argued.

But the lack of a moon, the condition of the ocean and the mild winter were just excuses to cover up the worst case of negligence in maritime history. The simple truth is that if the captain had heeded any of the six ice warnings that his wireless operator had delivered to him and decided to either change course or slow down, the collision would never have occurred. And even if it had occurred, had there simply been a sufficient number of lifeboats for everyone on board, 1,500 people would not have frozen to death in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. It was the combination of Smith’s cockiness and the White Star Line’s arrogance, more than any act of mother nature, which proved to be the determining factor.

It is that way with all disasters, small or large. There is something embedded in each of us that blots out the mere suggestion of a titanic-like event besetting us. There’s no better example of this than the refusal of so many people to even discuss the end of their own life. Imagine not being able to come to grips with the one event that not even the healthiest among us can prevent, yet millions of people each year die intestate, leaving their families to pay for the costs of their funeral and to sort out who gets what. Talk about denial.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the role China played in the Coronavirus. As more and more facts are revealed, it’s becoming evident that there was a lack of transparency on the part of the Chinese government. Even now, their refusal to close their wet markets poses a grave danger to the world. But like the iceberg that formed along the Labrador Current in the winter of 1912, China is not responsible for the lack of preparedness within the United States.

For almost two decades medical experts have been warning that a global pandemic was inevitable. Yet the Trump Administration not only ignored those warnings, it disbanded the pandemic response team within the White House. It also cut funding to the CDC by 20 percent from $7.2 billion to $5.7 billion. While the virus was spreading like wildfire throughout China, Trump himself downplayed the threat it posed to the nation, at one point calling it a hoax. And while it’s true that at the end of January he banned all flights into and out of China, he waited an additional six weeks before imposing a similar ban on European flights. By that time, countless people had already traveled back and forth between the two continents. Many of them became infected and eventually spread the virus in states like New York, which is now the epicenter of this pandemic.

Instead of taking measures that would’ve allowed the federal government to respond to the virus, such as ramping up testing, Trump insisted the virus would ” disappear like a miracle” by the Spring. But instead of disappearing, it grew exponentially, which is what all pandemics do. It was only decisive intervention at the state level that prevented a worst-case scenario from occurring. Even now those states are not only dealing with the consequences of an administration that has been missing in action, they have been forced to contend with Trump’s sycophants who are protesting the “tyranny” of being told to stay at home to stop the spread of infection.

Imagine if after colliding with the iceberg and being told his ship was going to founder, Captain Smith had refused to muster the passengers and lower the lifeboats into the water, and instead had decided to resume course. What do you suppose the death toll would’ve been then? That is precisely what this president has been doing for the last three months. His refusal to take the pandemic seriously was bad enough, but then he added insult to injury by thwarting the efforts of the governors who are trying to save as many lives as possible. So inept has the federal response been that Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, was forced to purchase 500,000 test kits from South Korea.

But Trump’s malfeasance doesn’t simply end at the White House gates. He has enlisted the aid of his attorney general, William Barr, who has let it be known that he will direct the Department of Justice to take legal action against certain states that have enacted what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shelter in place orders. Keeping people alive, it seems, is now a violation of one’s personal liberty. If you get the chance, please watch Anderson Cooper’s interview with the mayor of Las Vegas. For those of who thought Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann were out to lunch, Carolyn Goodman has a message for you: Hold My Beer!

This is what we are dealing with. A sociopath for a president whose only concern is how all this will affect his reelection prospects and a bunch of crazy people who are willing to go over the cliff to defend him. There are days I literally have to pinch myself because I can’t believe this is happening in the United States. This man’s recklessness has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans, and he and his apologists have blamed everyone from China to the WHO to Obama to Democrats to, I suppose next, the man in the fucking moon. Speaking of the WHO, Trump has decided to cut off its funding because of – you’re gonna love this – the mistakes IT’S made. Irony abounds.

There is, I suppose, one difference between Trump and Captain Smith. Smith at least had the capacity to reflect upon his actions and no doubt made his peace with God as he went down with his ship. This president has no such capacity for self reflection, nor desire to take responsibility. He only cares about one thing: himself. Like the chairman of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, who made his way to the safety of a lifeboat, Trump will do whatever it takes to save his miserable hide, even if it means the sacrifice of innocent lives. In the end, he will have about as much empathy for them as the rats who fled that ill-fated ocean liner over a century ago had for their fellow occupants.


Author: Peter Fegan

Progressive but pragmatic. Lover of music, die-hard Giants' fan and reluctant Mets' fan. My favorite motto? I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian.

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