The Sunday Driver, S2, E2: A Deadly Game of Inches

A Good, chilly Monday Afternoon to all. In honor of the Father of our Country, and the Rail-splitter himself, and as courts, banks and some minds are closed in observance of Presidents’ Day, we will take our Sunday drive on Monday.

Looking down at our gauges, there has been some measurable improvement in the national health, but so long as even one person is suffering and in peril, all our efforts at remediation should continue with vigor. As of this writing, the US has reported 28,261,470 total Covid-19 cases, 64,297 newly sick, 497,174 cumulative souls lost, and 1,111 folks sadly passed yesterday. The “good” number is the one for new cases; when we last visited, new daily cases were up near a quarter-million.

Here in the Mitten, we have endured 574,224 total reported cases, 15,150 cumulative lost souls, 852 newly reported cases and 88 loved ones lost on one day, including an update based on public records.

Despite this mildly hopeful news, there are fresh new inches of snow on the ground here in Greater Fort Detroit, the mercury’s in the teens, and driving, like anything else in this life, is a deadly game of inches. So let’s roll.

Just Dumb Luck

Now and again it is constructive to thank our stars that we’re even alive. In the big picture, without any orbit, our Earth would likely go crashing directly into the Sun. The smart set in their lab-coats tell us this is due to our planet’s path through the solar system; our routing prevents us from being pulled into the Sun. Even when our car is in park, we, and our planet move around the Sun at a crisp 18.5 miles per second. We are constantly falling toward the Sun, but moving too fast to actually reach it. All that would change pretty fast if the orbit stopped, burning up the planet and everything on it.

Even a proportionally tiny shift in Earth’s orbit would greatly affect the planet’s temperature. A few inches closer to the Sun, and the glaciers melt, raising sea levels and flooding most of the planet. Then, without land to absorb some of the Sun’s heat, temperatures on Earth would continue to rise, turning Earth into a boiling pot of water waiting for the mac & cheese.

Conversely, a shift in the orbit moving Earth further from the Sun would cool and potentially freeze the planet. Oceans would be covered in ice, causing them to release less carbon dioxide and vapor. That’s not to mention the effect that a shift in Earth’s orbit would have on the rest of the solar system. Even a minor change in our path around the Sun could cause planets to collide. It also could throw off Earth’s delicate positioning with Jupiter, the largest of the planets, which acts as a shield of sorts, deflecting harmful gases and asteroids that might otherwise be bound for our happy homes. Indeed, for all of 4.54 billion years, our Earth has been playing a deadly game of inches.

As it is in heaven, so it is also on Earth. Like a fair number of surviving, middle-aged American males, I have torn through the benefit of my nine lives since early childhood, in a saga of sutures and stupidity. My two earliest near-misses occurred on the steep driveway to our familial home when I was under five. In the first, the family was set to dine at the Westerner Beef Buffet (this is now known as Beau’s), and as Grandpa Cook was taking way too long to ready himself, I climbed into Dad’s Bonneville, took the car out of “park” and began rolling backward toward the street. How Dad stopped the Pontiac and got it back in gear from outside the car is still a mystery.

On that same driveway, I began my storied career of closed-head injuries when I rolled backward on my pedal-tractor, hit the lump over the culvert like Evel Knievel and landed on my head. The second such ICD-10-CM (Diagnosis Code S09.90XA if you’re billing at home) was sustained on a Victorian rocking chair; the third resulted from a mishap with a rope and pulley fabrication of my own design.

These gashes, slashes, smashes and sutures continued unabated into young adulthood. In 1973, while swinging from rafters in a house under construction, I fell a couple of stories and broke a wrist. Unimpressed by the injury, Dad let me sleep on it ‘till the next day. In 1976 my friend Lloyd and I decided to make a midnight-run to Howard Johnson’s on our bikes for french fries. During the ride home, we lined up just like cars at Maple and Telegraph, and when the light turned green we took off westbound. Then Lloyd screamed “lookout!” and I turned into the path of an unsuspecting old lady in a Plymouth. When I crawled out from under her car, I was initially more concerned about my Schwinn and missing comb, until the cascade of blood came over my eyes and mouth.

Some kindly fellows who’d been playing Frisbee across the way drove me to St. Joseph’s in Pontiac while I bled all over the white interior of their Trans Am as they raced up the street at 90 mph, a speed they seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Before sunup, I logged about 200 more stitches.

While my hapless ER-career continued even past my run-in with the Plymouth, I wasn’t the only one. I watched Rob Beaubien jump up and down on the roof of our favorite abandoned barn until he went clean through. I watched Chris Jameson toy with an acetylene tank and matches at a construction site until it ignited with a flash and a “whump,” summoning much attention and the fire department. I watched more than one neighbor kid break their collar-bone in the three-story wooden go-cart my big brother and his pals built from scratch, a delightful neighborhood episode that ended with a group of angry Dads burning that menace down to the wheels. And I watched Scotty Hemrick catch his necktie in the grinder during shop class.

You see, this leg of the trip is intended to underscore both how precious life is, and how we are all playing a deadly game of inches. And that it is only the grace of God and our own dumb luck separating each of us and our loved ones from mortal disaster. In our less lucid moments, we can and will cause harm to ourselves and others, create worry for our families, and displace valuable medical and public-safety resources all for the sake of our stupidity. And such was the stupidity of the Capitol insurrectionists, four of whom perished as monuments to dumb-fuckery that day.

A deadly game of inches from the Sun, inches on the roadway, inches in social distance, and those few inches of sheer chance between public servants doing their jobs, or committing unforgivable derelictions of duty.

Ten US Senators, or 660 inches

This past Saturday, the Senate acquitted the F-POTUS, Donald Trump, by a vote of 57 to 43. In the words of Steve Peoples from the Associated Press, “On Jan. 6, he sent his followers down that street to the Capitol, where they committed their mayhem . . . The GOP privately flirted with purging the norm-shattering former president after he incited a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last month. But in the end, only seven of 50 Senate Republicans voted to convict Trump in his historic second impeachment trial . . . .”

Summing up nicely, Peoples went on to say “Ultimately, the resolution of the impeachment trial brings into clear relief a divide in the GOP that party leaders, donors and voters will have to navigate as they try to regain control of Congress next year and aim to retake the White House in 2024.”

Indeed, despite a mountain of evidence towering in plain view, despite the uniqueness of having jurors as witnesses, despite Senators Cruz, Graham, Lee, et al huddling with and assisting one of the worst defense attorney teams this writer has ever seen, one Donald J. Trump, the worst president* in US history, got a pathological pass. Again.

The good news? We don’t need to second-guess this thing to death. The Democratic impeachment managers put in a strong performance, stayed focused and in all likelihood won over most Americans. They just didn’t win the trial. In a recent Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters, 71 percent of Americans believe Trump was at least “partially” responsible for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol, and 30 percent thought him fully responsible.

But further polling from last month tells the inside story. A Gallup poll from late January reported that Trump’s approval among self-described Republicans still stood at 82 percent, and even more recently, Monmouth University found that 72 percent of Republicans continue to believe Trump’s false claims that President Joe Biden only won the November election because of widespread voter fraud. So while most modern GOP pols are awful at ethics, veracity and philosophy, they are generally great with math, so much so that they voted with Trump’s ardent base. Even if it fits, you must acquit.

The critical inflection point in the trial was of course Sen. Mitch McConnell’s premature announcement of his vote to acquit prior to the close of the case. Once that mangy cat, or smelly turtle, was out of the bag, we knew conviction was not in the offing. Indeed, I believe Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and his team elected to forgo live testimony Saturday in the service of legislative mileage for Team Biden, and the nation at large.

Playing it too cute by half, after signaling an acquittal which would bring the vast bulk of his caucus with him, McConnell excoriated Trump and played to the donor base he hopes to reactivate to the GOP’s benefit. “The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise . . . (Trump) seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.” McConnell slyly continued, “We know that he was watching the same live television as the rest of us. A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name . . . The president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job.” Talk about having it both ways.

Going so far as to intimate and encourage possible criminal and civil consequences for Trump’s perfidy, McConnell was trying to shoot a longer game than the red-hots in his conference. Given that most corporate and smart money for the GOP dried up shortly after the insurrection, McConnell was playing to the balcony, and not the cheap seats. He was notably joined in this cynical exercise by former UN Ambassador and presidential-hopeful Nikki Haley, among a few select others, who opined “He’s (Trump) fallen so far . . . He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.” 2024, if you’re listening . . . .

There are in fact some genuine, if tragic, heroes in this fable. The above-noted Raskin, still smarting from the death of a child, and his entire team deserve gratitude and respect. And Senators Burr, Cassidy, Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse and Toomey largely appeared to vote with their collective conscience. Just too little and too late.

Sarah Longwell, a GOP strategist who leads the anti-Trump group known as Defending Democracy Together, said that “what the last two months have shown is if Donald Trump was a cancer on the country and the party, he’s metastasized . . . I thought we could push past him,” she continued, “But now I don’t think that.” As censures drop like hailstones on the above seven senators today, it appears she’s quite correct.

While Trump remains the 800-pound, indolent orange gorilla in the room, we should be thankful that, commencing with vote-counting last November, the deadliest electoral game of inches was won by the decent folk of the land. Had Gov. Ducey (R-AZ), or Sec. Raffensperger (R-GA; not the Steelers quarterback), countless local officials, dozens of state and federal jurists or five Justices of the Supreme Court leaned a different way in their chairs, we would be conducting an entirely different conversation today. Possibly from a frigid reeducation camp.

Put it in Drive

So, peering through the windshield, what’s out on the horizon for us? Rolling away from the near-wreck, Pres. Biden stated “this sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile . . . each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.” The POTUS added “It’s a task we must undertake together. As the United States of America.”

Biden made a very strong point in not watching the trial live, choosing to comment only briefly on the stunning images of the riot that gripped the nation. And the White House publicly suggested that the trial did not hinder their agenda, despite some aides’ private anxiety. Post-acquittal energy now turns to the Senate again, and passage of the massive COVID-19 relief bill, a $1.9 trillion proposal that comprises just the first wave of a sweeping legislative agenda Biden hopes to achieve.

“The No. 1 priority for Democrats and the Biden administration is going to be to deliver on the promises that have been made on the pandemic, both on the vaccine front and the economic front,” said Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin. During the trial, Biden’s own team kept the wheels turning, including an update on vaccine development and his first visit to the Pentagon as commander-in-chief. With the proceedings on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue now in rear-view, the White House has the road atlas out and courses plotted.

The President will take his first official domestic trips this week: a TV town hall in Wisconsin on Tuesday to talk to Americans impacted by the pandemic, and a trip to our own Kalamazoo to visit the Pfizer vaccine facility on Thursday. Scanning the treeline for more daylight, the US is currently vaccinating an average of 1.6 million patients per day, and the CDC has rolled out a plan to get 50 percent of the nation’s schools opened by May, give or take.

So then, notwithstanding multiple real and metaphorical closed-head injuries, constitutional vandalism, and a deadly pandemic claiming a half-million of us, we have somehow kept the republic Ben Franklin knew was as fragile as it is durable. The duty truly redounds to all of us. In this deadly game of inches, the better America is still in the lead.

For now.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.