The Sunday Driver, S1,E4: Rules and the Road

(Originally published 8-3-20)

Good Sunday Afternoon. We hope all is reasonably well out there. Two Sunday’s ago found us in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, while last Sunday was spent in the sadly forsaken village of Toivola. This accounts for the interruption in service, and for that I am sorry, though some readers may not be.

Moving as we must to the numbers, they continue going the wrong way. The US now shows 4,765,127 total Covid-19 cases, 157,910 deaths and 2,244,069 active cases, meaning that nearly one-half of all US cases are folks presently sick and at risk of death. So we have now lost more Americans than all the war dead of two Vietnam’s and a Korea, with patients expiring at a pace of one per minute.

In Michigan, there are currently 82,356 total confirmed cases, 6,206 total deaths, 735 new daily cases as of yesterday and 7 new deaths. Responding to this marked uptick in daily cases, Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who’s gotten great health policy marks from real scientists (not “America’s Frontline Doctors”), was forced to reimpose rational restrictions on the public. And predictably, the same folks whose ignorance caused the uptick are bellyaching all over again.

So let’s head North.

Crossing the Straights
My earliest personal travel memory is of a 1966 sojourn to the Upper Peninsula. An avid reader of the AAA magazine, my Mom planned our vacations, and with a grumbling Dad at the wheel, we ventured north to behold the relatively new marvel that was the Mackinac Bridge, and its namesake historic island. The image of this span, especially when illuminated in the evening, is a thought picture never far from my mind. It would then make sense that I would fall painfully in love with a woman born and raised on the other side of that bridge a lifetime later.

In ‘66 my family lodged at the Thunderbird Motor Inn on US 2 in St. Ignace, as my Pa, raised during the depression, and tempered by war and a hard and bitter peace, would never spring for a “pricey” room on the island. We ferried over, took in the sights, and I was duly impressed by the cannon and Paul Revere and the Raiders outfits worn inside the fort.

We also made a day trip to that other UP engineering marvel, the Soo Locks, though its ingenuity was lost on my three-year-old mind. 13 years after that trip, I would take a series of buses all the way to the Sault, cross over to Canada, and head by rail to the Agawa Canyon for backpacking. On the return, I spent a soggy night on the American side, miserable in a soaked sleeping bag, laying on a picnic table in the dark, pissing rain, gazing at the straights.

It was on that 1979 voyage that I spotted the historic Hotel Ojibway, and 41 years later, that is exactly where Valkie and I just laid our heads, and I managed to learn a couple of things. First, the American Sault was actually in British hands until 1814, at which time the Brits were chased back across the straights, and the US banned all British and French trappers and traders from doing any business on the American side in an early show of idiotic nativism. Which helps explain why the Canadian Sault, with 80,000 residents, thrives relative to its Yankee counterpart, which has 15,000 citizens and few prospects other than befuddled tourists coming for an anti-climactic hour at the locks.

The second thing? Unlike the Kid-Rock, Ted Nugent and Louie Gohmert wannabees in Detroit’s suburbs, Yoopers, being generally practical, decent and unselfish folk, appear far more mask-obedient than down-staters. Which offers up a second handy segue.

Ours is a Rules-based Society
Notwithstanding occasional accusations to the contrary, and some vignettes from my younger days, I am neither a hedonist, anarchist, nor communist. In fact, I am now often heard reciting to my son(s) as follows: “ours is a rules-based society. If most of us follow most of the rules most of the time, most everything will turn out alright, and we might just die peacefully of old age in our own beds, with pictures of great-grand-kids smiling at us from the nightstand.”

I also sometimes refer to the concept as “the yellow stripe of paint,” as in the only thing keeping speeding vehicles from smashing head-long into each other is rule-obedience, passable eyesight and human decency. What keeps the Mighty Mac from failing beneath any of the 11,600 cars which cross it every day? Rules. What keeps the Soo Locks from crumbling in a crush of earth, Superior water, steel hulls and humanity during any one of the 7,000 passages each year? Rules.

And why must a majority of eligible voters rid the nation of the most treacherous, incompetent and craven President* in US history? Rules. Rules are not infallible; you can adhere to them, and shit can still go sideways, but they are there for a reason. Canadian space hero Commander Chris Hadfield sums up his approach this way: “An astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut . . . What’s the next thing that could kill me?”

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently spoke to rules when he outlined five essential steps to again flatten the current surging Covid numbers: wear a mask; stop congregating indoors; avoid crowds; limit indoor restaurant seating; prioritize personal hygiene.

And in the context of the United States Constitution, Donald Trump wrote a brand-new rule this past week when he said “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Indeed, the man so many wanted in office to “shake things up” has suggested tearing up constitutional and statutory rules that have been consistently obeyed through wars, depressions, and upheavals for the past 58 presidential elections, over the course of 232 years. With one tweet among thousands, Trump encapsulated his raison d’etre and flippantly dismissed the most sacrosanct rule for which every casualty in every American war shed their blood.

Ultimately, the top rule around these parts is our best efforts at adherence to the truth; in court, in business, in family, in life, the truth, no matter how painful, is the north star for any orderly and just society. It is rule number ONE. And according to credible fact-checkers, Trump has uttered exactly 20,055 false or misleading statements in office as of July 9. Throw in the fact that Trump’s pandemic response team appears to have pumped the brakes to purposefully kill more blue-state voters, and we can add crimes against humanity to any honest list of grievances against this “administration.”

Summing up the rules portion of our motoring conversation, with the nation in the throes of a deadly pandemic, economic devastation, racial strife, and hewing toward totalitarian tendencies, how on earth can we seriously believe that a man who lies to our very face 26 times a day is the right steward to clean up the devastation he himself created? It is the very definition of insanity, which is a fine segue to our mercifully final third of this motor trip.

The Three Buckets
The RCP polling average at the end of July has Joe Biden up 7.4 points, a number likely to grow once this week’s dismal GDP figures and Trump’s latest performance art are baked in with the coming days. And in the vital battleground states, Biden is up by an average of five points: WI–Biden +5; NC–Biden +4; FL–Biden +6.2(!); PA–Biden +6; MI–Biden +7.8; AZ–Biden +3.7.

So while we’re on the subject of things getting baked in, these numbers are holding quite firmly, which explains the tiny distance finally growing between Trump and the once-mighty if cynical GOP, and Trump’s spasms which may turn to death rattles soon enough.

And yet there are still legions of the faithful; in Michigan, Trump still commands the loyalty of an average 41.5 percent of likely voters. How is this possible? I humbly submit that at this late stage in the disease process, Trump fans can be placed into one of three buckets: the Cult-45’s, transactional cynics and false equivalence folks.

The Cult-45’s are the most in need of medical attention. These people believe in QAnon, WWG, OAN, InfoWars, the War on Christmas, the manifest evil that is George Soros and a host of other steaming bullshit conspiracies and childish nonsense that should rightfully land them in an observation unit for their own safety. Unreachable, irredeemable and pathetic, they are best ignored and pitied. Nancy Pelosi prays for them.

The next group, transactional cynics, got the shout-out in Trump’s incessant pre-Covid boast of “how’s your 401k?” These folks don’t get overly concerned with who gets hurt or how, as long as it’s no one they care personally about, and they continue doing well financially. They seem to forget that 45 percent of Americans do not own stock, 43 percent don’t have $400 for an emergency, 50 percent of us make less than $40,000 per year, and half of that percentage earn less than 20k. Given the anemic GDP numbers this week and the higher ed most of these folks have, this group is growing softer on Trump with every poll; we’ll take what we can get.

The last grouping, false equivalence folks, may be the most frustrating. They mostly pay attention, read and watch various outlets, engage and joust, but routinely violate the rules of argument, and start nearly every response to a factoid unflattering to Trump with something akin to “but her emails.” It is an identifiable type of cognitive bias or flawed reasoning style in which two things of entirely asymmetrical intellectual value or truthfulness have identical weight in one’s analysis. The 2016 presidential election was characterized as “picking the lesser of two evils” notwithstanding that Politi-fact found 71 percent of Trump’s stump statements false and 72 percent of Clinton’s true. To say nothing of the fact that one candidate had decades of service in and around government, and the other was a six-time bankrupt. This tendency informs absurdly endless debates about vaccines, climate change, criminal and social justice, the very shape of the earth, and every ugly transgression of Trump and the GOP being defended with the words “George Soros.”

By way of example, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) recently made a stir by claiming that slavery in the US and the ascension of Nazis in Germany were “necessary evils.” When he was roundly criticized, defenders pointed to his military service, as if this was even relevant to such an indefensible statement. So what to do? “Call it out when you see it,” says Dr. Stefanie Sarkas, Ph.D. “Distance yourself from the source of the false equivalence. The more we educate others about this cognitive bias, and hold those who use false equivalence accountable, the less impact it may make on an unsuspecting public.”

Perhaps when Trump’s number of daily lies finally approximates the number of daily Covid deaths, all three buckets of folks will snap out of it. Meanwhile, keep the shiny side up, dirty side down, stay on your side of the paint and we’ll see y’all again real soon.

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.