Steve Patterson: A eulogy to three old friends

March 28th, 2020     Guest Authors




“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the TRUTH, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them to the real facts.” President Abraham Lincoln



I have attended far too many funerals lately. Seems like all my old friends are dying. Alas, that’s what happens when one reaches my age. We all start to lose old friends and beloved family members. Sometimes, they die. Sometimes, they move far away. And sometimes, time and circumstances just draw us apart.

For whatever reason, when we lose a friend, no matter how old we are, we lose a part of ourselves. Their memories are perhaps the best part of ourselves. For it is only through shared life experience that we become truly whole and complete. It is those shared life experiences that make us who and what we are. They provide the essential foundations of what is commonly called “character.“

I faithfully and regularly scour the obituary sections of newspapers all around the state, looking for the names of recently departed old friends. On the occasions when a name I recall appears, I’m always reminded of my association with them and inevitably reminisce about the laughter and sometimes the tears we shared; the victories we enjoyed and the defeats we were sometimes dealt. The memories of every old friend evoke a smile, a life lesson, a story.

Of late I’ve been anxiously searching for three old friends I haven’t seen or heard much from in the last few years. Perhaps you know them, too? Their names are; TRUTH, COMPETENCE, and COURAGE. I honestly don’t think they are dead and forever gone, I just haven’t heard from them lately. They are hard to locate. Perhaps they have been on an extended vacation? Perhaps they still live among us in disguise or camouflage, hard to detect? I find no evidence of their death in the obituaries. Whatever happened to them?

These three characters were once the unquestioned stars of public service. News broadcasts featured them every day. Time Magazine put them on their covers regularly. Business success, big and small, was once totally dependent upon them. School children studied them. Pulpits echoed their virtues every Sunday. All our institutions were once dependent on these old friends.

Where did they go? Perhaps they are not dead at all, but the “age of reason“ in which they flourished most certainly is!

We are living in perilous times. Menacing dangers surround us at every turn. We are faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the likes of which no living person has ever seen. The impact of climate change is manifesting itself in tangible ways daily. The world’s economies are teetering on disaster. And evil, bad actors that wish to sow chaos and destruction lurk all around.

This all presents a dire dilemma. Unless we locate our old friends; TRUTH, COMPETENCE, and COURAGE soon, our plight will only worsen.

TRUTH is seen so rarely these days, and lies are so well established and embedded into political discourse, we have to work hard daily and struggle to know the difference. Political rhetoric has descended into a deep gutter where lies overwhelm truth. Surely cute quips, witty barbs and sloganeering do not have superior value to TRUTH?

America has always held TRUTH in high regard. Our founding document listed a series of TRUTHS – “we hold these TRUTHS to be self evident.”

Our first President, George Washington was said to be incapable of telling a lie. Remember the childhood story of George Washington and the cherry tree? – – – “I cannot tell a lie!”

In the midst of the bloody War Between the States, Abraham Lincoln, gave TRUTH its due by declaring “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the TRUTH, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them to the real facts.”

“These three Characters were once the unquestioned stars of public service.”  –Steve Patterson
The current occupant of the White House, the leader of the free world, is said to have told 16,000 lies* and continues to lie daily. Up until now, many of these lies could be overlooked; they were merely exaggerations of facts. For instance, when he refers to himself as a “stable genius“,or, perhaps more alarmingly, as “the chosen one,“ it’s merely laughable and of little importance. But in these perilous times it’s deadly serious business.

At this writing, in the United States there are over 122,000 reported cases of Coronavirus and 1,200 deaths. It’s in every state in America and is growing at grievous rates daily. It’s time for TRUTH to show its face! Meantime, the stock market has dropped like Goliath did when little David hit him with that rock! Schools and colleges are closed, sports seasons are canceled, and internationally, over 662,000 people have been stricken and over 30,780 have died.** 19 states are under “shelter in place“ orders. Where good leadership is in place, more are sure to come.

Those are the grim facts. But the unbelievable, fact-resistant view coming from the White House and the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion is startlingly different.

Maybe, you’ve heard recent Medal of Freedom recipient and trump sycophant, Rush Limbaugh, rant that the virus that has galvanized doctors, scientists, and health care professionals around the world is “nothing more than a common cold“ weaponized to defeat president Trump. Shame on you, Mr. Limbaugh! Have you no shame! People are dying!

And perhaps you’ve seen Florida representative and Trump acolyte Matt Goetz, mock the seriousness of the threat of the virus by wearing a gas mask in the capitol. Ironically, he is now under self-imposed quarantine because of exposure to the virus.

All the while the President does what he always does. Unlike George Washington he cannot tell the TRUTH!

He said “it’s a hoax“ designed to defeat him in November. It is not.

He said “a vaccine will be available in a few months.” It will not.

He said “anyone who needs a test can get one.” They can’t.

He said that the world health organization gave a false number in predicting a mortality rate of 3.4%. What evidence did he present to attack the most respected public health organization in the world? He said he “had a hunch.” I no longer, frankly I never did, trust his “hunches.”

And earlier this week he said he hoped to open up the country to business as usual by Easter Sunday. What kind of Pollyannaish spin is this? That’s a policy prescription that endangers thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of vulnerable citizens. I guess the President is willing to give up my generation and older generations as his sacrifice for Lent?

Mr. President, this is not “fake news.” It is TRUTH, and you would do yourself and the people you serve well to familiarize yourself with this reliable old friend.

Meanwhile, the buffoon who temporarily occupies the Mississippi Governor’s mansion has established a new standard for bad public policy. Our state is the poorest state in the nation, rendering us the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis. Recent academic studies reveal us to be the least prepared state in the country to deal with such a public health crisis. Furthermore, the response from our governor has been deemed by public health professionals to be the poorest and least aggressive of all the states!  The rate of infection in Mississippi is ranked 12th of all the states per capita. Our neighbor to the west, Louisiana, has the highest rate of increased infections in the entire world. Presently 663 infected Mississippians have been diagnosed and 13 have died. And our governor does less than nothing.***

In fact, he originally signed orders prohibiting action taken by local officials who have told the TRUTH, been highly COMPETENT, and had the COURAGE to draft, sign and enforce ordinances designed to protect their citizens. Local officials, especially those in northeast Mississippi, have done an outstanding job and showed exemplary leadership. Now that the Governor has done an about face, confusion reigns. The clown show being provided by the Governor has made him the laughing stock of the country. My old friends, TRUTH, COMPETENCE, and COURAGE have not been seen around the Governor’s office, and I’ve got a feeling if they show up they will not be welcomed !

President Trump would be well served by following the example of and learning the lessons of public officials in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The Governor should follow the example of governors in Louisiana, New York, Michigan, Maryland, Idaho and others!

TRUTH is, both the United States and the state of Mississippi are losing the battle against the pandemic, with a patchwork of inconsistent measures across the country and across the state that are proving to be inadequate to the task of halting the virus.

So what will it take to change the course of the crisis? The answer is actually pretty simple: LEADERSHIP – vigilant, never ending Leadership! And what is required of leadership? You guessed it — TRUTH: Tell the people the TRUTH and they will respond, COMPETENCE: follow and understand the data and science, and COURAGE: do the the right thing, act boldly and do not fear the political fall out!

Winston Churchill saved the world from an evil ideology and wicked tyrannical monster. His first speech as the British Empire’s prime minister on May 13, 1940, signaled what the greatest leader of the twentieth century saw as his role in crisis management and revealed how he would lead the world to victory. What did he tell his people ? What did he tell the world?

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of suffering and struggle.”

That’s what real leadership sounds like! These are indeed perilous times. Leadership that is COMPETENT, and has the COURAGE to tell the TRUTH is the only way forward.

*Per the Washington Post fact checker, January 20, 2020

**Statistics in this paragraph are from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus  Covid-19 Global Tracker Project and from Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of March 28, 2020.

***Statistics in this paragraph from “Mississippi Today,” march 24, 2020 and Mississippi State Department of Health, as of March 28, 2020.

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