No Vaccine For Me, Please

So now we wait for the unintended consequences. Now that the US CDC has removed the requirement for masking in most situations for those who are fully vaccinated (or vacciminatedified as my elder son says), what can we expect to see going forward? First off, those governors including our own in West Virginia will be under extreme pressure to remove any masking mandates. This has already taken place in West Virginia as of May 15. Second, we can expect non-governmental groups like my church bureaucracy to relinquish their limits on in-person services (and perhaps on singing in church as well).

But the primary consequence is that there will be a low level of severe coronavirus continuing to circulate through the population since the virus will still have plenty of unvaccinated people to attack as we go through the months and years to come. If you look at the Venn diagram of those who will not get vaccinated, and those who have resisted masking, you will see a very good overlap. So those who have not been vaccinated will not follow any guidelines from the government. As those of us who have taken the jabs celebrate our freedom from the limitations imposed by the response to the virus, we must be aware that there is no visible sign to mark the vaccinated from those who are not. Since the vaccine was supposed to be the mark of the beast, I figured there would be some visible means to distinguish those who are protected from those who are not. Alas, that is not the case.

We must all be aware that even though we in the US are fortunate enough to see falling case rates, our health system will continue to see a large number of virus patients filling our hospitals. The stressed health professionals will not be able to totally abandon pandemic status, but the reduced levels we will see will likely mean our health care system won’t be overwhelmed.

That is obviously not the case across the globe. One needs only to look at the severe effects of the virus surge in India in order to understand this is a global fight, and no one is really safe until all people have the chance for immunization. Eventually the uncontrolled spread in many countries will result in a viral mutation that will evade the existing immune response from vaccination. So we have a selfish interest in preventing the scenes of suffering we see as images from India are seen on our media.

But I fear it will be nigh unto impossible to disabuse those who insist that this vaccine is evil, and a part of the New World Order mission to depopulate the earth, and we are only waiting until the 5G signal comes that activates the self-destruct mechanism we’ve had injected into ourselves. As has been said, you can’t fix stupid. And what’s worse is that so many folks are willingly adopting these ludicrous beliefs because they’ve been persuaded by the constant drumbeat of the media of the right.

Look, the right loves to bewail the perceived intolerance of the left. Well, this partisan of the left is open, and has gone so far as to read an extensive link about gain of function research conducted at the Wuhan virology lab and sponsored by that paragon of evil, Anthony Fauci. This was a link provided by my younger son, who has been vaccinated but is also deeply suspicious of China.

I will say we do need to find the animal reservoir for this virus, else the description in the link will be more likely to describe the actual origin of the virus. Regardless of the actual source of the virus, it is apparent that the initial tendency of the Chinese government was to minimize the severity of the initial outbreak. That does not justify the ethnic sniggering conducted by US government officials who were only too willing to blame an entire ethnic group for this viral dissemination. It is the words of these government officials which emboldened so many US citizens to attack their brethren for appearing Asian. What those on the right do not want to admit is that their followers take their words literally and view actions they take in support of ill-advised words as justified both legally and morally. Cancel culture from the left can result in the loss of a job, and that loss is sometimes not justified. Cancel culture from the right can result in the loss of a limb, or a life. After all, extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And when one side defines what liberty is, extremism is often the result.

So we will emerge from the pandemic haphazardly. Some countries will see greatly decreased frequency and severity of infections. Others who may have escaped the ravages of the disease to date will find themselves overrun by later surges induced by more infectious variants. Meanwhile, the host country for the Olympics is questioning the worth of holding this event in the midst of an ongoing surge in cases. Given the expenses involved in hosting an Olympic game, it seems that there will be great reluctance for future cities to vie for the right to spend themselves into oblivion. Especially if this year’s games are canceled. Maybe that’s symbolic of how the world, which once was unified by athletic competition, is now unraveling due to the overwhelming trend towards provincialism sweeping over the nations of the earth. Much like the virus has swept over the earth, totally ignorant of the imaginary lines dividing the countries on the ground. Some realities just cannot be ignored.

Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine!

So we now in the US have more doses of vaccines available than we have people wanting to take said vaccines. In some states, available vaccination appointment times are being wasted as we run up against the recalcitrants who believe one or all of the following:

  • The virus is not a real threat, and is nothing to be concerned about
  • The vaccine was developed too quickly and horrible side effects will emerge over time
  • The vaccine contains tracking devices from Bill Gates equivalent to the Mark of the Beast
  • The Chinese are just waiting for enough vaccinations to occur before they unleash part 2 of this pandemic, resulting in depopulation. Only vaccine virgins will remain.
  • Doctors and hospitals are overstating the coronavirus toll since they have a financial incentive to call as many deaths as Covid-related as possible.

I have seen these mentioned on the internet as reasons for not taking the vaccine. It is amazing this degree of stupidity is prevalent but given the electoral history in the US in 2016, stupidity is capable of leading this nation.

Many of the issues I have seen involve the rapidity of vaccine development. Those who refuse inoculation do not understand that we have built the scientific understanding of mRNA, and we can now control its construction so it can be used instead of a killed virus particle aimed at generating immune system response. Instead of having to rely upon a vaccine that can sometimes actually cause the disease, they are scared of the latest advances in science where only the target system on the virus is attacked. People have expressed concerns about use of fetal derived cells in the culturing of the vaccine. Well, the mRNA vaccines do not use any living material at all so this cultural concern is now moot. But if folks really want a more conventional vaccine, the Johnson and Johnson version, and the Astra-Zeneca versions have a killed virus at their core. Just not the COVID virus. I’m not as familiar with the Russian and Chinese vaccines, so I cannot speak about them.

It is incredible how fast our knowledge has grown about genetics and manipulation of genetic components. Just 20 years ago I hung a poster up in my office showing the human genome. It’s only been 20 years ago since the human genome was sequenced, and that effort took over a year to complete. Now, the sequence for this virus was done and sent out to the world in a few days. This enabled scientists to design the genetic response attacking the virus, which resulted in an effective vaccine being developed in record time. The rest of the time was taken up with the clinical trials, which are a necessary step in the release of a vaccine. And indeed, the trials were held, although we do not know essential things like how long does the immune system stay protected. That’s because this virus only came about in the last year, and we’ve not had time to get long-term data on immunity.

There are those who proclaim their belief in God is all they need to protect themselves from germs. These folks would have fared well back in the middle ages with the bubonic plagues. I’d wager most of the folks who succumbed to the plague in bygone days were religious, and that did not save them at all. I just wish these folks would understand that we as humans were given the ability to understand nature, and it is a gift from God to have the knowledge to design new treatments for disease. It is not a refutation of your religious beliefs to accept this wondrous new gift enabled by our abilities provided by God. But then, I cannot comprehend how many believers in this nation were taken in by a charlatan who laughed at their religious devotion.

As I’ve said before, we have an opportunity to see evolution in action. Especially now, since it is the younger people who still can spread their genes to the world who are preferentially refusing to take the vaccines. If those who refuse to take the vaccine end up dying in larger numbers, then fewer of the next generation will have science denial as part of their genetic and cultural inheritance. It is a shame that we must take part in this experiment, because the fewer people who get immunity through vaccines, the more likely it is new variants will develop requiring a tweak to the vaccine, and subsequent booster shots. If we cannot convince folks to get a basic inoculation, then I expect much poorer compliance with subsequent boosters. But maybe it is part of the evolution of the human species causing preferential survival by those who believe in science, and those who are willing to accept the gifts coming from scientific progress.

What Happens Next?

Despair creeps in when hope is exhausted. For so many during this long pandemic season, despair has been a constant companion after the shock of the first few weeks passed. But now, along with the seasonal change, hope is returning. For some, the financial boost coming from the COVID relief package will enable them to hang on until the economy fully recovers, and they can go back to a service economy job that pays just enough to squeak by. For many others, the opportunity to abandon the prison of their home with the onslaught of vaccination, will bring back essential socialization and family interactions. Still, it is hope that is omnipresent in this time of rebirth in nature.

As a nation, we begin to crawl out of our foxholes and survey the landscape around us. Some things should come into focus, even if they were visible prior to the pandemic. Though visible, they did not register as urgent problems in the before times. Will we have the collective will to address these problems now? We will see. The COVID relief bill has taken a first step towards solving some of these problems. But it is time-limited relief, and its provisions are for only one or two years. The problems, like child poverty, have existed for far longer. It was only during the nadir of the pandemic that we realized how interconnected we all are, and how we need to solve the problems of our brothers and sisters in need, or we will be swept under the tide of humanity crying out for aid.

We had a foretaste of what can happen when we ignore these problems for too long. Demonstrations aimed at protesting excessive use of force by law enforcement, were coopted at night by those who favored direct action and anarchy. It is important to recognize that the demonstrations were instigated by acts of violence, but the economy was also a significant factor. When people do not see hope in their lives, despair can overwhelm them and it is a small step to violence. Of course, those who saw only the violence in the streets were convinced that the source of that violence was organized, and financed by an evil cabal. Then we saw what could happen when those who decried violence, decided to perpetrate violence themselves on January 6. Certainly we all were living in a state of despair at that time.

Will we learn our lessons? Will we let the siren song of substance abuse wrap its embrace of slithering tentacles around us? Will we continue to insist upon punitive actions only as the sole treatment method available to those who succumb to its fatal attraction? Will we realize that the costs of maintaining our prison complex are vastly greater than the costs of providing real treatment? That’s just one of the problems that existed long before the pandemic, yet shows up now in greater relief.

Will we be willing to invest in improved facilities for schools? In some states, the disparity between school facilities and achievement is immoral. The zip code you live in should not be the primary determinant of your educational outcome. Yet it is in far too many states. But of course it is the greedy teachers’ unions that are seen as the source of poor student performance.

Will we continue to accept that in the service economy we now have, it is not moral to allow those who look after the most vulnerable in our population to work full time for wages that do not provide enough money to live in dignity? We’ve lost many of the jobs we had in small towns, where a manufacturer could take those who did not pursue advanced education and provide them jobs where they could support a family. We may decry the global shift of labor and capital, but it will not reverse and provide those jobs in the future. Any manufacturing that returns, will use smaller amounts of labor, and require advanced education in order to control and maintain the machines that actually perform the manufacturing. We can wail and moan about this change, or we can accept it and try to fashion our real world into one where we’d like to live.

We’ve just gone through a period where we tried to squeeze out testosterone as a grease for our economy. Witness the frantic push to grab the last bit of fossil fuels out of the public lands. Because, you see, drilling for oil is manly. And we need that image of the roughneck out there in his domestic pickup, living his life out in the frontier towns of the Dakota’s, or among the tumbleweeds of Texas, showing the best of what America has to offer. Yes, doesn’t require much education to be a roughneck. Just what we need to Make America Great Again. But the investment required to keep the oil and gas flowing through the fracking fields won’t just keep coming, since it is nigh unto impossible to make money when the output from the wells declines so precipitously. So will we turn from the allure of fossil fuel towards a cleaner future?

The Texas freeze has shown us just how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is. Will we have the will to require investment in upgrading facilities and making it possible to integrate periodic sources of energy generation (i.e., renewables) into our delivery systems? The next failure may not just be in Texas, but can be global in nature, especially if we get smacked by a coronal mass ejection from the sun. Are we willing to spend money now to protect against something that may not happen for 100 years?

All of these problems (and many more) have existed for decades if not longer. The virus has shown us that we are all living on borrowed time if we expect life to continue blissfully ignorant of the risks we run. Somehow we need to change our mindset from a heedless rush for maximum profits by corporations, to a model where some of the excess profits are recycled into system improvements that ensure continuity of service. Can such a change in mindset happen without government mandates? Texas may be our canary in that a completely deregulated environment did not ensure continuity of service to cover a once in a hundred-year weather event.

Since the 1980’s in the US, we have seen government put down as being the worst enemy of true Americans. It is past time to put that phrase into our history books, as we see what that philosophy does to a society after over 40 years of implementation. You end up with massive inequality in the economy, a bulging underclass that does not share in the overall prosperity of the nation, and facilities that all depend upon that have grown increasingly frail. It is time to change our perspective and look at what can be, and work to create that future for all of us.

Halfway There!

Photo by author

The crocus have bloomed in our lawn and garden slopes. The first signs of spring, these most hopeful of flowers often will bloom through the snow as they let us know that warmer temperatures are coming. We look for the first signs of spring and cherish them.

I just received my first dose of the coronavirus vaccine today. Like the crocus, the increased spread of the vaccines offers hope that the world may emerge from the doldrums of winter into the bright sunlight of summer. Perhaps we can look forward to those things we once took for granted, like enjoying a meal at a restaurant, or singing in our various choirs without fear of contagion.

Being the science nerd that I am, I am glad that I received a dose of the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. There is no better example of technology to demonstrate how far we have come to understanding the genome and how to influence the biology of life. To think that we can now introduce fat particles in a vaccine that are designed to penetrate cell walls. There they will deliver their dosage of mRNA that causes the immune system to recognize, and attack, invaders that have the distinctive type of latching mechanism of COVID. No longer do we need to rely upon killed versions of the whole virus (although the Johnson and Johnson vaccine does rely upon a killed virus other than the COVID to produce immunity). Most of the arguments against vaccines, like they rely upon cells from aborted fetuses, or contain aluminum or mercury, are rendered moot by the nature of the mRNA vaccines. They contain no items that were ever alive, and thus avoid most of the qualms that the anti-vaccination crowd should have.

But never doubt the ability of those who do not understand the underlying science to sow doubt even with this brand-new mode of vaccine delivery. No, since the scary boogeyman of DNA is invoked, those who must protest medical advances to justify their own superiority have declared that these new vaccines will hijack your DNA, and cause unspeakable mutations that will show up in later years to enable the goal of population reduction to be achieved. Whose goal? Why, Bill Gates of course. It is he who has taken the place of George Soros in many regards as the face of evil for those who refuse any scientific advance. Bill has mandated the insertion of microchips into the vaccine, so that the vaccination status of all may be determined by a simple scan, and your access to travel, recreation, and money can be held hostage to your vaccination status. I’ve even seen discussion about ingesting a horse de-wormer (Ivermectin) as a treatment regimen rather than subject people to the vaccine.

Since I was trained as a chemical engineer, and have studied biochemistry and other related fields, I have much less fear of products developed through adherence to the scientific method. I wish there were a way I could convey the knowledge I have gained to those who are insistent upon believing the pure BS that is spread through on-line media. But I should not be surprised. Those who believed in the past president as being a great businessman have proven to be remarkably recalcitrant in abandoning their adherence to worshiping the great one. You need look no further than to see the adulation given to the golden statue of their chosen leader this past weekend at CPAC. Those who have been taken in by a scam artist, are loathe to admit their own folly. It has been said the mankind goes mad in herds, but come to their senses one by one. We who believe we are the rational ones, will never go and win an argument with those who are still in the throes of their delusions.

Anyway, I’ve now had the first dose of the vaccine. I anticipate that when I receive the second dose in about four weeks, that my immune system will already recognize the new dose as an interloper that must be attacked, and I expect to feel like crap for a day or so. That is one small price to pay compared to the price that can be exacted from full-fledged infection with the virus. I’ve been following the progress of a friend who was severely infected, with pneumonia from the virus. Just the stories of his near brush with death, and the tenacity he’s had to use to battle back, let me know that I don’t wish to share his experience.

In some ways this pandemic has served as a wake-up call for the world. Imagine if this airborne virus had the lethality of Ebola? I think that’s what some deniers are maintaining, that if people aren’t dropping dead on the streets, then this is not a disease worth fearing. I really am hoping that those in charge of political power decide it is worthwhile to pay for insurance policies for the future. What does that look like? It looks like scientists from multiple nations working at facilities across the globe, ready to sound the warning when they detect a disease of concern. It looks like adequate stocks of protective equipment kept on hand. It looks like an analysis of supply chains, and investment to harden those supply chains, so that we are not subject to interruption of those supply chains for vital supplies when the world shuts down for the next pandemic. Because one thing we know. As long as mankind keeps impinging upon virgin territory, we will come into contact with new and more deadly diseases in the future. May we have the wisdom to actually learn from this episode, instead of adopting amnesia as a coping mechanism.

Demographic Waves Crashing

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Over the decades, demographic waves crash upon our shore during our elections. The last four US Presidential elections offers the best evidence of the ebb and flow of these cross currents. The demographic changes showing up in the increased population of non-white residents enabled the election of the first non-white President. It cannot be overstated how much this stirred up the undercurrents of racism that were always present in this country. It was expressed overtly through pronouncements like that of Senate Leader McConnell, whose sole ambition was to make President Obama a one-term President. It was expressed covertly, through the growing popularity of racist forums on the internet, where the theory of birtherism was bandied about broadly. It finally resulted in the popularization of its most ardent proponent, and thus Trumpism was born.

The Newtonian response (to every action is an equal reaction) to the emergence of the demographic alliance expressed in Obama’s election, came in the form of the Trump campaign of 2016. In that election, the wave that emerged gathered up the scum from the bottom of the ocean of the population, and the filth that washed up upon the shore stayed in service to the new President. It represented the last, great gasp of the portion of the demographic pie that refuses to accept changes to the nation they apparently believe they, and they alone, own. The trends in the economy that preceded Trump continued during his term, and he was more than happy to accept responsibility for good things. His re-election looked secure, despite the damage he was inflicting to the nation and its reputation.

Then came that once per century occurrence, a pandemic. Much has been written about how this nation squandered the only potential advantage we had – time to respond before we were overwhelmed. The growth of the epidemic became obvious during the months of February and early March. This was truly an exponential growth rate, and strong action was needed to nip this early in the growth phase of the pandemic.

Here is where Trump’s famous gut instinct failed him. He believed that the emotional response of the population to a pandemic would cause the electorate to reject him this fall. Thus he insisted upon proclamations of strong action, and magical disappearances of this contagious virus, and even nonsensical solutions of internal irradiation and chemical cleansing, while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility for the response. The time that could have been used to produce and procure protective equipment fled, and thus we were treated to pictures of nurses wearing garbage bags in a futile effort to keep the virus at bay. As time went on, it was obvious that this President had no answer to an enemy that did not respond to bullying, to name-calling, to blame-transference. As the second peak wave receded this summer, a false sense of security boosted his ratings. But then the third peak began its inexorable rise, and once more the electorate could see that this emperor had no clothes. We will see where this third (hopefully last) wave goes since we have months to go before any effective action can be taken by the new administration.

The reactive wave to Trumpism was already in motion. The coalition of population segments necessary to defeat this President at the polls swung into action. Yet the power of the personality cult of Donald Trump held out strongly. It was only in the last few returns from urban centers in Georgia and Pennsylvania when it became obvious that Biden had an unbeatable lead. Still, those who have clung to Trump for access to power are crying that this election was stolen, and legal action can reverse this trend.

It should be obvious that since 2000, the Electoral College and the popular vote are no longer in synch. This was very nearly the third election out of six this century where the winner of the popular vote did not win the election. That is evidence of the change in the demographics we are witnessing. Though Biden won more counties than Hillary Clinton won, the vast majority of counties, even in states where Biden won, were colored red on the electoral maps of the television networks. We are seeing a schism between Norman Rockwell America, and the new America of the urban centers. The Republicans have held onto power through their machinations with redrawing of legislative and congressional districts. Some of those districts will be redrawn after the current census, but many will still favor the Republicans inside of states.  But by getting rid of the parasite-in-chief, there is an opportunity to revise government policies to be more responsive to the needs of the governed, rather than the needs of the 0.01% of the population at the top of the income and wealth statistics.

The coalition that defeated Trumpism will prove to be ephemeral, and short-lived. Any alliance that contains both Angela Davis and Bill Kristol is bound to come apart once the existential threat that bound them together, is returned into the wild. But the problems we face are truly immense, and the economic damage wrought by the pandemic will take many years to overcome. First, though, deal with the pandemic, since economic healing cannot occur until the physical healing from the covid virus happens.

The End Of The World, As We Know It

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To many, these times we live in are reminiscent of Götterdämmerung, the twilight of the Gods. Certainly that is the image presented at the abomination called the Republican National Convention. They see the changes our society has undergone as being so threatening to their way of life that they cling to a would-be autocrat who has leveraged their fear into a term as President. He now himself clings desperately to the power he has enjoyed, and is pushing all of the levers of that power in order to gum up the normal electoral process. To the group that believes their way of life and unchallenged superiority is indeed challenged, all tactics seem fair to ensure their continued grasp on power.

The 2016 election proved this. While the Democratic candidate won by 2% of the popular vote, due to the small state bias built into the electoral college, the Republicans won the office. They proceeded to rule based as if they had received a massive vote in favor of their policies, though vote really did go against them. Therefore, they knew it was imperative to provide the tools to ensure the changing demographics of this nation did not prevent their takeover of all of the reins of power. In a way, we were fortunate. This President was so ignorant of how government worked, that his first year’s efforts at neutering government were mainly failures. Think of how many different iterations of the Muslim ban came down the pike, only to be swatted away by the judicial branch. But unfortunately, those within the government were able to learn how the levers of power worked. And by the third year, they were capable of implementing the family separation policy. Oh, they didn’t have a way of reuniting families, but who cared?

In a way, it is remarkable that this nation has succeeded in using a single set of founding documents to navigate through the ensuing 2+ centuries. The Constitution has stretched enough to deal with the intervening crises that swirled through this country. But the events of this year have shown that continuing to rely solely upon the document that preceded the technological age, does not always work in the current era of globalized material and people flow, and instantaneous flow of both real and misinformation. When so many people simply refuse to accept what appears to be unambiguous scientific facts, it becomes impossible to conduct a purposeful discussion. This shows itself in so many folks refusing to believe that we are in a pandemic, denying that the outbreak of disease is anything more significant that a variant of the normal flu virus.

Though the current administration insists that the country of origin for the virus was fundamentally negligent in allowing the genii to escape, what happened early this year was what epidemiologists have known and feared would happen in a world interconnected by human and material flow. Before this year, very few people in the US could have identified Wuhan on the map, and even fewer knew that the city and its environs had 11 million residents. But the outbreak of a virus that exhibits high infectivity showed that it could not be contained within a single country. Soon outposts of the virus were set up in Italy, and thence migrated into the US. But of all of the nations hit by the first wave of the virus, it has only been the US that has not brought infections down below a simmering boil. The virus has shown that it is still present, and shows up in all locations where the guard is let down even for a moment.

But in the US, a confluence of events and trends have prevented us from ever bringing the virus under control. The US has never viewed it as necessary to have the Federal government serve as a backstop to private enterprise. So when it was necessary to shut down commercial life in order to reduce the spread of the virus, the mechanisms to provide financial support were creaky at best, balky and unworkable at worst. And now, those mechanisms have been exhausted, and this nation still is operating under the assumption that it is a moral failing that so many people cannot find work, rather than accepting that we are in a fundamentally different era. Then the strain of individual liberty fanatics insisted that any mandated protective acts were an infringement on constitutional rights. Even the simple, though uncomfortable practice, of wearing a face mask has become weaponized, and blood has been spilled in defense of the right to infect others.

Those who were convinced that the blood of Jesus would protect them against any infection were also convinced that the government was infringing against their first amendment rights by preventing them from worshiping in person. You can see time after time where ministers were insistent on holding services in person, even though those services spread disease and death. Indeed, the American desire for a divine miracle to protect the faithful is fully in evidence as a response to this pandemic. The viral particle doesn’t recognize religious denomination, or even if someone is or is not a religious adherent. It recognizes only the opportunity to colonize a new host and spread itself. It is a mindless automaton with only the genetic information inside of it to allow it to propagate.

If there is to be divine intervention, it is because the knowledge of humanity has allowed it to understand the genetic code of the enemy, and to effectively devise biological weaponry to defeat it. That can be manifested through effective treatments for the symptoms of the virus, but all hope is on one or more of the vaccines in clinical trial will be found to be:  1) Effective at preventing infection through activation of the immune system, and 2) Able to provide this immunity without adverse side effects. Indeed, the rapidity at which vaccines have been shepherded into phase 3 trials has been amazing. But due to the same tendency within this nation to reject science and any uncomfortable challenges to beliefs, even when a vaccine is released to the population, a sizable fraction will refuse to take it. Whether it is due to fears unleashed by the anti-vaxxers, or whether it is the belief that the entire virus episode has been a New World Order conspiracy, there will be enough who refuse to take the vaccine that it will still circulate within the population, causing infection, and illness, and preventable death.

The upcoming election does offer the opportunity to return to a semblance of normality. Whether enough of the electorate will recognize that the Federal response to this virus represents a natural outgrowth of the belief system of this administration remains to be seen. The ignorance of the American public can never be overestimated. Let us hope that incompetence can be seen for what it is – a natural consequence of selecting a con man four long years ago.