“O Gertrude, Gertrude,” King Claudius says to his wife in Act IV of Hamlet. “When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions.” A distraught Ophelia has just exited, leaving the royal couple worrying about her madness, the brooding of Gertrude’s son Hamlet and their own fates.
Nearly a year ago, the Covid-19 pandemic began bringing death, disease and economic distress to millions of households. But the disaster hasn’t come alone — a host of others have struck the US in the past 12 months.
Wildfires in America’s West last year consumed more than 10 million acres, destroyed 10,500 structures and killed 31 people, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
The 2020 hurricane season broke the record for the number of major storms, forcing meteorologists to dip into the Greek alphabet for new names. And this week freakish winter weather swept into the South, bringing record low temperatures to states such as Texas, Louisiana and Kentucky. At least 50 deaths have been attributed to the weather, including 10 due to hypothermia in Harris County, which is home to Houston. Millions of people lost heat, power and access to food and clean water.
America isn’t a failed state, Frida Ghitis noted, but “the way it has ‘handled’ recent disasters, from the pandemic to the current weather crisis in Texas”, makes a “mighty nation” look like one.
As always in times of disaster, people turned to the government for help. The crisis brought into sharp relief politicians’ mistakes, wrote Ghitis. “Why are Texans freezing? There are many reasons, but this would not be happening if the state — dominated by Republicans committed to a small government ideology — had not severed its links to the national electrical grid for the sake of avoiding regulation. That regulation, among other things, would have required utilities to be better prepared. But Texas, the country’s top energy producer…is the only state in the contiguous US essentially unable to borrow energy from other states.”
Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, isn’t in charge of keeping the lights on, but his decision to leave with his family for a vacation in Cancun on Wednesday was spectacularly ill-timed, prompting him to rush back and admit his mistake.
“Last August,” recalled James C. Moore, “Cruz boldly mocked California’s electricity problems during their heatwave and fires, tweeting that the state was ‘unable to perform even the basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.’ More hilariously, Cruz ridiculed the Austin mayor for flying to a Mexican beach during Covid after urging his city’s residents to stay home. Senator Sensitive will be performing his comedy act for at least four more years.“