What to Expect

One woman's odyssey through the Trump presidency. My focus is centered on the many issues affecting women--but what doesn't? There's a new post every week.

I did everything I could outside yesterday, thinking I would be making last-minute efforts in the rain today. I’m really done now. I think. Last night I remembered to pay the mortgage. It was a panic at 10:30—the first ATM I went to wasn’t working so I had to find another branch at which to make my deposit. That’s done. Today I realized I need a new filter on my AC—I used the last one and forgot to buy more and the current one is the color of my dogs’ coats. I guess if the power goes out, that’s moot.

Dawn over the Intracoastal Photo: Madeleine H. Burnside

Lucky me, the track has shifted so the actual storm may never hit here. I can’t say enough about my gratitude for this possibility. This is a major hurricane. My aunt who lives in Switzerland saw it on the news and called me. My neighbor’s father is in a panic in France. I’m getting emails from Australia, England, France, and Hawaii. There will be houses open to the sky, cars crushed, live power lines sparking on the sidewalk. If you have ever turned down a familiar road only to discover it’s a cul-de-sac with what looks like established shrubbery at the end of it, then had to re-think your double-take to realize that an enormous tree has been uprooted and is blocking your way, you know what I mean. Rush Limbaugh says it’s all hype, but Palm Beach proper is in the evacuation zone, so he went. I can’t see him worrying about his car or flying debris. I assume he has people to do that for him. Most of us don’t. This is real, even if everyone is not hurt.

Feeder bands reached Key West yesterday but my friend and her brother were outside, looking at patchy clouds around noon today. It’s supposed to be a Category 4 by the time the eye passes over them at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning. Newly-wed friends in Melbourne reported heavy rain there too, but they are on the Atlantic coast, like me, and hoping things won’t be too bad. Their only worry is that they were not able to find any propane—anywhere. Their new barbecue is just so much metal for now, but the power is still on. They are counting on romance to see them through.

Evacuees who left for Atlanta days ago—as soon as they knew they were going to be in the cone—found the normal eight or nine hour run taking twelve. They said that yesterday the trip was taking sixteen to eighteen hours and gas was a problem.

It rained here a bit this morning but not for long. I helped shutter the cottage across the street, then we covered my friend’s sports car with visqueen. It’s twenty years old and the ragtop leaks. Sweaty in the gloomy sun, we went for a swim in a neighbor’s pool and returned home for a final patrol around the house for anything that might go flying. I brought the hanging plants inside. I had not expected such a calm day.

This is what I hate about hurricanes: the anticipation. Waiting for the lashing to start. Living in a house with no natural light. I know, I could be in a hotel room someplace, but I’m too much of a control-freak for that. I’d be twice as worried.

When I walk outside the sky has gone dark early and the wind has picked up. I hear thunder on a long roll but it’s still far away. It’s not all bad: the storm’s not due until tomorrow so today we’re having martinis! Piano music is streaming from the house next door. We’re waiting.

Letter from Irma: Day 0

Irma has not yet touched Florida but we can feel it coming. It's been a sunny day with a breeze that's just a bit too strong. I live about half a mile west of the Intracoastal. To the east is Palm Beach proper (known locally as "the island" in the snobbish way New Yorkers talk about Manhattan as "the city" as though no other such place exists).

Dawn over the Intracoastal from Bryant Park, Lake Worth, FL. Photo: Madeleine H. Burnside

Mar-a-Lago is six miles north of my house by car, closer as the egret flies. I assume all the King’s men have it buttoned up pretty tight. Locals joke about storming the palace after Irma comes through to demand shelter and fine dining if things go bad here.  Anyway, Palm Beach is a barrier island--I just want it to do its job. A day ago the eye was scheduled to come right over our heads, but now the track has drifted west of Lake Okeechobee. Good for us; bad for Key West, Orlando, and Tampa. The only rule hurricanes observe is that wherever they seem to be headed a few days out is not where they plan to end up. If you know this, it feels safer to be the target for a while, knowing it will shift. Now I'm just worried it will shift back.

I'm staying home for the hurricane. Do I think it's dangerous? Sure. Yes. Somewhat. But, when I lived in Key West, my job was such that I had to stay, so I got really used to these storms. My worst fear? Running out of gas in bumper-to-bumper traffic going north for no very good reason. The sage advice is, if you’re not in an evacuation zone, don’t clog up the roads. You are better off at home, as long as you’re satisfied that it’s sturdy and you’ve had time to gather resources. My house was built in 1925 out of Dade County pine—wood so strong that it was logged to extinction. The house is elevated several feet from ground level and I trust those old guys to have known what they were doing.

Still, for Irma, I might have evacuated if it was just me, but my friend who lives in the other part of my duplex used to be a sailor. She went through Hurricane Hugo on a boat in the Caribbean--she feels she knows from hurricanes and prefers to take care of any problems as they arise. Between us we have two dogs and two parrots--there are many reasons we are staying.

This is not Houston. I feel terrible for those people. What a hideous mess. Lives ruined, the whole city will remain a disaster zone for quite a while. When Key West experienced a storm surge my house was on one of the higher parts of the island, and the seven or so inches of water we had flowed right under it and was gone in minutes. In lower parts of the island people got twenty-six inches and had to tear out their sheetrock and redo their electrical wiring--and that water came and went quickly. Still nothing like Houston. Having your house, streets, and everything else flooded as the rain continues to fall is a whole different kettle of stinking fish and sewage. Houston is a bowl. You stand in the middle of it and admire the surrounding hills. A flood there is a serious, devastating, and lingering event.

I took the dogs to the park for a run at 6:45 this morning, just as the dawn came up. They've been bored and antsy because we've not had time to take them for proper walks in the past two days.

There's a lot more to storm prep than putting up shutters. If you have a yard (my friend and I share a big one) every useful and/or decorative thing you have needs to come indoors. Two glass-topped tables and all the chairs. Flower pots. The Buddha statue. Tools that usually live outside have to be squeezed into the shed.

Preparing for a hurricane is like preparing for a visit from meticulous in-laws. I've reorganized the freezer, thrown the science projects out of the fridge, and developed a meal plan. I've vacuumed and cleaned--who knows when any appliances will work again?  I'll do it again Saturday night, more anxiously. I've got water, eggs, and avocados. And I'm a nervous knosher. To hold anxiety at bay I've got chocolate, nuts, and candied ginger. I’ve made ice, ice, ice, and cleaned the giant cooler that I've had since Key West days. I've got a case of excellent Spanish red--the neighbors are staying and we plan a barbecue after Irma passes.

I've got extra propane for the grill, army-grade flashlights, new lanterns, lots of batteries (thank you, Amazon), work gloves, a chain saw, and the usual garden snippers and loppers as well as hammers, cordless screw-guns, wrenches, and fasteners.

I have crocs to wade through puddles--wellies get swamped and sweaty; crocs drain with every step. I've got a yellow sou'wester jacket—a long coat catches the wind and flaps soggily against your legs. I’ve got oversized silk shirts that dry quickly, comfy shorts, and I know when it's better to go into my yard naked and when I need to cover every inch because there are shattered poisonwood leaves everywhere—mango trees shed some of the worst.

I've gassed up the car and I'm charging all the electronics.  Did I forget something?  If so, Momma Irma will notice it and make me suffer for anything I’ve overlooked

The unsuspected news on hurricanes is that when you are not scared, you are tired and bored. That eight to twelve hours of howling passes slowly, minute by minute unless you’re rushing towels to a window or mopping the floor. It grinds at you, bullying the trees, fingering the doors, leering through any uncovered glass, and the wind calls like a siren while spreading garbage.

Rain, endless rain blows sideways--hard.

Heroes of the Health Care Wars?

By Madeleine H. Burnside

I am a little bit insulted by the emails I’ve gotten this week from various progressive groups, saluting me as “a healthcare hero.” I’m not. Let’s not kid about this—I take my resistance seriously and don’t need to be patronized or flattered when I’m unable to be effective. I’m not saying I didn’t call my senators—of course I did. I’m saying I knew that my calls would not have any effect on the outcome. Bill Nelson is a sure thing and Rubio isn’t going to change his spots. Save it for the people who have been sitting-in in other districts. Perhaps they got somewhere.

If there are heroes, it’s the Republican senators who crossed the aisle: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and, in a surprise move caught in a video gone viral, John McCain of Arizona.

Murkowski stated her positions early enough for Donald Trump to try to blackmail her into obedience. She held firm. Collins is the senator most likely to break rank with her party, so Trump has probably given up on her.

Trump tweeted how brave McCain was. Apparently, McCain was returning to D.C. in order to nix the ACA only two weeks after surgery for brain cancer. Meanwhile, my side of the press and social media had a load of nasty things to say about McCain’s hypocrisy—how his generous Senate benefits package had paid for some of the best medical care available but he was going to vote against “the little people.” Like Trump, we never doubted McCain would support Trumpcare-lite.

I’m not McCain’s biggest fan, but not a major detractor either. He fought in a war I protested, but I gave him big points for choosing to stay behind with his fellow prisoners, knowing he would be punished with torture. I also admired that he forged a friendship with John Kerry as they worked to resolve the POW/MIA question once and for all.

I was pleasantly surprised when, earlier this week, McCain opposed Trump’s transgender military ban, saying, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so—and should be treated as the patriots they are." He didn’t need to say anything, but he did.

He spoke out because he knows he’s the go-to military guy of his generation. He is defined by his Vietnam experience, sometimes to his own detriment. George W. Bush won his party’s nomination back in the day by implying that his rival, McCain, was mentally unfit because he had never recovered from being tortured. It was a low blow, and I’m probably not alone in saying that I think McCain would have made the better president.

Then, under Bush II, I despised McCain for being a war hawk and, despite all his fine words about the un-Americanness of torture, for voting against the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act that would have banned waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” In doing so he became a party to war crimes--and he certainly knew better about the utility of torture, having been forced into making a false confession himself.

Then there’s his membership in the Keating Five. In 1989, despite his straight-arrow persona, he faced corruption allegations when the American Continental Corporation and its subsidiary Lincoln Savings and Loan collapsed, companies both owned by Charles Keating. The failure cost taxpayers $3.4 billion and precipitated the Savings and Loan scandal that destroyed the lives of thousands of small investors. Of the five senators involved, McCain was the only personal friend of Keating’s and the recipient of his largest campaign donations. He got off with a rebuke.

And then there’s elevating Sarah Palin. Chosen in haste, regretted forever. Please, John, puh-leez!

So I have a complicated relationship with McCain (it’s not mutual—I’m pretty sure he’s not among my readers). I usually don’t agree with his positions, he’s tainted as an honest broker, but now I worry about him. Not because he’s going to die (I am too, but hopefully that will be later), but because he’s going to be incapacitated. Not usually a grandstander, he had something in mind when he returned to the Capitol for the ACA vote. There he was, faintly piratical with a long, livid scar forming a third eyebrow. He spoke out against the process of the ACA repeal—the secrecy and the despicable “better than nothing” attitude of his GOP colleagues.

McCain’s vote recalled Bob Dole’s appearance on the Senate floor in a wheel chair in 2012, just six days after he was released from the hospital. His arrival was also dramatic—everyone assumed he would be too incapacitated to attend. Dole had worked with John Kerry to get the U.S. to join the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. His empty sleeve, tucked into his pocket, symbolized not only his handicap but also the sacrifices of the entire World War II generation. I didn’t remember the bill’s other Republican supporters until I looked them up. Interestingly, these included McCain as well as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and five others.

This time McCain’s vote was different. He went out of his way to make Trump look foolish. In a strategic move, he kept his own counsel all week. He wasn’t going to be the subject of Trump’s bullying, and he wasn’t going to let Mitch McConnell pull the bill to save face, as he would have if he’d known there weren’t enough votes to pass it. And he wasn't going to give a heads-up to us, the mosquito media of the Left.

When reporters spotted McCain around 11pm that night, they asked him how he planned to vote. “Wait for the show,” he told them. Oh yeah…

When the time came, McCain walked to the front of the chamber to make sure his thumbs-down gesture was caught on camera. “No,” he shouted, loud enough to be heard in the press gallery. I’ve watched the video five times now and the gasp from the GOP senators is still a thrill. Possibly he found it even more satisfying than I did.

When asked why he voted as he did, McCain told a reporter, “I thought it was the right thing to do.” The vote might have been the right thing but the strategy and grand gesture were pure payback. I can’t imagine he would ever like Donald Trump, but just in case, Trump made that impossible when he dissed McCain personally. Trump, the draft-dodger, stepped over the line when he mocked McCain, saying, “He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured." He’s also referred to him as “a loser” and a “dummy.” Not so fast…Measured, sometimes disappointing, McCain has consistently led the slow but growing Republican opposition to Trump.

So, despite my mixed feelings about him, I was hoping he’d be around for a while. No other Republican has the stature or the brass to stand up to Trump and make news—it wasn’t a tweet, it was better: a viral video. And a sweet goodbye.