Coalescing around the generation of my children, the biopic “The Long, Strange Trip” tells the story of the Grateful Dead rock band, now streaming on Amazon. One son of mine attended over a hundred concerts nationwide and was labeled the “Freakin Deacon” by his friends. He later, after youthful extravagances, became a professor, an author and an environmentalist.
The Dead, especially their leader, Jerry Garcia, grew up affected by the fatalism of war and grief: World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the tragedy of family disease and death. But hardship sometimes brings hope and joy, which was the Dead’s musical message. Their music sparked passionate energy, enthralling millions of “Baby Boomers.” The curse: drugs. The blessing: honoring peace and universal fellowship. The curse led Garcia to diabetes, addiction and death. The blessing — generated by the Dead’s music — shepherded some to adopt values of freedom-based humanitarianism and universal love.
I’m hoping the curse of Trumpism — analogous to the Dead drug curse — will motivate greater understanding of how to be civilized, tackling poverty over tax breaks for the rich; better health care over Medicaid cuts and the jinx of pre-existing illness, both hazarding suffering and death; even environmental scrutiny for global warming, honoring the Earth that mankind and the biosphere are locked within.
In contrast, what Trumpism expands: anti-intellectualism, anti-science and xenophobia (think global warming, cuts to medical research, patriarchal limits to women’s rights). Me before them: To hell with them! Donald Trump is the prophet (not the right word but good enough). Republican senators like Mitch McConnell, Mike Lee, Orrin Hatch are Trump’s evangelists — more money and stuff for me — mirroring the moral degeneration of the drugs and frenetic disorganization of me-tooism.
The Deadheads I know grew up. They grew into responsible adults. They were better for incorporating the Dead’s music of peace and love into their lives. They and like-minded younger generations, I hope, counter Trumpism and lead us all into a more civilized future. Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again. My hope is that this social distemper can survive Trumpism. That is the question.
Richard H. Keller, M.D., Salt Lake City, is a retired radiologist who remembers the decimation of lives seen in the emergency room of the old Cottonwood Hospital. The fragile lives made worse by poverty and neglect; the fragmented care given to the uninsured and the underinsured.