In Search Of A New Eye 2

Note to readers: this is the second post in a  series.

My initial experience in trying to get Akhtar, the blind-in-one-eye refugee from Afghanistan, an appointment with someone at the Wilmer Eye Clinic was not encouraging. I assumed that I needed a referral from an eye doctor in the health system where he was enrolled.  I struck out with the ophthalmologist he was referred to in that system because she would not accept Medicaid. I was not hopeful that any other eye doctor there would accept a Medicaid patient. I could try to find a list of eye doctors and start calling, but instead I decided I would give it a try and call the Wilmer Eye Clinic myself.

Brilliant idea. Much to my astonishment, after getting all the information about Akhtar’s condition and Medicaid insurance, the kind person on the line at the Wilmer Eye Clinic said that Akhtar could in fact see one of the Wilmer eye doctors.

 “But there is one thing you must know,” she said. “As you know, the Wilmer Eye Clinic has to be selective regarding the patients we see. We will see Mr. Akhtar and will diagnose his problem. But given his insurance, we will not be able to actually do any procedures or operations to fix it.”

I replied, “Well, that is terrific news that you will see Mr. Akhtar, and for this I am very grateful. But just to be clear, Wilmer will tell him what is wrong but won’t actually fix it, is that right?”

“That is correct.”

“So to take this a step further, you guys are the best in the world when it comes to eyes, right.”

“That is our reputation. Our doctors are very good.”

“So it is possible that you could identify a problem which you could fix but few if any other eye clinics could fix?”

“That is possible.”

“But you won’t fix it?”

“We can provide a referral.”

“But, say, there is no one else who can fix it.”

“All we can do is provide a referral. It has to do with Maryland Medicaid. We only accept it for the diagnosis procedures.”

Okay, I thought, let’s take what we can get. You have got to start somewhere, and just getting an appointment with one of the best eye doctors in the world was a lucky break.

 Six weeks later when the date of Akhtar’s appointment arrived, I drove him to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore with both excitement and apprehension.

There are several things you need to know about Akhtar. I have already mentioned that he is totally blind in one eye and a welder. He is also illiterate, not only in English but in any language. When he was growing up, the Taliban was in charge, and all schools were closed. Also while Akhtar is fluent in Dari, Farsi and Turkish, his English skills are very poor. It is almost impossible for me to understand a word he says. For this reason I was a bit nervous as to how things would go at the Wilmer Eye Clinic.

I had been to the Wilmer Eye Clinic about ten years before with Embry, who had an eye operation there. The John Hopkins Hospital was located in a  tough area of Baltimore, and the clinic was in a pretty rundown condition. They may have had the best doctors, but the surroundings felt like a third world country. This is not the case any more. The new hospital is more like a massive palace with sparkling, wide hallways, original art on the walls, lots of glass, healthy plants everywhere, and a main interior “highway” system that connects all the departments, all of which are named after people who I presume gave them lots of money.

After walking what seemed like at least half a mile, we came to the Wilmer Eye Clinic, which it turns out consists of several clinics and individual waiting rooms. We were directed by one of six or seven receptionists to what was called something like the “general clinic.” There were ten or twelve people seated in an attractive waiting room area, and after a  wait of only about fifteen minutes we were whisked away into a small exam room with all sorts of eye testing machinery. Professionals in white coats of varying sizes were running about in the hallways, focused and engaged, just what you would expect in the world’s greatest eye hospital.

What kind of doctor would we get?  Would he or she really be the best in the world? Could the Wilmer doctor give us any hope of restoring sight to someone who had no vision in one eye?

Well, we actually got two doctors, one in his forties, slim and athletic looking, the other man, white haired, and close to retirement age. The younger one called in the older one about 20 minutes into the testing, I presume for a second opinion. These two doctors ended up spending over one and a half hours with Akhtar, assisted by several technicians wearing red, Wilmer Eye Clinic golf shirts. I could not determine if having two doctors was standard protocol or because restoring sight from a blind eye was such a formidable task. Whatever the reason, I was impressed. They were polite, engaged and obviously skilled. We had come to the right place.

What made the examination particularly interesting was the communication challenge. I had alerted the person whom I had talked to on the phone that Mr. Akhtar did not speak much English; and when we checked in, I made the same comment to the receptionist, who assured me that this was no problem and that they routinely used translators. The challenge was addressed by dialing up a Farsi-speaking translator on the phone. Akhtar would make a comment or respond to a question, and the translator would repeat what he said in English using the same tone and emphasis. When speaking in Farsi, Akhtar was quite animated,  waving his arms and speaking loudly. Just after the second doctor entered the room, as the doctors were asking him to tell them what letters and numbers he could see on the screen while looking through one of the devices, Akhtar suddenly appeared  annoyed and seemed to make a definitive statement. Over the phone from the translator came this in a very loud voice suggesting exasperation: ”Look, I came to the U.S. to get a new eye. They told me in Afghanistan and in Turkey that when I got here, I could get a new eye. I want a new eye!”

The exam room suddenly became quiet as both doctors abruptly paused what they were doing and looked at each other in disbelief. The younger one answered calmly, “You are not going to get a new eye. Not here or anywhere else. There is no such thing as an eye transplant. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, but not now.”

Akhtar immediately waived his arms and said something in  loud voice, which was repeated by the translator, “But they told me I could get one in America.”

The doctors ignored the comment and plunged back into testing his eyesight with the various machines and devices.

There was also a peculiar situation where Akhtar was able to read the numbers on the screen but not the letters. When I pointed out that he could not read English, they switched entirely to numbers, which solved the problem. The good news was that as the exercises continued, it became apparent to me that Akhtar could actually begin see some things in his blind eye.

Toward the end of the examination, Akhtar made one more plea about the new eye and questioned whether the doctors really knew what they were doing. The two doctors paused again and looked at each other, frowning. The older of the two replied harshly to the translator, “Tell this guy again that there is no such thing as an eye transplant and if he brings this up again, we are not able to help him.” That was the end of that.

The two doctors conferred briefly and then left the room. In about fifteen minutes the younger one returned and presented the findings:

“Look, Mr. Akhtar, we can’t give you a new eye, but we believe your eyesight can be mostly restored in your blind eye. You have a scratched cornea and you have no lens. We believe that this can be addressed by using a  special contact lens, but it is not guaranteed. It certainly is worth a try, however, and we will give you a referral to one of the Wilmer contact lens doctors.”

Akhtar  responded with what I feared was something like, “I still do not see why you guys can’t give me a new eye” but was gently translated by the Farsi translator on the phone as “thank you very much for your time and effort.”

Three cheers for the Wilmer Eye Clinic. Reputation well deserved.

So on to the next step: off to the contact lens specialist. It would be about two months before we could get an appointment. But would it work? Could a special contact lens correct blindness? Stay tuned for the next installment.

In Search of a New Eye 1

The first time I met Mr. Akhtar he covered his left eye and muttered in Afghani an incomprehensible phrase which my daughter guessed at as, “He is saying he is blind in one eye and was told that in the U.S. he could  get his sight restored.  Actually ever since his family moved in about a week ago, he has been obsessed with this. He has told us that in Afghanistan he heard that in the U.S. you can get a new eye.”

Mr. Akhtar is a refugee from Afghanistan, who with his wife and two girls, age three and six, moved to the Washington area about a year ago after spending five years in internment camps in Turkey. They had just moved into the basement apartment in our daughter’s house. The story of our search to get his sight restored tells much about health care in the U.S. today.

Akhtar (not his real name) was injured when a friend accidentally pierced his eye with a sharp instrument when he was age 10, about 25 years ago. He is also a welder. A one-eyed welder is just a notch above a one-armed paperhanger. The man clearly needed a new eye. I volunteered to get him one.

“Well,” Embry said, “He has come to the right place. The Wilmer Eye Clinic  at Johns Hopkins is the best in the world. If they can’t fix it, nobody can. But I am sure you will need a referral to get to Wilmer.”

So the first stop would be his primary care physician. Akhtar had Medicaid, which was his ticket to getting essentially free health care, so score one for the U.S. –free health care for the poor. The doctor examined the eye and  cheerfully wrote out a referral to an eye doctor in the Medstar system, one of the major health care networks in Washington. I told him that we really wanted a referral to the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins. As an employee of Medstar, he apologized that he could only refer to one of their eye doctors. Okay, I thought, we will start there and then get a referral to Hopkins. I knew that restoring eye sight from total blindness was going to be a real challenge and that eventually Hopkins is where we would probably end up anyway. But you had to start somewhere. So on to the next step.

A week later when we arrived at the Medstar ophthalmologist’s office and checked in, here is how the conversation went with the person at the front desk:

“I am sorry we can not help you. We do not take Medicaid.”

“But we just got a referral from one of your doctors, and he takes Medicaid.”

“That is his problem. Not ours.”

“Is there any ophthalmologist in the Medstar system who will take Medicaid?”

“Not to my knowledge, but you can try.”

“How do I get a list of Medstar ophthalmologists?”

“No idea.”

Okay, I thought. We will just go private pay. I told her I would pay cash for the visit out of my own pocket. Cash on the barrel head. How could she refuse? I figured it could not be too much, just to get a referral  from the Medstar eye doctor to the Wilmer Eye Clinic. She said that would not be possible.

“Wait a minute! You mean to tell me that the eye doctor won’t  see Mr. Akhtar even if I pay for the visit in advance with all cash or a credit card?”

“That is exactly what I am telling you. He has insurance. We are not allowed to take cash if a patient has insurance.”

“Yes. But you won’t take his insurance.”

“Correct. We don’t take Medicaid.”

The conversation continued along these lines for another few minutes at the end of which I admitted defeat. I complained that all we wanted anyway was a referral to Hopkins, which from the scowl on her face, I realized was not the way to win friends at Medstar.

“Well,” she said sarcastically, “Good luck on getting to the Wilmer Eye Clinic without a referral.”

Out of curiosity, I could not help asking how much the initial eye visit would have cost me if I were allowed to pay for it out-of-pocket. She replied that for someone with insurance it would be about $250. For someone with no insurance who was paying privately, it would be about $700.


That disclosure eased the pain.

But what to do next? How to get to the Wilmer Eye Clinic? How to get this half-blind welder from Afghanistan a new eye? Follow the story on the next blog post.









My Name Is Boris Smirnov And I love President Putin

Note to readers: Here is a fictional takeaway from our week learning about “Russia and the West” at Chautauqua along with reflections from our travels there in 1993 and 2015.

My name is Boris Smirnov, and I love Vladimir Putin.

Contrary to what most of you in the West believe, we get plenty of news here in Russia about what is going on in the U.S. and we know what you think about us. You can’t understand why we overwhelmingly support our president and write us off as a bunch of stupid lemmings. There is a lot you do not understand.

The main thing you do not understand is what we have been through and why we are distrustful of the U.S. Our history is long and rich and proud. From the middle of the Sixteenth Century when Russia was first unified under Ivan IV, whom  the West calls the “Terrible,” we became a formidable power and culture. We became the largest country in the world and remain so.  It is true that the vast majority of the Russian people have suffered over the years as have, I might add, many in your country, especially slaves and people of color. But we also have produced the world’s greatest literature, its finest novels, short stories and poems, its most exceptional music and dance. There is no country that surpasses us with regard to the  intellectual and artistic legacy that we have given to the world.

We are also a people of extraordinary courage  and willpower. We are survivors. It is no coincidence that we were the country that stopped Napoleon and that stopped Hitler. Can you imagine any city in the U.S. that could hold out under siege, as did the people of Leningrad, for almost three years, with over 1.5 million people, half the population, dying from bombing, starvation or freezing to death? Can you imagine the U.S. tolerating losses of 40 million people in two world wars without surrendering? We as a nation do not give up. We are proud people. As a country we have never been conquered.

Now I and many other intellectuals like me acknowledge that the Communist Period was a mixed bag. To our credit we did away with the class system, practically eliminated illiteracy and created from whole cloth a first-rate, educational system, second to none in science and engineering. Our military might was close to being equal to that of the U.S. Communism eliminated serfdom and raised the standard of living for most Russians. But this came at a great cost. Perhaps as many as 20 million people—most of them innocent civilians—died from starvation caused by ill conceived five year plans or were murdered by the state or exiled to gulag work camps in Siberia.  Free speech did not exist. We are not proud of this part of our history, but it illustrates another important part of the Russian character: we know how to adapt. We know how to keep on going with our lives when you have a system that is hostile to its citizens or you have a ruthless dictator running the country. Perhaps you Americans could learn a thing or two from us as you try to adjust to life under your own president.

Now fast forward to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many in Russia welcomed a change from a failed system. Note that this may be the most significant “revolution” in all of human history where an old system fell apart with so little bloodshed. Many were hopeful that Russia could become a true democracy, but make no mistake: we never wanted to become a clone of your system. We wanted our own Russian democracy, which would take into account the uniqueness of the Russian experience and the Russian soul.

What did we get? What we got was chaos. What we got were Americans  coming into our country, thumbing their noses at us and telling us what we should do when most of these so called experts had never been to Russia and could not speak our language. Beginning in 1991 and lasting for almost a decade, the country teetered on the edge of catastrophe. Food disappeared from stores. Even worse, vodka was in short supply. No one was sure what was going to happen  next. There was no such thing as the rule of law. Gangs emerged, and the riches of the country were  pillaged by “free enterprizers” and a new class of bandits  called “oligarchs.” In 1994 there were more Mercedes Benz limos in Moscow than in the  rest of the world combined. But the life of the ordinary citizen was worse than it was before, and the period of chaos called into question the endless sacrifices made over the centuries by those at the bottom. Plus we witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Empire as the Baltic states, Georgia, The Ukraine, and others suddenly gained their “independence.” Can you imagine what the reaction would have been in America  if your government had collapsed under its own weight, and a bunch of Russians arrived scolding you for your stupidity and failed economic system and telling you that Communism was the only answer?

Enter Vladimir Putin in the year 2000. Here is the bottom line: Putin has stabilized Russia. But Putin has done much more. He has revitalized the Russian Orthodox Church, restored our national pride and regained  our proper seat on the world stage. You could say he has “made Russia great again.”

Are there issues? Of course there are, and there is much about Putin that many, especially intellectuals like me, do not like, but you can’t help coming back to the threat of disorder and chaos that is still fresh in so many minds. What realistic alternatives do we have? Furthermore, to say that Putin is another Stalin is a total misunderstanding of the current situation in Russia. While more limited, there is still at lest some freedom of speech and the press. We are technically a democracy and have a constitution. And by the way, Russia has never functioned successfully  without some kind of strongman leader, be it a czar or a communist dictator. Maybe given our vast size, it is the only kind of system that can hold the country together. Perhaps it is the other side, the dark side, of the Russian soul.

So that is why I say I Iove Putin. Do I really love him? No, but given where we are now, he is the best we have. I can tell you right now that there was hardly a Russian who did not get some satisfaction from the now infamous press conference with your own version of a strongman leader. He rolled him. Long live President Putin!

And one last comment: I believe I forgot to say to you Americans with your President Trump—welcome to the club!








Chautauqua Report

Chautauqua is an old fashioned religious retreat center started in the 1870s in upstate New York on the shores of  Chautauqua Lake.  Embry and  I are spending a week in a tiny apartment nestled next to gingerbread, Victorian structures among aged hemlocks and abundant laurel and rhododendrons. It is surely one of those rare spiritual vortexes you stumble upon occasionally. We had heard about it, as have, I am sure, many of you, but we keep asking ourselves why  did it take us so long to get here.  It was started as a venue for teaching Sunday school teachers but has evolved into something closer to a life-long learning center. Every day there are dozens  of lectures or classes to choose from along with music, dance, poetry readings and worship services or religious discussions. Virtually every mainstream Protestant domination has its own “cottage,” as do Catholics, and Jews, and there is a big emphasis on interfaith dialogue with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others including “Nones.” It is all here. Just take your pick. And then there is tennis, golf, sailing, swimming, camps for kids, and many places to eat and relax. Put this place on your bucket list.

The theme this week is “Russia and the West.” They set the schedule over a year in advance, but it could not be timelier. At the first morning lecture Senator Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware, spoke at exactly the same time that the Putin/Trump Summit was happening in Helsinki. Coons was eloquent and powerful. He said that should Trump miss the opportunity to confront Putin on the meddling issue, this would amount to a catastrophe. Only minutes after he completed his talk, we learned about Trump’s now infamous press conference. There were also two afternoon lectures that day by college professors and scholars, one titled “The Fall of the American Empire” and the other “The Putin Regime and Political Murder.” You get the gist.

But the word on Russia was not all doom and gloom. Nina Khrushcheva, great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, and a Princeton PhD and  professor at the New School, painted a much more nuanced picture of  a complicated and paradoxical country, much more like our understanding of the country we visited in 1994 and 2015. We in the U.S. often fail to understand how the chaos following the collapse of the  Soviet Union affected the Russians and their strong desire to regain their national pride.  The World Cup was a  milestone for them in regaining their self respect, and life for ordinary  people is far better now than it was in the economic chaos of the 1990s.

She was followed the next two days by two other expat intellectuals from the former Soviet Union, Alina Polikova and Masha Gessan, neither of whom was optimistic about the future. The hopeful but chaotic Nineties have morphed into a kind of totalitarianism-lite where Putin remains hugely popular and basic freedoms sharply curtailed.

The most disturbing presentation came from a professor from Arizona State University, who is an expert on technology and artificial intelligence. Social media and targeted assaults like the Russian meddling are just the beginning of a sea change where he believes there will no longer be any such thing as “truth” or “facts.”  We are retreating into a new kind of tribalism where because of technology we can screen out anything that does not conform with our own view of the world. The new technology can be and is being weaponized to shape the way people think and act. Pretty scary stuff. This guy was quite pessimistic and had no more clues than the rest of us as to how we get through these troubling times and keep and open and democratic society.

All the lectures we attended—over a dozen—were excellent, several extraordinary. I could not help wondering where did they find all these people. But this is the Chautauqua Institute, with a rich history of over 140 years of giving platforms to the best and the brightest.  Alexander Graham Bell, Franklin Roosevelt, Margaret Meade, Thurgood Marshall and Elie Wiesel all spoke from the stage of the massive amphitheater (not the current one, which amidst intense controversy replaced the original two years ago) . My two favorites this week were William Burns, now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former diplomat and Ambassador to Russia,  Avor Towles, author of A Gentleman In Moscow. Burns made me realize just how important diplomacy is and how it can and often does produce great benefits. Sadly not what is happening now. And Towles, witty and charming, provided an insightful context for his best seller about the triumph of the individual spirit under Communism, a book that I truly loved.

So if you have the time and the money (Embry refuses to tell me how much it cost.), plan to come here. On any given day during the nine week program, I am told that there could be as many as ten thousand people scrambling to classes and lectures, attending concerts or just milling around the lakefront or strolling along the car-free, narrow streets, dodging kids riding bicycles. It is  a cross between a university, a summer camp and a retirement community as a whole lot of people—I would guess over half– are about our age. And that there are so many engaged, gray-hairs like us intensely listening and discussing the great themes and ideas of our time is in itself inspiring. We humans just keep squeezing as much juice out of the lemon as we can until the last drop.




From The UK: Trump And The Queen

This post is from dear friend and blog follower, The Reverend Roger Wikely, partially-retired Anglican priest and a Faux News stringer, living in his native England.

No reporter from Faux News was seen in London this week to record the historic meeting of Her Gracious Majesty (the Queen) with President Tramp (spelling intentional).
It is reported that the President was determined to ignore courtiers’ advice and to greet Her Majesty with a kiss, but this proved to be beyond him since, he, being oversized and she, being petite, he couldn’t stoop low enough to fulfil that particular ambition.  Asked if she preferred him to address her as Liz or as Queenie, her response was such that no reporters could hear it.

It is hoped our reporter will come immediately to the UK to cover what is left of this visit.

Faux News: The Trump/Putin Summit

The big summit will not happen until next week, but Faux News has inside information regarding how the historic event will unfold as described below:

The two men enter the room alone with no one else present. They shake hands, embrace and then shake hands again, then embrace and shake hands a third time.

Trump: Vladdy!

Putin: Donny-Boy!

Trump: At last alone. Nobody but us.

Putin: Mr. President, I have to tell you how much I admire—and yes, love you. You are  a great leader of a great nation, and it is my distinct honor to be alone in the same room with a man who will go down in history as the greatest leader of all time.

Trump: Except for you, Mr. President.

Putin: Of course, but let’s get down to the basics since we have so little time. First, Donny-Boy, the sanctions. I want them removed and removed now.

Trump: I know, Vladdy. I am working on it, but you see I have this pesky congress.

Putin: You have got them where you want them.  McConnell and Ryan will do anything you want as will everyone else who is a Republican and not retiring. I am beginning to lose patience. You must not forget that you have made America great again. You have pulled your country out of the Obama sewer, and the whole world respects and fears you. You can do whatever you want.

Trump: I know, but I also have these pesky mid term elections coming up.

Putin: No worry, Donny-Boy. We have already taken care of that. You will  gain four Senate seats and grow your majority in the House. You will be the most powerful president in U.S. history.

Trump: No kidding? You are going to do it again? Thank you so much, Vladdy. You know how grateful I am for what you did in 2016. And to help me again? How can I ever thank you enough?

Putin: You know how, Donny-Boy. Sanctions first, then abandon NATO, and do not pester me when I am acting in our combined national interests. Remember, we have 50 times more nukes between the U.S. and Russia than the entire rest of the world combined. We can do whatever we want, whenever we want and wherever we want. But we must work together.

Trump:  You are right, Vladdy. But there are some, even in the Republican Party, who do not like you or trust you.

Putin: Deal with it Donny-Boy.

Trump: I  will try but…

Putin: Donny-Boy, I still have the Kompromat photos of the Moscow whores.

Trump: But you said…

Putin: And I still have the all the info on the business deals, the casino, the golf courses and the bribes that went with them.

Trump: I understand, Mr. President.

Putin: But also understand that I would not have done what I have done for you for anyone else. You are the smartest, the bravest, the best looking, and the strongest of anyone on this planet…

Trump: Except for you, Mr. President.

Putin: Of course.  I think we fully understand each other. And, oh yes, one other thing. My informants tell me Mueller has the goods. Kill the investigation and destroy the evidence. Do it now! Do you think for one moment that we would allow anything like this to happen in Russia? If you can’t take care of it, we surely can.

Trump: Understood. Will get back to you on this. But rest assured, we have a deal.


Meeting concludes with two embraces and three handshakes.




The Fourth of July, 2018

Today we celebrate the independence of the United States from Great Britain. This is my 77th  of being alive on this day, when we Americans gather for picnics, watch fireworks, see parades, and celebrate what it is to be an American. There is indeed so much to be thankful for on this day. This is a special country. We Americans are blessed. I would not want to live anywhere else.

Yet this Fourth of July seems eerily different from most of the ones that have come before over the past 77 years that I have been alive. A battle is raging as to what kind of country we are becoming and want to become. The nation has never been more divided except during the Civil War.

On the one side there is the Party of Trump, no longer recognizable as the proud  Republican Party it once was. Trump rode the populist wave of “throw the bums out”  with a little help from a weak campaign by his opponent, her email saga, and perhaps the Russians. He won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by over three million votes.  Since becoming President he has waged war on the press, alienated our allies, tacitly and not-so-tacitly supported racists and hate groups, and pursued trade policies that many economists think will trigger a recession. He has not supported  gun regulations. He has seen his tax cut pass the Republican-controlled Congress resulting in huge windfalls for the rich and a soaring deficit that is unsustainable. He is  anti-environment, anti-immigrant, anti-poor people,  and anti-people of color, promising to make America great again just like the good old days—as in Jim Crow.  His foreign policies are inconsistent and unpredictable. If any of his current list of Supreme Court nominees get confirmed, it is likely to be the end of Roe v. Wade, possibly gay marriage, and most of the remaining civil rights laws. 

About 40 percent of the voting population strongly support Trump. Many adore him. He represents change from the status quo; and no matter how  how outrageous  his behavior or tweets are, his popularity does not  seem to budge. He has said that he could kill someone on Fifth Avenue, and it would not make one bit of difference.

There are reasons for his popularity. Most I believe have to do with the fact that a lot of Americans are struggling financially, feel abandoned and dissed by the liberal elite, and are fearful of the changing complexion of America. Some of his popularity, but certainly by no means a majority, has to do with old-fashioned racism. The irony is that many in his base are hard working, white working class people, some former Democrats, who  could not be any more different from a man like Trump, who was born into great wealth and has been anti union and anti worker throughout his real estate career.  

One the other side, there are the rest of us. About 40 percent  of the voting population are people like me who despise the man and what he is doing to our country. We embrace the idea of growing diversity in our country, gay marriage, civil rights, environmental protection, affordable health care, a strong social safety net, heavy investment in infrastructure, affordable higher education, and higher taxes on the rich. We are the hard-core opposition. We are mostly Democrats, but some independents  fall into this category.

The other twenty percent –mainly Independents but some traditional Republicans—are not happy with Trump and the way the country is going but are not a sure thing to vote against him when election day comes around. Some have tended to turn a blind eye to Trump’s  outrageous behavior in exchange for tax cuts  that in the short run make them wealthier. Others  see him as the lesser of two evils. A good number of these people, however, will vote anti-Trump. How many  vote for a Democrat in 2018 will determine the future of our country.

 I am hopeful that the midterm Congressional elections will at least put the Democrats back in control of the House. The Senate is a long shot, but  having at least one House of Congress to balance Trump could make a huge difference. The biggest hope appears to be white, suburban, married women who have tended to vote  traditional Republican in the past. But given Trump’s misogyny and the #Me Too Movement, they will vote for Democrats to counterbalance the Trump Administration.

But what if this does not happen? What if the Trump opposition does not turn out to vote in great numbers? What if the enthusiasm  among Trump’s  base results in a much stronger turnout—a Red Wave as Trump is calling it?

This is what causes me to stay awake at night. This is why July 4, 2018, is different. Trump is unique. There has been no President like him in all of U.S. history. Our democracy is fragile. We see countries like Turkey, Poland, and Hungary inch closer to totalarian  governments. Neo fascism is starting to brew in Germany and other European countries. Could this happen here?

So on this Fourth of July we should rejoice and celebrate our proud history but at the same time keep in mind just how fragile and how serious the current situation is. Yes, we have had great failures in the past—slavery and Jim Crow topping the list—but have managed to come through them, at least somewhat. We have been though a  revolution, a civil war and two world wars. We have faced hard challenges in the past. We  are facing hard challenges now. I pray on this Fourth of July, 2018, that we will come through our dark night of the soul.