Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Dear President Tr*mp (I still can't bring myself to spell out your name in full),

Reading the news today I recalled the story of Canute the Great, King of England (1016-1035) as well as of Denmark and Norway. In the version I heard in my childhood days, that king's apparently apocryphal attempt to command the tide to turn was a parable of the overweening vanity of kings and the delusion of divinely-ordained omnipotence. He got his feet wet. The more recent--and more enlightened--version of the story holds that Canute performed this futile act before his assembled lords and courtiers in order to demonstrate exactly the opposite: that the power of kings is limited, and that the only omnipotence belongs to God.

I thought of this story in the context of your reported delusion--which could turn into a presidential edict--for the nation to return to "normal" and everyone go back to work starting Easter Day. The notion that the power of your intention alone would suffice to turn back the tide of the coronavirus is as arrogant a conceit as the one illustrated by the King Canute story as it was told to me in childhood: hubris will inevitably lead to tragedy. But in truth the power of reality, God, Nature--call it what you will--makes a mockery of the power you imagine that you wield.

I invite you, without great hope, to embrace the humility of the more enlightened version. Otherwise, it's more than your own two feet that will get wet. We'll all be deluged by the tidal wave. And many of us will drown.

Yrs. truly, Peter Clothier

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