Summer Rage: America Burning Inside and Out

By Jamie Stiehm

September 16, 2020 5 min read

As sure as sunflowers fade fast, America's summer of burn is counting days to a close. Autumn arrives any moment.

How starved we are for a new season after a summer of hot air blasting from the White House, wildfires blazing in the West and another hurricane hitting near New Orleans. In all her fury, Mother Nature seems to act out 2020 human moods on the ground.

The climate crisis mirrors our condition all too well.

I've never seen the country as anxious and angry as now, under the cloud of a deadly pandemic. And it's over more than masks, a stark sign of our divided times.

The body politic is scorched, torn in two by a defiant president who inspires fierce loathing or loyalty, little in between.

The 1850s, before the Civil War broke out, were a garden party compared with the constant strife on Twitter, Facebook, Fox and CNN. Under the pandemic, it all festers in our heads without healthy outdoor pursuits, the normal workplace, school classes and social contact.

Confinement is hard at any age. Man does not live on Zoom alone — nor does woman or child. We need one another in person more than we knew.

President Donald Trump brags that he brings out "rage" in people — hence the title of Bob Woodward's new book about the president. That's Trump's true talent — let's give him evil genius — and he never takes or gives us a day off. His simple presidential speech is one of three things: a boast, lie or insult.

Before 2017, the American people had never seen a president openly raging, denouncing citizens, generals and popular institutions such as the post office.

As we live and try to breathe, beloved California is burning — millions of acres. Epic wildfires cast an orange sky over the Golden Gate Bridge and the city on the hills, San Francisco. In Santa Monica, the sun was an orb in a hazy sky, with no light or shadow. So I hear from my family.

Pacific neighbors Oregon and Washington, also ravaged by fire, faced evacuations of destroyed towns and even death. With the surreal state of emergency comes bewilderment. How is this happening?

As a nation, we always leaned westward, like the Plymouth pilgrims. The frontier was always in front of us, for railroads and pioneers in the 19th century.

California dreaming lured countless Midwesterners who transplanted there long after the covered wagon trails turned into freeways.

Our family went west in a red Buick, through the desert, with me looking wistfully back at Wisconsin, Grandma, snow and Lake Mendota. We never went back, except for the Fourth of July.

The promise of the West went way beyond gold. It held out freedom, beauty and wide-open arms to try new ideas and escape convention.

The frontier closed, but the mystique lived on. It invited restless outsiders: poets and artists to San Francisco (flowers in their hair); writers, musicians and actors to Los Angeles.

Nobody likes to see cultural myths smoldering in smoke.

It's a lot to take while anguished over a health crisis like none in memory. Then there's the economic fallout from the coronavirus, a contagion which, Woodward tells us, the president deliberately denied.

Yes, just like Trump denied the climate crisis during a brief stop in California. Speaking with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and other leaders, he said, "It'll start getting cooler; you just watch."

"Summer's lease hath all too short a date," said William Shakespeare. For once, he was wrong. Nobody will forget this summer in a hurry or miss it much. Too many tears were shed. Too much time was spent alone — or together.

We've seen about 75,000 COVID-19 deaths in the summer of 2020.

America is to the world what the West is to America. Global friends and foes have never seen America struggle quite like this. Americans have never seen America burn like this, young or old. In the 1933 Depression, we had the best president of the 20th century light the way.

In the garden, yellow black-eyed Susans have only their black eyes left. Cicadas sing farewell in a crisp chill. Time for a change, to brace for the upcoming fall.

Jamie Stiehm can be reached at To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit

Photo credit: danigeza at Pixabay

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