Coronavirus has done far more than kill a lot of people. It has exposed a lot about us as people and as a society.
There’s the good, of course. Americans are great in a crisis. Always have been. We’ve seen oceans of kindness and sweat poured into preventing and beating back COVID-19. It’s both incredibly heartening and utterly predictable, thank god.
So, if you’re looking for a reason to smile, let it be that.
But there have been disheartening signs, as well, that we, as a society, have some seriously misplaced priorities. For instance, the “open up the economy” protests that – magically – have sprung up, mostly in states that Trump needs in November. (I’m sure it’s a coincidence.)
It’s been both amusing and sad watching these adults – some of them wearing MAGA hats, brandishing guns and waving Confederate flags – screaming their tonsils out at empty state capital buildings, demanding an end to stay-at-home-restrictions. They seem to see no irony in the fact they’re chanting mostly to reporters and TV cameras – an industry they describe as fake.
It’s their right to protest, but let’s not pretend these events represent some organic grassroots movement. They are Trump rallies, pure and simple. The Michigan protest, for instance, was planned by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, both founded by Greg McNeilly, a political adviser to the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Your local conservative Sinclair station (there are 294 across the country now) probably forgot to include that detail. Do you care? You should.
You should also care that we, as a nation, are doing the same thing with front line medical professionals – doctors, nurses, support staff and so forth – that we do with military personnel, teachers and police. We smother them with platitudes, musical tributes and weepy TV ads of appreciation, but we’ll forget them once the crisis is over. Better pay? Well, maybe next year? Proper support (like, say, gowns, masks and ventilators)? Sure, right after we buy another bomb for the Air Force.
A friend of mine whose husband is an ER nurse wrote the following: “My husband (an ER nurse) and his coworkers in the ER and ICU are not martyrs. They are just trying to do their job. Thankfully, his employer seems to care about them enough to support them by hiring additional staff and taking unconventional approaches such as decontaminating masks amid a shameful national shortage. While the hospital system that employs him is handling the situation admirably, many of our friends across the state are not receiving the same treatment. A system he trained at, and one I used to work for, one that makes billions of dollars each year in profits, is effectively sacrificing its employees and suspending those who speak out. They are criminally understaffed, under-equipped, under-protected. Many patient care staffers have seen or will see their coworkers get sick and die, in addition to the patients who could not be appropriately monitored because their nursing staff had criminally high patient loads. So much of that suffering is unnecessary and is a cumulative product of putting profits ahead of people. Sure, if you care (which you should) keep ringing a bell at shift change or sending pizzas to hospital staff — if anything supporting the local businesses that make them is a worthy cause. But moving forward, get pissed off and vote for protection of workers’ rights.”
I like to think we’ll do just that. I’d also like to see us mature into a society that:
- Values truth and relentless questions what is presented to them by media, government and business.
- Prepares for bad times when times are good.
- Decides that healthcare is a right, not a for-profit business.
- Puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to paying and supporting medical staff, police, fire, teachers and so forth.
- And pays the 1 percent less and the 99 percent more. As Bernie Sanders just tweeted: “We need to ask ourselves how it happened that we have an economy where half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck and 40% cannot afford a $400 emergency.”
Will it happen? I’m hopeful, but then I believe that, by and large, we live the lives we make.
Let’s make some good choices, people.