It’s Time to Get Real
How America can defeat a virus and prepare for the other crises that are coming
First, we hope for the swift return to health for Donald Trump, his wife, staff, journalists, senators and the more than 150,000 other Americans who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past three days. No one deserves to get this virus. No one.
It has been quite a week. The 3½-year rule of Trump has been characterized by one shock after another — that is actually his system, gripping control by creating instability — but the past week has been exceptional.
The week began with the controversial nomination of a replacement for RBG on the Supreme Court, at a mask-less ceremony and indoor meetings that likely made the day a super-spreader event for the coronavirus. On Tuesday, Trump took the bully pulpit a little too literally, making the Presidential debate a most un-presidential debacle. The next day, Hope Hicks feels unwell and isolates herself aboard Air Force One. Thursday, Hicks tests positive, and Trump flies to his Bedminster, NJ resort for a fundraiser. Before 1:00am Friday a tweet announces that Donald and Melania “will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately.” (They may have known days earlier.)
The ineluctable take-away from this week is that SARS-CoV-2, an incomplete organism which exists only to replicate and spread itself, caught up with the most powerful man in the world. Biology beats showmanship, science trumps politics, no pun intended.
Every American must learn that lesson.
And fast, as we are approaching the winter months, which will give the virus even greater advantage. Many states have missed a chance to reduce rates of transmission over the summer, when people could meet outside safely. We are going into a dark time, and not only because the days are getting shorter. (Similarly, we find the coffers empty just when we need the government to prop up the economy, because someone thought it would be a good idea to give tax breaks to the uber-wealthy.)
We have squandered our opportunity to get ahead of this thing. It’s time to get real.
For too long, too many of us have ignored sound advice, listening instead to the shrill voices of the culture wars. We have allowed those seeking power to undermine our faith in science. We must all see that no one is safe because we have let politics dictate our response to a pandemic.
We might have been forgiven for missteps back in February, maybe even March. SARS-CoV-2 was a novel virus, and experts could not be certain what would be required to contain it. But even then the White House strategy was to ignore a problem they knew was serious, as recordings of the Trump interviews with Bob Woodward now reveal. Half a year later, we know what to do: social distance; stay home as much as possible; test, test, test; trace contacts; quarantine; and, most of all, “Wear the damn mask!”
We have allowed trust to be undermined at every level of our society. Good health to Kellyanne Conway, but her “alternative facts,” “fake news” Newspeak has given license to dismiss the best science we have ever had at our disposal.
Our country is in a downward spiral, and not just because of the pandemic.
A grassroots effort to confront the national stain of slavery, at long last, has been subverted into a cynical election-year effort to precipitate violence in the streets.
Around us, vigilante groups are arming themselves to defend “our way of life” — which is really code for something else — and perhaps even an election loss.
Technology has given megaphones to propagandists, often posing as journalists, to sow doubt through conspiracy theories that would be laughable if a third of Americans were not under their sway. Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh, Ben Shapiro, “Q.”
Congress has devolved into a shade of our national division, hammering away at either side with tired tropes, shamelessly ignoring its own rules, failing to serve anyone but the very few.
But it is not too late to turn things around.
There is nothing this country can’t do if we work together. We should be better than a microbe. The whole world is fighting it, but strangely the United States is suffering the most. It is because we have been deceived, a polarized country led by politicians who seek to divide it further.
Recently, two of our top government scientists took the extraordinary step of warning the public about political interference in science amid the pandemic. “Any efforts to discredit the best science and scientists threaten the health and welfare of us all.”
We must finally reconcile with slavery. Yes, all lives matter but not until black lives matter too. We must, individually and collectively, work on a problem that will not go away any more than the virus will simply disappear.
Private, pseudo-military groups answering only to themselves must be condemned and dissolved. Full stop. And the most expensive military in the world should not be used against the people who pay for it.
As for the propagandists who profit from spreading untruth, we have what was (sadly) the most memorable quote from the first “debate” between the candidates for President, “Will you shut up, man?!”
Our three branches of government, and our electoral system, clearly need reform. (Politicians should not spend most of their time fundraising. It should not cost $10.8 billion dollars to run election campaigns.) Some changes could be legislated, some may require amendments to the Constitution. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has offered a bipartisan guide.
To beat a virus, recover our economy and prepare for climate disruption, we must all move in from partisan poles. It is not too late to avert greater disaster than we have already endured, but now is the time for change. We must cut through the noise, recognize our differences and work through them.
One simple idea is all we need:
We do not have to be alike to love alike.