Commentary: A time for heroes

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While the ultimate scale of the COVID-19 pandemic remains unknown, its capacity for disruption is clear.

Our fears have been stoked, our routines suspended, our sense of security shattered. Schools, restaurants and workplaces are closed indefinitely, and millions of Americans in nursing homes and elder care facilities have been shut off from their loved ones.

This is a time for heroes, for people who put the needs of others above their own self-interest. It is a time for innovation and determination, as we stay engaged with our fellow citizens while practicing the mandate of social distancing.

Weathering this global storm will take all of our commitment and all of our grit.

As everyone should have expected, President Donald Trump’s handling of this crisis has been a debacle. After disbanding the White House team in charge of preparing for a pandemic, he blamed the nation’s inadequate testing capability on Barack Obama (“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said); disputed the World Health Organization’s death rate findings in favor of “my hunch” that it was lower; falsely claimed that “anyone who wants a test can get one”; and even hallucinated that “we’re very close to a vaccine.”

Trump, who claims to have gotten his keen grasp of medicine from his “great super genius” uncle, “basically wasted two months” that could have been spent producing emergency equipment and supplies now in critical shortage, officials say. He has continued to ignore calls for a coordinated national response to the pandemic, exacerbating its severity.

We must accept that Trump will never be able to soothe the nation or guide it competently. He is no longer just an embarrassment; his ignorance, constant lying and failure to act is actually proving lethal for countless Americans. He needs to be shunted aside until he can be removed from power.

In the absence of leadership from the White House, state and local governments are taking charge of containing the novel coronavirus and caring for its victims. The public is largely cooperating with new rules about hygiene and behavior. Health care resources are being routed to places with the greatest need. People are responding in encouraging ways, from sewing masks to checking in on their neighbors.

We cannot and never will go back to the way things were before this pandemic erupted. It will change the nation’s future direction forever, possibly for the better.

If the most sensible strategy during a health care crisis is to make sure no one goes untreated for lack of funds, why can’t we always take this approach? If cooperating as a global community to survive an existential threat makes sense now, why can’t we do it to fight climate change? And why not take this opportunity to improve things for the low-wage workers who are now providing actual lifelines to others?

Of course, this pandemic will certainly bring out our worst as well as our best. Our goal should be to make sure this unfolding public health crisis has more heroes than villains. This is not just about stopping a pandemic but addressing the pathologies that underlie it, including bigotry (“Chinese virus”) and disregard for science.

Responding productively to the exigencies of the moment — as a nation, as a world, as a species — will be good practice for addressing the challenges to come.



Bill Lueders is editor of The Progressive magazine. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project and distributed by Tribune News Service.


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