Most of 2020 has kept us painfully preoccupied with the coronavirus. As it dominated the recent election, it continues to dominate the news cycle. My father was a bacteriologist, and I often wonder what he would have made of this pandemic. CoVid has revealed much about us as individuals and as a society. While I am not a medical professional and have not even played one on TV, there are plenty of non-medical observations one can make about the effects of the pandemic on life as we knew it.
A percentage of our population still has not yet taken the epidemic seriously. I base this on my observations of mask-refusers, risk-takers, and conspiracy theorists. These are people who do not believe their actions have any effect on others, or if they do believe, refuse to modify their behavior in even relatively minor ways. Such lack of concern for others is lamentable – though not unexpected.
Among those who try to follow the guidelines, equity is a big issue. It is clear that no matter what the government tries, there remain obvious inequities in how people are treated. The inequity exists from state to state, city to city, and business to business. If the inequity is blatant enough, people just quit trying to comply. Witness the indoor/outdoor rules for restaurants and the efforts of bars to qualify as restaurants in order to avoid shutdowns.
At the same time, there are others who selflessly labor on the front lines, coming face to face with an enemy which has taken over 325 thousand lives. Some, like healthcare professionals and first responders, are easy to recognize. Less obvious, but just as essential are those who remove medical waste, pharmacist’s assistants, morticians, drivers of refrigerated morgue trucks, sanitation workers, and grocery and food service workers. And of course, U.S. senators and representatives. Really?
Yes, with the arrival of vaccines, someone designated Congress as “essential workers.” This is the same Congress with more empty seats than filled ones on any given day, which is out of session as often as it is in, and the same Congress that held up relief for CoVid victims, their families, and businesses for many long months in a political game of chicken.
This is the Congress which is unable to pass predictable recurring budget and spending legislation without reaching a crisis stage, each and every year. And yes, the Congress that cut in front of the line to get its vaccinations ahead of the hospitalized, elderly, and front-line actual essential workers; including those members who had spoken against any vaccine that might emerge from the Trump administration. In the words of Garth Brooks: Shameless.
Bringing us back to the double-standard, which comes in the “do as I say, not as I do” package. Examples of hypocrisy of government leaders pop up almost daily. From the Austin mayor to the California governor, to the federal task force scientist, we have experts and political leaders who tell the great unwashed populace to avoid travel and meeting in groups and then proceed to do exactly that. Somehow their apologies for conscious and intentional behavior at odds with their proclamations ring hollow in the ears of the masses.
Ever more Machiavellian, Congress justified hiding funding for new museums, lizard studies, and foreign aid in the latest ridiculous 5600-page CoVid relief bill. And many of us naively thought all that money was actually going to CoVid relief.
And yet. In spite of questionable and feckless leadership, the nation will emerge from the CoVid darkness. This is because the United States of America remains the world’s best hope for freedom and economic success, notwithstanding legions of media pundits, apologists for history, Antifa, the Far Left, white supremacists, and pseudo-patriots. This country is weathering a unique medical and economic disaster, while demonstrating ingenuity, scientific genius, and stubborn determination to prevail. We have produced CoVid vaccines in nine months. Think what we could have done with a little unity.
The greatest threat to the American dream lies not in Russia or China, or some exotic pandemic yet to be discovered or manufactured. From Portland to Seattle to Chicago to New York, the threat is within our own borders. The threat is concentrating on what divides us, rather than our common aspirations. It is focusing on historical inequities at the expense of improving the here and now. It is giving in and giving voice to anger and violence, while pandering to the loudest and most strident objectors to democracy and capitalism, in the face of unmatched growth and success by the Western Hemisphere’s oldest self-governing republic.
If we refuse to acknowledge the exceptionalism of this country and its citizens, along with the responsibility with which we’ve been entrusted as a world leader, we tempt fate to grant us the status of being just another average country on the globe, one that no longer has the heart to lead or the inclination to give of itself unselfishly to help others.
CoVid will fall to American ingenuity and strength, just as did the Great Recession, 9/11, and the Soviet bloc. We still have the ability to realize our founders’ ambitions and perhaps even those of the higher power they acknowledged, for now at least.
Gene G. Blair has been a resident of Huntsville for 41 years. He is retired from the Criminal Justice Center at SHSU, and is also retired from the U.S. Army. He is a director on the executive board of CASA of Walker, San Jacinto, and Trinity counties.