The great Estonian composer Arvo Part observed: “This tiny coronavirus has showed us in a painful way that humanity is a single organism and human existence is possible only in relation to other living beings. The notion of ‘relationship’ should be understood as a maxim, as the ability to love. … While isolating ourselves, we should be able to, we are even forced to, appreciate our relationships in a small circle and to tend to them. All of this we have to learn before we expect, or even demand, love and justice from the whole world. In a way, the coronavirus has sent us all back to first grade. Only once we’ve passed this test can we begin to think about the next steps.”
If Donald Trump has his way, we are all going to flunk first grade.
The weekend saw public protests against state stay-at-home orders, with flag-wielding demonstrators demanding the re-opening of businesses, and a return to normal routines. They were encouraged by Donald Trump, who tweeted “LIBERATE [insert state with Democratic governor here]!” Although many protesters toted guns, eschewed facemasks, and blocked healthcare workers from getting to hospitals, Trump said that “they seem to be very responsible people to me.”
Every day, I wake and look at the news on my phone. “This can’t be happening,” I think while wondering, “Can things possibly get any more insane?” The next morning, they do. If this were a movie, the soundtrack would be an atonal version of Ravel’s Bolero (a piece that repeats one theme over and over while growing louder and louder). Only it would be played by a really bad orchestra. With over 42,000 dead in America from COVID-19, we are experiencing the real “American carnage.”
It was preventable, this fiasco. At the first signs of the danger this virus presented, the federal government could have used the power of eminent domain to acquire all the ventilators, masks, and personal protective equipment available, and the government could have distributed them to the hospitals around the nation where the need was greatest. A national testing and tracing protocol could have been established. In Western countries with similar socioeconomic profiles but more intelligent leaders, the results have been far better: Germany and Canada have per capita death rates that are less than half of that in the U.S.
Misinformation on talk radio and across social media is part of the insidious problem now manifested in the “re-open” protests. Rush Limbaugh told listeners the coronavirus was just like the common cold. A prominent local Republican leader said – falsely – that for those between the ages of 20 and 50, the coronavirus is no more lethal than the seasonal flu. These are lies, and they are dangerous, because they foment a sense of frustration with the health orders of local officials whose decisions are driven by data and science. It is irresponsible to stir the pot of this discontent, as many Republicans are doing.
As the physical world grapples with the coronavirus, the virtual world remains plagued by a pandemic of uninformed opinion and careless libel. But now is not the time to succumb to rhetoric. The U.S. still lacks sufficient testing capacity to effectively and responsibly return to normal routines. Once there is sufficient testing infrastructure to responsibly move in phases back to normal life, we can do so. At least that’s what the medical experts are saying. They are the ones we should listen to - not the politicians promoting their own personal interests by aligning with the “re-open” protesters.
If this pandemic is a marathon, we’re maybe at about mile 12, and there is not yet enough water or Gatorade at the aid stations along the rest of the course. People need to stop pretending that we’ve already crossed the finish line.