“We are all in this together.” So says the slogan that accompanies nearly every message of hope from government and business leaders regarding efforts to combat the Covid19 pandemic. Unfortunately, it has been overused to the point of losing its meaning. It is also not accurate. We are clearly not all in this together and are divided as to how to deal with it.
We say that the virus does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender politics or other differences but that’s another empty platitude. It seeks out the elderly and those with underlying conditions or compromised immune systems much more than it does the young and healthy. It attacks those who live in densely-populated urban areas much more than it does those in areas that are less-densely populated. It apparently attacks blacks and Hispanics at a rate in excess of their proportion of the population. It attacks more men than women. There are reasons for these differences, of course, but it is an oversimplification to say that the virus does not discriminate.
When the seriousness of the pandemic finally became recognized, we called for national unity in the fight against it, likening it to a war for survival, similar to World War II when slogans like the above served as a rallying cry. We urged all Americans to put politics aside and unite our focus on defeating this unseen enemy so that our lives could return to normal again. Our medical, pharmaceutical and research communities along with first responders and frontline workers heeded the call, collaborating in the desperate search for therapies and vaccines and keeping essential services and industries running. Unfortunately, for most politicians and media members, it was business as usual. They just couldn’t resist the temptation to use the crisis for political purposes.
It was too much, I guess, to expect a politically-polarized society like ours to put politics aside in an election year in order to concentrate our energies on winning this war like we did for the entire duration of World War II. Given the visceral hatred displayed toward Donald Trump by Democrat leaders and the sustained and partisan efforts throughout his first term to remove him from office, it was probably inevitable that we would fight this war divided along party lines. This could jeopardize, or at least delay, our chances of success and history may judge us harshly for it.
Nowhere are the divisions more evident than in plans for re-opening the economy and getting people back to work after two months of shutdown that already has had a devastating effect. Expectations that the economy will come roaring back are probably overly optimistic. Recovery will likely be gradual given the number of expected business failures. The president and GOP lawmakers and governors mostly favor a rapid approach to re-opening, warning that prolonging the shutdown will greatly increase the damage to the economy, making the cure worse than the disease. Democrat lawmakers and governors tend to favor a slower approach, warning of the dangers of a resurgence in the number of cases and an increasing death toll. Both sides are right, of course, but they can’t even agree on that.
Navigating life’s constant challenges requires compromises but we seem to have forgotten how to do that. We don’t debate anymore. We just accuse each other of being wrong. The longer we keep the world’s largest economy mostly shut down, the more damage it will do and the longer it will take to recover. We can’t print money forever to keep businesses and the unemployed afloat. We’ve got to get people back to work or there will be no work to get back to.
There will be deaths no matter which approach is taken and every life, of course, is precious. But the fact is, we tolerate a certain number of fatalities when, for example, we decide to send troops to combat or raise the speed limit or lower the minimum age for obtaining a driver’s license or build automobiles that go 165 mph. Want to save more lives? How about forbidding the use of tobacco or alcoholic beverages? Believe me, if this economy collapses, resulting in years of depression like I remember back in the 1930s, there will be many lives lost and perhaps even a country.
Ours is a huge nation with distinct regional differences. The approach that may be right for, say Texas and California may not be right for New York and Michigan. Maine is very different from Arizona. The governors are in the best position and have the authority to determine which is best for their state. We may not agree with their politics or their methods but it’s their call and they need to be supported. They will be held accountable for their decisions at the polls by their own citizens. Disruptive demonstrations against them are not helpful, especially when attended by idiots brandishing rifles or wearing swastikas or KKK garb who should be denounced by both parties.
Dr. Kelly, a freelance writer living in Coronado, is a retired Navy Captain. He commanded three San Diego-based ships, a naval laboratory and taught ship handling, seamanship and navigation at Naval Base San Diego. He received his doctorate at the USD and taught MBA students for the Graduate School of Business. He was a senior vice president and director of training and development at Great American Bank.