WHEELING – It has been hard for a long time to say anything about politics that helps anyone with anything. If you say something to one side or the other, no one who might believe you needs to hear it; and no one who might need to hear it will believe you. Three-plus years of our politics has immunized righties and lefties alike to new information.
Facts simply bounce off one side or the other. Corruption at Mar-a-Lago? “Clinton sold the Lincoln bedroom.” Don’t like Kavanaugh? “Elections have consequences.” We can game out our political conversations without bothering to have them. Everyone has learned their lines by heart.
In the real world though, America has been shut down. Kids have been out of school more than a week and are not set to go back for many weeks more. That is a fact every American has to deal with whether they like it or not. There is no baseball, no basketball, no hockey, and now there will be no Olympics. Millions of people are now or are just about to be out of work. Stores, shops, restaurants — most are closed. Can’t argue any of that one way or the other — it just is.
We have a lot of sick people. On February 28th, there were just 15 cases of coronavirus in the United States, but no one had died. Not even a whole month later, there are over 45,000 cases and over 500 deaths. The astronomical trajectory of those numbers has led to the shut down that has families at home with kids who should be at school, and older folks in nursing homes with no visitors when they should be seeing their families.
Some of us are finding out exactly how precarious life is for so many of our fellow Americans. There are thousands of small businesses that can’t afford to keep paying their employees when they aren’t open. There are tens of millions of employees that can’t miss a week’s pay, let alone a month’s, and carry on their affairs. So many checkbooks balance, if at all, near zero, so when a paycheck is missed, there goes the electric, the water, or the health insurance.
In the Bible, the four horseman of the apocalypse are famine, pestilence, destruction, and death. With apology to Grantland Rice, their modern aliases are eviction, foreclosure, repossession, and .. still death. Knowledgeable doctors and epidemiologists have explained that even with strong measures to stop the spread of the virus, 2020 could see hundreds of thousands of deaths in just the US. A pandemic this deadly can bring a 9/11 to our country every month, then every week, then every day.
In the face of such facts, we cannot afford to sort our reactions by left and right. An Arkansas pastor recently said his flock had become so devoted to the President that some members would lick the floor to prove there was no disease worth fearing. And I have heard the virus practically rooted on by folks who think it can see a President they despise finally out of office.
We declared our Independence for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not “my opinions,” liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must not sacrifice our fellow citizens to this terrible virus, nor to the disruption and impoverishment with which it threatens folks without funds to ride out the crisis in the Caymans.
When you go to the hospital, one of the first things they do is take your clothes away and put you in that flimsy paper gown with strings in the back. That’s so they can work on you the way they want to, sure, but there’s another reason. Doctors are sending you a message with that paper sack: you’re just another human body in here — no different than the next one, whether you wear silk suits or Carhartt’s when you’re out in the world.
None of us is immune to coronavirus. If we should catch it and become ill, we’ll wear the same paper gowns, in the same rows of beds, seeing the same exhausted doctors and nurses. Whether your bumper sticker says MAGA or COEXIST, the car it’s stuck to will be sitting idle in the parking lot when you find out if there’s a ventilator available for you, or not.
It’s not too soon to change our ways. We need to join together figuratively and stay away from each other literally until the virus slows way down. We need to support, from the public treasury, every citizen who needs help to survive while the country is locked down.
Investment portfolios can be rebuilt when we win this battle. Businesses can be recapitalized and reopened when it is safe to walk through malls and markets. Votes can be cast by mail. When this is over, America will throw parties, concerts, and tournaments until we once again wish for a night at home.
But no one who dies unnecessarily from this virus can be brought back when it’s over. If we abandon our senior citizens to their fate because we can’t tolerate the doctors’ orders to stay home, we’ll never be able to forgive ourselves. No one should lose their life this year because someone couldn’t afford to miss a shift, or a delivery, or a payment. As doctors and nurses have been shouting from the rooftops, they are risking their lives going to work for us; the least we can do is stay home for them.
We have a great chance to prove we’re not the people we’ve kind of made ourselves out to be lately — willing to do anything, even die ourselves, to score points on the other half of our own team. We’ve got brilliant doctors and scientists who prepared their whole lives to fight a battle like this, with thousands of innocent lives in the balance. Let’s listen to them, stay home as long as it takes, and tell the Congress to make it work.
Regan is an attorney with Bordas & Bordas in Pittsburgh and the former vice chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party.