Some people are as awful as ever. Isn’t that comforting?

Even as so much else falls away, some American values endure: Self-interest, ignorance, cruelty, racism.

Senator Richard Burr showed us where his heart truly lies: with himself.
Senator Richard Burr showed us where his heart truly lies: with himself.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

The world may be upside down. Many may be living in mortal fear. Millions of us may be losing our livelihoods, and our minds.

But, even as so much else falls away, some American values endure: Self-interest, ignorance, cruelty, racism.

As the best of us come together (not too close!), bucking each other up and trying to soften the blows of the catastrophe wrought by coronavirus and abject incompetence at the highest levels, others continue to do what the worst of us have always done: Look out for number one.

Some things never change. Isn’t that comforting?

Bless Senator Richard Burr and his good ol’ American ingenuity: As the Republican from North Carolina knows, a crisis is an opportunity — for personal profit.


Burr, as you surely know by now, got a private briefing on the seriousness of the coming corona-catastrophe on January 24. Instead of sounding the alarm, breaking ranks with a president whose deceptions were (and still are) endangering lives, Burr elected to toe the party line. And, as he downplayed the seriousness of the crisis publicly, the senator dumped a mountain of stock he owned.

There are those who would argue there’s a special place in hell, or at least in prison, for Burr’s brand of behavior. But I say, lighten up! Such flim-flammery is part of a great national tradition. As John F. Kennedy said lo, those many centuries ago: “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for yourself as your country falls apart.”

And isn’t it reassuring to know that many others have, meanwhile, not lost sight of what’s important? By which I mean, compounding the suffering of those on our magnificent country’s lowest rungs?

Until a federal judge stepped in last weekend, President Trump’s administration was determined to go through with a new rule that would have thrown an estimated 700,000 people off food stamps because they aren’t working at least 20 hours per week. But don’t worry, friends: As soon this health emergency is over, the administration will be right back to making folks suffer (more) for their own misfortune.


And in case the downtrodden aren’t getting the message, Senate Republicans, in their infinite wisdom, have tucked a reminder into the trillion dollar economic stimulus bill proposed last week: While many middle class Americans will get already-inadequate, one-time cash payments of about $1,200 for adults and $500 per child, the poorest families, who are in need of food and shelter as much as anyone else, would get less — or nothing at all.

Hey, they’re used to that, right? Besides, who would we be if we didn’t stick it to ‘em one more time? Still, even some Republicans are pushing back on that provision, including Utah’s Mitt Romney. But who listens to that traitor these days? He’s clearly become unreliable, having broken ranks with his blindly loyal Republican colleagues to vote for Trump’s impeachment.

Thank goodness the vast majority of Republicans have hearts that still belong to Trump. For them to criticize him now, or even to express opinions that depart from his daily tirades, would be profoundly destabilizing at a time when the people need consistency above all.

Other presidents might have risen to a moment like this, put aside their egos, turned away from pettiness and partisanship. Not Trump. He has given us the same ignorance we’ve come to know and love, the same boasts, gaslighting, and distraction from the life-or-death issues at hand.


It’s truly a comfort to see the president try to racist his way out of this problem, as he has so many others, repeatedly calling coronavirus “the Chinese virus” and giving his lemmings an excuse to harass Asian-Americans. And substituting his hunches for the expertise of the nation’s top infections expert. And chuckling — with what, pride? — when our Republican governor says Massachusetts can’t buy desperately needed medical supplies because it’s being outbid by the feds.

Who would we be if any of the folks standing at an unsafe distance from Trump every day stepped forward to point out his dangerous instability and ignorance? If they put the best interests of the nation above their own?

We’d be a different country. And who would want that, especially at a time like this?

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.