If you’re inclined toward rationality, this is a discouraging time here in our beloved country. Faced with a winnable battle against the coronavirus, too many of us are waving the white flag.
What’s happened to us? A lifetime ago, Americans endured years of Great Depression suffering, then went off to fight World War II or, on the home front, tightened their belts, stretched their rationed food, and planted Victory Gardens. Those were our grandparents or, in some cases still, our parents. Our fecklessness shames their memory.
Yes, this isolated, socially distanced existence is tiresome, particularly in cold weather. But we have salvation, in the form of vaccinations, within sight. Some could get one in the next few months. For others, it should be widely available in the spring. Then life will begin to return to normal.
That’s not a long wait. And yet, it will be too long for too many. Just look at what’s happened all over the country. The long tough winter we were all warned about has arrived. New reported daily infections, now above 170,000, are regularly hitting new highs. We have lost more than 250,000 people to the pandemic, the most in the world. On Wednesday, more than 1,800 Americans died of COVID-19. Experts say we are heading for 3,000 deaths a day. Hospitals are buckling under the burden. And that’s before a predicted post-Thanksgiving surge if, as expected, millions disregard safety guidelines and participate in large family gatherings.
And yet, a lamentable combination of polarization, conspiratorialism, and pugnacity has prevented an effective response from the national to the individual levels.
In late summer, I had a chance to catch up with an old pal from high school who, long a Republican, has become a Fox News conservative. The good news, said my friend, who has a graduate degree, was that if the Democrats won, the big to-do about COVID-19 would end on Nov. 3. Why, I asked? Because, he said, it was all a big hoax to get Joe Biden elected. We joke a lot, so I assumed he was kidding. No.
How does one come to think that way? Well, President Trump has said as much — “On November 4, you won’t hear about it” — as have other leading Republicans. Here’s Senator Ted Cruz of Texas speaking about the pandemic on July 22: “If it ends up that Biden wins in November . . . I guarantee you, the week after the election, suddenly all those Democratic governors, all those Democratic mayors, will say, everything is magically better. Go back to work, go back to school. Suddenly the problems are solved.”
Now, I understand the anger at the hypocrisy of politicians like Governor Gavin Newsom of California, who was recently caught unmasked at a multi-family indoor dinner, in violation of the protocols he has issued for his state. And at Senator Dianne Feinstein, who advocates mask mandates but was just spotted walking the halls of Congress unmasked.
Still, historians studying this era will shake their heads in amazement that the basic and effective precaution of wearing a mask became so politicized and met such resistance among a certain subset of the population.
Ask a cashier about customer compliance with their store’s mask policy, as I often do, and she or he will probably tell you that though most people are good about it, some simply refuse. At my local grocery, an employee who is in her mid-70s, and therefore at higher risk of severe consequences if she catches COVID, said that when she asked a construction worker who had come in to buy lunch to please put a mask on, he cursed her vilely.
How could anyone who displays such contempt for the welfare of another human being consider himself a decent person, let alone a patriotic American? Yet he no doubt does.
Those people are out there, in every part of the country. Until the vaccinations are widely available, we’re all subject to their callousness.
There’s hope in the spring, but a long winter lies ahead.
Be smart. Be careful. Be safe.