This is the first pandemic for most of us, having not been alive when the Spanish flu struck in 1918. We’ve had our share of epidemics since then─diphtheria, measles, polio, and AIDS, but nothing on the scale of COVID-19. FYI, epidemics strike specific regions or populations, while pandemics are global. Because pandemics are relatively rare, it’s easy to fall out of practice, and we sure blew this one. Given our national leadership, this pandemic is likely to linger or return, so we’ll have ample opportunities to perfect our response.
A lady I know sent me a picture of President Trump and urged me to pray for him. She thought he looked tired. It was a picture of him taken the day he suggested we clean our innards by injecting disinfectants. He didn’t look tired to me, just unhinged. A good number of people took him seriously and phone calls to poison control centers rose exponentially. The makers of disinfectant had to warn their customers not to drink or inject their product, despite the president’s advice, a first in our nation’s long history. I guess it’s true that if you live long enough, you’ll see everything.
Idiocy has been on full display. A handful of Hoosier halfwits gathered at Governor Holcomb’s house to protest the quarantine, all in the guise of freedom, which they interpret to mean doing whatever they want even if it harms others. I’m not denying their right to protest, but I am weary of their undue influence and wouldn’t object to giving them their own state where they can be ruled by gun nuts, religious zealots, and anti-science tub thumpers. Give them Idaho, we’ll find somewhere else to grow potatoes.
I guess it’s true what my mother always told me, that it takes living through a pandemic with someone before you really know them. I’ve been moved by two things in this tragedy—the gallantry of some, and the incivility of others. Our health care and service workers have epitomized bravery, especially those who’ve labored for next to nothing, who’ve taken no sacred oath to stock shelves, but still show up, day after day, determined to be useful. Then there are those whose work has been deemed non-essential so are urged to do two simple things—stay home, and should an errand be necessary, to wear a mask in public. Even this, however, is too large a burden for some. On my weekly trip to the grocery store, I see these clueless souls wandering the aisles, unmasked, standing near others, coughing, sneezing, and sniffling, spreading their viral cloud far and wide. These are the people who will cause this pandemic to last longer than it has to, who overburden our healthcare system, who for the sake of their own convenience impose a sentence of death upon others.
While the coronavirus hasn’t broken America, it has laid bare our many fractures, the first of which were the Reagan tax cuts that drained our nation’s wealth from municipalities and the middle-class and funneled it to the plutocrats, simultaneously gutting our infrastructure, decimating our towns and schools, and ushering the apostles of Ayn Rand into public office, chief among them Newt Gingrich, whom history will judge as a traitor to America’s interests. Why do we elect people to public office who pledge to destroy the very government we’ve hired them to manage? And why, when the resources of an effective government are needed, do these same civic vandals deny their role in our government’s demise and blame China and Democrats and everyone but themselves?
To be fair, it was a Republican, George H.W. Bush, who sought to correct the fiscal misdeeds of the Reagan years and raised taxes, only to be voted out of office for being the only grown-up in the room. Even as the disastrous consequences of an ill-equipped government became obvious, we clamored for more of the same, not realizing, or perhaps not caring about, the dissipation of American greatness.
Indiana has marched lockstep with this national insanity. In the depths of our quarantine, Indiana’s coronavirus deaths rose while our rate of testing fell. This was indicative of a larger trend. One day last week I worked on my son’s cattle farm, our version of essential duty. We drove from Hendricks County to Parke County to purchase cattle gates from an Amish man, traveling through five small towns that were once vibrant communities. We passed vacant storefronts, and yards piled with trash, over which Confederate flags fluttered. If ever there were a symbol of cruelty and ignorance, it would be that despicable banner. It is all of the same thread. The cluelessness that enables a man to fly that wretched flag also spurs him to vote for leaders who will dismantle the protections and policies he needs to thrive. Why is this not understood, and why are so many in our state willing to sabotage our future to give the wealthiest among us a tax break?
Desperately in need of wise governance and an educated populace, we are led by a man who has not once acted wisely and selflessly, caring only for his wealth and the power he inexpertly wields. His most ardent champions have denied the lethality of this virus, and condemned the counsel of medical experts, presuming to know more than those who’ve devoted their lives to knowledge and science. An acquaintance of mine who graduated from high school by the skin of his teeth fancies himself an epidemiologist, dishes out nonsense on his Facebook page, and is indignant when anyone disagrees. He believes God is calling him to run for public office, he reports on his page, and is encouraged by his friends to do just that. I have no doubt he will feel right at home among many in the Indiana statehouse.
I try to be optimistic and kind, but that’s hard work these days. In the past month two women I pastored died of COVID-19. I officiated at the funerals of their husbands, helped them navigate the grief of widowhood, only to watch from a distance as they died alone in nursing homes, unable to say good-bye to their families and friends, unable to enjoy one last hug, or one last word of comfort. I realize the coronavirus was not brought to our shores by President Trump. I also know his inaction, his month-long refusal to take this virus seriously, his desire to squeeze in more golf and less work, his cozy kinship with ignorance and deceit, cost these two saints their lives, and not just them, but tens of thousands of Americans. He might as well have shot them down on 5th Avenue.
Ignorance remains humankind’s greatest enemy. Government is our effort to combat that foe, the visible expression of mutual care, doing for one another that which cannot be accomplished alone. When we shrink our government, when we despise it, when we slash it to ribbons, we harm only ourselves. This is what COVID-19 has taught me, that we must band together so that we do not, quite literally, die alone.