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Regardless of whether the coronavirus itself is a national crisis, Americans suddenly find themselves sinking waist-deep into recessional quicksand as quarantine and shelter-in-place orders pop up in cities across the country when only weeks ago we were treading on rock-solid ground. The fog of the pandemic war is closing in from all sides. Fear is crippling the economy with each tumble of the stock market, each business that closes, and every American that enters unemployment. We are constantly bombarded with statistics predicting doomsday – and many of those come from people thirsting for a disaster to lay at the feet of the Trump administration.
Americans with a healthy skepticism of our impending doom at the hands of the WuFlu are branded science deniers or even of being responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. But after wailing about World War III with Iran and North Korea, the destruction of the internet over net neutrality, or the end of American democracy at the hands of Russia, then Ukraine, then Russia why should anyone blindly believe a news media or editorial board who time and again acts like the Boy Who Cried Wolf? Or who all but guaranteed a Hillary Clinton presidency? And pardons to those who think the federal government is the answer to our problems. But to borrow a phrase: the government is the problem. I’m a little suspicious when the biggest entity currently left running is the entity that runs things the worst.
It’s tempting to accept this as too big a problem to not leave to the government. While it is true the federal government can leverage powers to mobilize resources and centralize information for (relatively) quick and uniform circulation, it’s also true that any effort would be lost if not for the will of the average American to fight for survival – both economically and life itself. Americans on the ground choose how we react, and act, in times of strife. We can succumb to overwhelming panic, point fingers in a cowardly game of blame, or we can fight – together.
This is a time of equal uncertainty and risk. We’ve already seen the pettiness of reporters and journalists accusing President Trump of racism for calling out China’s role in spreading the coronavirus. Never Trump ride-or-die loyalists are excusing the Chinese government’s role in the pandemic because their deep dislike of Trump supersedes any rational thought. Many look to the United States government to take action as the last best hope of humanity. It’s a knee jerk reaction for those wanting an excuse to expand the federal government or as an ego boost for a Washington D.C. pundit who thinks he has the solution to fix humanity. But the world isn’t the seed-ground for utopia; President Reagan didn’t believe that political bureaucracy perfects human nature (and I don’t think President Trump does, either). A small group of socioeconomic and cultural elites in Washington can’t plan our lives better than we can for ourselves. It’s keeping power in the people, not the government keeping power from the people. That is part of why Reagan, and Trump, are so despised. It’s the American people who will pull together – must pull together – to achieve victory over fear and desperation. We will follow the guidelines put forth by the CDC, but must not sit idly by and wait for someone to rescue us.
I accept the ugly part of society that will always lash out at the innocent during a crisis; they would throw their own mothers in the crocodile pit if it meant safety for one more day. But I also accept and take comfort in the other side: the customer who bought a bag of dog food for a stranger who just lost her job at a closed casino. A young couple getting groceries for an elderly neighbor. Stores voluntarily opening early for the medically vulnerable. We see it time after time: Christians standing guard outside synagogues after targeted violence, the Cajun Navy rescuing people from flooded homes, firefighters running up the burning stairwells of the World Trade Center on 9/11 as the buildings collapsed around them. It’s standing up with bold determination to help our fellow Americans because it is right and it is good, not because the government-mandated it, but because the average American steps in to fill the void the government cannot.
We will survive this on the sacrifices of the working American who always bears the brunt of economic and political turmoil. Elites who have eyes and fingers attached to their smartphones and opine about having to fire his housekeeper because she might carry the virus preaches sacrifice to the very cleaner, hairdresser, barkeep, server, and ticket-taker who are now without jobs. But Americans will find a way to band together as communities, friends, and neighbors, despite our ‘Betters’’ efforts to divide us by race, class, religion, and political affiliation. We won’t do it by licking the boots of the Chinese. We won’t do it by rolling over like the Europeans, foregoing treatment to administer Last Rites to a generation who survived the Great Depression and won the Second World War. We will do it because Americans defy the odds. We fight like our lives depend on it because it does. We are the America that righted the wrong of slavery, who conquered fascism and communism, who cheered Jackie Owens and the Miracle on Ice.
We are the torchbearers of men like 78-year-old farmer Samuel Whittemore, who on April 19, 1775, was shot in the face by British soldiers, bayoneted six times and clubbed in the head with the butts of their muskets after he shot three Boston-bound British soldiers near his house. The stubborn Revolutionary refused to die, living another 18 years even though the British musket had torn away part of his face. In an era when monuments are torn down, this man as much as any is deserving of his own marker. But you won’t find his likeness at the National Mall or his bust in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol just like there is no monument to the people who wake up every day facing uncertainty, hardship, and loss, but who rise anyway and do their best to be stewards of a nation of hope and opportunity. That The American doesn’t have a monument is precisely why we don’t need one: we are living testaments to the enduring spirit of freedom. We work thanklessly to make certain liberty isn’t smothered by the blanket of security.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s words may as well be etched in the hearts of those Americans who rise to the challenge, despite the risk of failure, and fight on:
It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
-April 23, 1910 “Citizenship in a Republic”Published in