It has not been hard to find examples of heroes during the first month of the coronavirus crisis. Stories about heroic doctors and nurses, restaurants feeding the hungry while their own survival drifts towards disaster, and individuals showing genuine love for their fellow men, women, and abandoned pets are common. We’ve all seen them with our own eyes. There are almost as many stories about these heroes on the news as there are about the contagion statistics or about how President Trump is performing during the crisis. We welcome these examples of the best in humanity.
But what about some of the bad behaviors? I previously expressed my concern about people who were in denial that there was a crisis, failed to practice social distancing, and thus, risked the health and lives of others. Fortunately, these deniers are growing smaller in number. I suspect they will virtually disappear in coming weeks. That will be to the good of all of us.
Not as bad as the deniers are several other groups. At the top of this second list, I’d put the hoarders. Nobody needs a year’s supply of toilet paper. Also on the list are the gougers. These “entrepreneurs” buy up Purell, face masks, Clorox wipes, and, yes, toilet paper, and put it on eBay for outrageous prices. In so doing, they not only make life a bit harder for normal people, but effectively steal from all of us by creating artificial shortages. Greed is not good.
Worth a brief mention is the problem of some of us eating or drinking out of boredom. Have you seen someone in the grocery store recently with multiple cases of beer or jugs of wine? Have you seen carts filled with bags of potato chips and other junk food? Unfortunately, as some of us start to run out of things to watch on Netflix, or take a break from watching cable news, we eat or drink to pass the time. In the long run, there will be a price to pay. Overeating and drinking add to the coronavirus crisis. Isn’t it curious that while it’s all but impossible to find a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, the supply chains for booze and Slim Jims seem to be working fine?
Another group are the conspiracy theorists. Since “proving” that China either purposely caused the crisis or was negligent in the way they first responded to it will not stop its spread now, what’s the point in such villainizing? China will not be reimbursing America for the cost of the crisis. These theories sow race hate at a time when we should all do our part to end the crisis.
Another group of bad behaviors is not so easy to handle. These are the people who use the crisis as a new arena for political fighting. Some issues are rehashes of debates of the last few years. An example is the inclusion of student loan forgiveness in the stimulus bill. This may be a good idea, but is it the best use of funds during a time of unprecedented crisis? Other debates are new. Things like whether the cruise ship industry needs a bailout. On one side is an army of people who would have us believe that a series of short-sighted, perhaps criminal, actions by the Trump administration is a direct cause for the exploding numbers of sick and dead people. These critics watch or read about Trump’s often bizarre daily press conferences and literally pick him apart.
Trump may well deserve severe criticism for his performance in preparing for and handling the crisis, but, forgive me, I’m not sure focusing excessively on this helps save lives or jobs. If you believe America is “at war” with the virus maybe the principle of national unity deserves more respect and practice.
Then there are the President’s defenders. I was appalled to learn that Dr. Anthony Fauci was receiving death threats. It reminded me of the risks early astronomers faced in positing that the earth was round or wasn’t the center of the universe. Fortunately, Fauci is getting a security detail, but what does the fact that he needs one tell us about our fellow citizens? And add to this the venom being spewed against certain journalists critical of the President and you have more of which to be ashamed.
There are other, also controversial, examples of bad behavior that might be mentioned, but as long as we live in a democracy we have to accept that free individuals have the right, within reason, to interpret events through the lens of their own values and to propose policies not everyone can support. An example of this is the rush of some in Congress to use the crisis of the virus to secure passage of programs and policies that otherwise would have little chance of enactment. The philosophy here, as Rahm Emanuel once said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
While a more unified country might be beneficial in coming months, the best we can hope for is that combatting the truly bad behavior—the greed, the thoughtlessness, the indifference to others’ suffering, and the propensity to blame others—should be our focus. Let’s strive for grace under pressure and focus our efforts that bring America together. United we stand. Divided we fall.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.