To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some bungle greatness when it’s handed to them on a silver platter.
There’s no question: this is a scary time. In a worst-case scenario, millions of people across the globe could die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world’s economy may be crushed, plunging us all into a dire situation. These are truly frightening thoughts. But it also presents us with an opportunity to step up into the moment and be great. To take personal responsibility for our actions and to look out for one another. To come together as a community at the local, regional, and global level. To make sacrifices. To show leadership. And to potentially save millions of lives.
We call them the Greatest Generation, those men and women who were tested first by the Great Depression and then by World War II. Their sense of personal responsibility and their focus on duty and honor helped to defeat fascism, build the new American economy and implement visionary programs, and made the United States the envy of the world for the decades that followed. We say we admire them for the sacrifices they made.
But while we’re happy to admire their sacrifice, it seems we have no interest in emulating it.
Right now, the experts are telling us to practice social distancing and to shelter in place. Simply put: Don’t go out if you don’t have to. They are saying that we need to stay home and away from other people in order to help slow the spread of the Novel Coronavirus. Schools are closed. Sporting events and theater performances are cancelled. Restaurants, salons, movie theaters are shuttered.
These are drastic but necessary steps. All of these measures will help to reduce the number of people sickened at one time. They call it “flattening the curve” and I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now. Our failure to help slow the immediate spread of COVID-19 will put an impossible strain on our health care system — and force doctors to make unfathomable choices about who should receive life saving treatment — resulting in many unnecessary deaths. Just look at what is happening in Italy right now. They are in the process of dealing with a sharp spike in cases, and the results are just heartbreaking.
Instead of listening to what the experts are telling us, we have continued to divide ourselves into partisan camps, and according to our political persuasions have heeded or spurned scientific advice on how to keep a serious situation from becoming catastrophic. It’s almost as this virus is a Red vs. Blue issue.
This is because early in the crisis President Trump repeatedly downplayed the threat from the virus, inaccurately comparing it to the flu and telling his supporters that growing worry about the Coronavirus was a hoax perpetrated by liberals to hurt his presidency. Now, even though the serious nature of the threat is undisputed, even by Trump himself, his supporters have doubled-down on what can only be called reckless behavior and continued to deny the serious nature of the threat.
But this is no time to play politics. This is a time to take personal responsibility for your behavior. Even if you don’t feel you are personally at risk, you can transmit this virus before you have any symptoms. This is not just about making sure you don’t get sick. This is about changing your behavior for the good of the entire population.
I’ve seen numerous incidents of MAGA-folks deliberately trying to shake hands with people (especially liberals) in a symbolic middle finger to the imaginary Deep State and to show their fealty to the president.
Right-wing media continues to downplay the serious nature of the outbreak. Fox News encouraged people to go out, take vacations, get on airplanes. They tell their listeners that the severe measures being taken in New York, California and Washington (all notably blue states) are an overreaction designed to scare people, cripple the economy (Trump’s main accomplishment), and take away people’s freedom; even going so far as to say that the government is on the verge of declaring martial law.
People continue to site the comparatively higher death rates of cancer, auto accidents, and heart disease as an excuse for refusing to heed the advice of the CDC and the WHO. Yet these comparisons are irrelevant and miss the point completely.
People have remained willfully ignorant of the truth, despite the inundation of warnings and facts coming at us in an almost continual stream if only people would listen to reliable sources. Foolish people continue to spread false information on how to cure or prevent COVID-19. This behavior is simply wrong and irresponsible.
And Americans have been extraordinarily selfish continuing to go about our daily lives as we’ve pleased, without regard to how it would impact our friends and neighbors. We chafe at being asked to forgo our pedicure appointments and night out. We refuse to cancel our plans.
We didn’t even get through a week without hoarding food and toilet paper, making it impossible for our most vulnerable citizens to buy their necessities without traipsing from store to store, or waiting in long lines and exposing themselves to unnecessary danger.
I’m saddened. And I’m ashamed.
During World War II, citizens on the home front endured years of rationing, deprivation, and extreme difficulties. Soldiers fought in far-away places, and families said goodbye to their husbands and fathers not knowing if they would ever see them again. There was real hardship. We act as though being asked to stay home and binge-watch Netflix is the height of sacrifice.
Maybe the decade of deprivation during the Great Depression helped to inoculate those members of the Greatest Generation for the sacrifices they would be asked to make during the war. Or maybe in actuality they took some time to adjust to their new responsibilities. But we don’t have months or even weeks to get this right. As Washington Governor Jay Inslee said, “hours matter” in this crisis.
From the comfort of our on-demand, 2-hour delivery, 21st Century lives we confidently declare that if we’d been around during World War II, we’d have faced the challenges with the same courage. Well, now is our chance to prove it. So far, we’re falling short.
When history looks back at this unprecedented time, how will we be remembered? Will we be the Greatest Generation 2.0? Or will we be remembered as the generation that could have acted responsibly and saved millions of lives but didn’t: Generation Fail. These next few weeks will tell.