Response to the coronavirus crisis reminds me of what an old friend once told me, that it takes crisis like war or depression to build character in America. He was right.
Born in 1935, I was old enough to observe the World War II crisis while worrying about the safety of older cousins who were drafted or volunteered. Before America’s entry into the war, Americans didn’t agree on whether America should be involved. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans united in support of our president and the war effort.
Of 16 million who served during WWII, almost 40% were reportedly volunteers. Civilians on the home front joined ranks to keep our economy together and to provide our troops with what they needed to win the war.
As kids, we collected scrap iron to be re-melted for making tanks or jeeps. We gathered pods from milkweed for the silky material inside, used as filler for life vests and insulation for flight suits for airmen. There was fierce competition in the neighborhood to have the biggest pile of scrap iron on collection day, or the most bags of milkweed pods. When America is united, it’s at its best.
When Muslim extremists crashed aircraft into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Somerset County in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, we again became united — Americans instead of Republicans and Democrats. President George Bush’s approval rating soared to 90%, the highest ever recorded, on his promise to defend America and to punish those responsible.
America was defended from further attack, and President Bush launched the effort that eventually resulted in just awards for those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for politics to overshadow unity. George Bush’s close reelection to a second term became a cause for assault on his personal credibility. Similarly, Donald Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 election spawned an immediate political effort, even before he had served, to discredit his entitlement to the office.
While coronavirus is providing relief from the never-ending news about politics, it hasn’t taken long for it to become a useful political tool. Rahm Emmanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, famously said, “You never let a serious crisis to go to waste,” further explaining that crises can be used to pass legislation that otherwise might not make it on its own.
The 110-page Coronavirus Relief Bill passed by the House less than an hour after it was released to members of Congress (before most had an opportunity to read it, according to The Wall Street Journal, March 16) contains provisions that likely wouldn’t pass muster on their own merit — but woe to legislators or the president if they dared to vote against any coronavirus relief bill.
In spite of what shows up on social media or TV by self-proclaimed experts, serious Americans understand the truth. It’s no one’s fault that the virus made its way to America and no one’s fault that our nation was not totally prepared to deal with it. Other nations weren’t prepared, either.
Government didn’t create the problem, nor will government solve it. Americans will unite and deal with the problem as they always have when our nation or citizens are threatened. Individual Americans in business, government and as private citizens will work together within our free enterprise system to defeat the virus.
There will be thousands of heroes we won’t hear about in the fight against coronavirus. They will be working at risk on the front line with patients in health care facilities or in pharmaceutical companies to create an anti-virus serum, teachers working with kids who may be carrying the virus, workers in businesses staying open to serve the public, National Guard troops going into high-contagion areas to provide assistance, first responders who ignore danger and respond where needed, and many others.
We won’t recognize them individually, but we owe them great thanks.
And there will be those we readily recognize. They will be the critics if the battle doesn’t go well and the first to take credit if it goes better than expected. There will be scammers and opportunists using the crisis for personal gain.
But make no mistake about it, this is another battle that will be won by regular citizens in all professions, doing what Americans have always done when the well-being of their nation is threatened. They will pull our nation back together. God bless these heroes.