The President keeps teasing it in his daily propaganda, ego-stroke photo op. His sycophantic surrogates repeat the refrain on social media and in press releases. Soulless partisan television hosts pound us relentlessly with it. MAGA cult members protest mask-less and in close quarters for it.
This united offensive to quickly get Americans back to work, is all happening on days when we are losing over two thousand people a day, when we’ve eclipsed 644,000 confirmed cases, when 29,000 have died in the span of eight weeks. And every single life that is threatened by this vicious, insidious illness—falls squarely on the shoulders of healthcare workers and first responders: doctors, nurses, EMTs, lab technicians, hospital staff, police officers, firefighters.
For weeks they have labored without sleep, without rest, without enough masks to protect themselves, without enough tests to identify the relentless flood of sick people in their midst, without enough ventilators to keep the gravely ill alive; continually stepping into harm’s way to attend to this unprecedented national emergency.
We share the photos of their heavily-bruised faces from marathon sessions in service of the wounded and dying, we relay the heartbreaking stories of them having to facilitate final conversation between dying patients and devastated family members via FaceTime, we pile effusive praise and glowing platitudes upon them for their courage and their selflessness, we share sweetly saccharine memes that salute their efforts.
We just don’t actually give a damn about them.
If we did, if we really grasped how overworked they are and how much trauma they’ve carried and how pushed to the brink they are, we wouldn’t be talking about re-opening America right now. People wouldn’t be pressed together at state capitol buildings and stopping traffic and parading around in middle-finger-defiance of stay-at-home orders, while giving the virus the greatest boost it could ask for.
If we actually respected the people who take care of us when we are at our most vulnerable, and who stand between those we love and the brink of death — we’d be doing all we could to stay at home, to abide restrictions, to demand more safeguards, not less—and we certainly wouldn’t be rushing people back into frequent and large scale interactions, when millions of people can’t get tested and when a vaccine is months away.
What are we saying to the people who place their lives in peril to keep us alive, when we can’t be inconvenienced a few weeks? When we complain about not being able to get our hair colored or go to the mall or the corner bar? When we act as if we’re being persecuted, simply by being asked to stay home and allow the grievously ill and seriously injured to receive attention and allow this virus to abate?
Of course our leaders aren’t thinking about any of this.
This President has no working empathy, and his allegedly pro-life party has shown a steadfast commitment to the Stock Market over living, breathing human beings. They are not about humanity, but profitability. I fully expected this callous disregard for life from them.
But honestly, I expected more of America.
I’d hoped that regardless of our political affiliations, that we’d all see the gravity of this moment, that we would have witnessed the scale and the velocity of the death, that we would be so moved by the human collateral damage of these days, that we’d find the resolve to stay home and to social distance and to suck it up for a little while longer so that more people don’t die needlessly. I hoped that we’d have the foresight to realize that a little inconvenience now will prevent a catastrophic disaster around the corner, and that we’d embrace the reality that an economy is of no use to dead people.
But we’re showing our weaknesses, America. We are revealing far less than greatness.
Many of us are proving that we’re so selfish and spoiled and entitled and politically brainwashed and nationalism-addled, that we refuse to respect our own lives and the lives of those we endanger by rushing back to what we imagine will be normal life. We’re proving that for all the accolades we heap upon them, for all the gut-wrenching social media stories we boost, and for all the flowery lip service we give them—we don’t respect our caregivers enough to help them, simply by staying home.
We can’t muster the strength to do nothing in the cause of helping them save lives, and instead need to actively work against them because we don’t like to be told what to do. Throughout history, doctors have taken the Hippocratic Oath; a vow to do all they can to save people, but to endeavor to do no harm in these efforts. It would be a beautiful thing if this President and our leadership and our people made the same vow in coming alongside them: not to harm them as they save us.
Re-opening American right now, will endanger millions of people and risk an expansive re-emergence of the virus, causing further loss of life, longer restrictions, and greater economic burden — so there’s that. This is a moment for sacrificing and selflessness and for grieving and for loving our neighbors enough to stay away from them. It is a time we stopped talking about opening America, and started healing it.
Thank you to all those who spend their lives on behalf of the rest of us. You deserve better.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com