It’s been an interesting time, and from the looks of the news, it is going to get even more interesting. Watching the political gyrations, well-staged outcries, and scientific fallacies would be more amusing if lives were not at stake. Here are three things to keep in mind about our response to the pandemic.
- We’re Should be in This Together, but we’re Not
Great leaders have the ability to bring people together to face a crisis. They take steps based on the greater good to help people. Unfortunately, many of those who would be leaders have failed miserably at this.
That is a key difference between politician and leaders. Politicians deal in rumors, blame-finding, and falsehoods to boost their own egos and increase their prospects of reelection. We should be dealing with the needs of people. The most basic need we all face is survival, yet politicians who pretend to be leaders have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice people in order to reopen businesses.
Eric Liu describes civic character as “character in the collective: how we live together, how we behave in public, how we hold together a community. Civic character is about mutuality, shared sacrifice, and putting service before self.
“The pandemic is forcing Americans to choose, very visibly, whether to live like citizens or like sociopaths. Citizens see in systems, while sociopaths see only themselves; citizens defer short-term gratification for long-term benefit, while sociopaths flip the sequence.”
Instead of reason or logic, we are faced with well-organized “grass-roots” mobs attempting to threaten others to do their bidding. As they tote their guns in an attempt to intimidate and shout their dog-whistle words (socialist, communist, totalitarian, and others), which give a reason for their supporters to not think and analyze, and instead go with the heard. They have demonstrated their concept of civic character is to force people to do their bidding for the good of themselves (or their founders) rather than for the country,
This also reflects what Liu calls our national character. Our national character is constantly being shaped by our actions as a country and as citizens. Certainly, the Coronavirus will impact our national character over both the short and long term. If we truly are all in this together, we can emerge with the best possible outcome. (I won’t call it victory, since only a fool would call over 60,000 deaths a victory.) We can use this to help continue shaping our national character in an appositive way, or history will look back on the events and individuals with shame.
The nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves states “People make choices. Choices make history.” As a society, I hope we will emerge on the positive side of history and demonstrate our ability to hold together for the long term.
- Say What You Mean
Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee appreciates and supports the work of everyone, from managers to organized employees and those working in non-unionized settings. We also applaud the efforts of those on the front-lines, such as nurses and others in health care, grocery workers, restaurant employees, and others working hard to meet our needs. They are taking additional risks to themselves and their families to provide for us.
We also recognize the desire and need for people to get back to work. Over 30 million people are now unemployed due to the virus and accompanying shut downs. We hope to see them back to work soon, as soon as is safely possible.
The difference between us saying this and many of our leaders is that we mean it. While others may mouth these words, their actions tell a different story.
One example is grocery and restaurant workers. We certainly recognize their importance more so than ever, but governments are taking steps to endanger them. In Iowa, for example, businesses such as restaurants, bars, retail stores, and fitness centers in 77 counties were told they could reopen. Many of the workers in these facilities have been receiving the extended unemployment benefits provided under the CARES Act.
Some of these employees are justifiably concerned about the safety of returning to work. Medical experts have warned Governor Kim Reynolds about the danger of reopening as the state has not yet reached its peak of infections.
In response to this, the Governor told employees that refusing to return to work would be treated as having “voluntarily quit”, and they would lose their unemployment benefits and could be disqualified from future benefits. In other words, we appreciate you, now get back to work even if it could make you sick,
Speaking of unemployment benefits, some politicians have indicated they will continue to fight against this aid to workers and their families. For example, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham apparently still believes people would rather collect unemployment than work. He said the additional $600 a week in unemployment from the federal government would be extended “over our dead bodies.” Apparently he has not seen enough dead bodies. Apparently he feels the money is needed to provide the billions in handouts to corporations that he supports. That should be good news to the 400,000 unemployed in South Carolina.
In South Dakots, Governor Kristi Noem is one of five governors who did not issue a statewide stay-at-home order. She said it is the job of individuals, not the government “to exercise their right to work, to worship and to play. Or to even stay at home.” That’s a laudable idea, providing we can rely on people and employers to do the right things to keep themselves and others safe.
Unfortunately for the people of South Dakota, it hasn’t worked. The state is now home to one of the largest outbreaks in the country. The response of the federal government has been to force people in their most infected workplaces to return to work. Once again, they are saluted for their hard work.
- Listen to the Science and the Experts
Who do you trust to make decisions about our pandemic response, doctors and epidemiologists or politicians? In Ohio, at least one legislator believes he should be relied on over the experts.
Ohioans have been fortunate to have a Governor, Mike DeWine (R), who has been very cautious about ensuring the health of our citizens. He has been assisted by the Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Amy Acton, who has shown credibility and understanding throughout the crisis. She has recognized the problems associated with reopening businesses while virus cases are increasing.
As a result, Representative Bill Seitz, the number three ranking Republican in the Ohio House, has suggested removing the legal authority of Dr. Acton to issue rulings to protect the health of Ohioans. Instead, it is suggested that all rulings be subject to review and approval by the state legislature.
Listen to the science. Make decisions based on fact and real information, not on the opinions of pressure groups or political whim. History will remember the actions or our leaders and their response to the pandemic. We hope politicians will make good decisions for the benefit of workers and society over greed and dogma.