Here are our heroes – those who had to play an active role in our national coronavirus emergency. These pictures are imprinted in our brains – the ICU videos with all the signs of the catastrophic struggles to save lives – the rows of beds, the crowd of medical staff around one patient, the worried expressions in their eyes (which are all we can see of their faces) the packages of opened medical devices scattered across the patient, the coded conversations that determine the next steps to stabilize just this one person – a single Latinate word, a lifted eyebrow, a request that sends one of the team off in search of a new medicine, or a piece of equipment. The drama of the moment is gripping even to us, the spectators. It is a drama that has been repeated thousands of times in the past month and a half. It is a drama that continues, although, as the cases decrease, the intensity diminishes.
There are the canyons of our biggest cities echoing with the applause of those of us who must stay home – whose only heroic action is inaction. There are the recovered, applauded by those who labored to save them.
There are the demonstrators. They have had enough of sickness. They feel that they are killing their prosperity out of respect for people who don’t deserve the gesture; the old, the sick, the immigrant, darker-skinned Americans. After all, not all Americans are at equal risk. As the numbers reveal what we knew all along, that COVID19 was killing the old and the less wealthy masses. Youth, and American youth lasts a long time, demands a return to work. The demonstrators are overwhelmingly white. Whiteness lasts a lifetime. These demonstrators who demand to work are not the minimum wage workers who have had to keep putting themselves at risk in jobs considered essential, without the personal protection of masks and gloves or even social distancing (which is free). They labor at low wage jobs in grocery stores, pharmacies, warehouses, trucking firms, fast food restaurants, meat processing plants, burying the dead. They don’t choose to work; they are required to work.
These demonstrators can’t be those workers – they would have to be at work. Some of these demonstrators seem older – perhaps they just want to party and travel, get their massages, their facials, their hairdos. Some look like they may own a small business. Perhaps they would not be demonstrating if the government aid had been more forthcoming.
But it is the tattooed, bearded, muscle-shirted guys with stony, intimidating faces, and long guns that contrast so jarringly with those whose heroic actions have allowed our nation to control and suppress this killer disease. It is, this time, Americans who do not resist, who do not demonstrate, who stay home and keep their distance, who give up their pleasures for the greater good; these are the Americans who have kept America from turning into a charnel house.
As an American who watches America from the cheap seats and tries to decide what keeps American democracy alive and what forces seem bent on destroying our republic, I have to come down on the side of the heroes, the everyday heroes. What do those with long guns expect America to do – knuckle under to a posse of citizens dressed up like outlaws, purposely using intimidation to get their way, placing America between a rock and a hard place – if the virus don’t get you the bullets will. They can’t think to beat a virus with a gun, so it is the government that must bow down to them. Then we won’t have a government; we’ll have anarchy with mob rule.
And, because we don’t want a confrontation, it looks from where I sit, as if intimidation is working, although these scary folks chose a moment when the country was almost ready to reopen anyway. Long gun-vigilante-style is working better than the more peaceful demonstrations of other disobedient unarmed citizens. In these days when we have been trying to avoid becoming an authoritarian nation, have been trying to avoid becoming a nation split in two and headed for a second civil war – I am just not sure how people keep these two Americas in mind and still trust that America is one nation, with a singular and unified vision. Why do some Americans feel the need to threaten other Americans with long guns and why does the President of our nation encourage their intimidations? Will they become Trump’s army in 2020? Will the South rise again? And if it does God help our heroes, and all of us. I did not think our Grand Experiment would come to this and I still think it can be saved. Our founders said, “we give you a republic, if you can keep it.” I want to keep it. How about you?