I am sad and worried. Because of my sadness and worry, I’m finding it difficult to write. A twitter writer friend suggested I write out my thoughts and feelings. He argued that maybe by getting what was bothering me out of paper I could stop obsessing over it, so this is my attempt.
My sadness and worry aren’t personal ones; they are sadness and worry for my country and its people. Yes, of course, I worry more about those I love, but I worry for all Americans and for all people across the world. We have been struck by a terrible disease. I know personally how terrible it is because as I had it. While I am no longer ill like I was, I fear that my lungs may have been permanently damaged. I still get out of breath so easily. I’m concerned they may never fully recover.
While I may remain a permanent causality of the war, as a country, and as a world, we could fight this virus and win. Some countries have fought and are winning, but here in the US, too many of us have decided not to. I live in Alabama. Auburn is a college town, so it’s better educated than much of the state, but still when I go out, I see my fellow Alabamians refusing to fight. I went to Walmart last weekend, the first and only time I’ve been inside a store since I got sick. Walmart has done what they reasonably could to less the likelihood that we infect each other. They made everyone enter by one door and leave by a different one. They had signs encouraging the wearing of masks. There were reminders to keep socially distant from others and marks on the floor to show just how far apart six feet was. Aisles had one-way signs, so we wouldn’t come in close contact with other shoppers by passing them. There were hand sanitizer stations placed throughout the store.
The problem wasn’t that Walmart hadn’t created a safety plan. The problem was that so few were following it. Less than half the shoppers wore masks. (I did, even though I had very recently tested negative, and still believed I was immune from being infected again.) It was impossible to maintain six feet distance from other people because so few were obeying the one-way signs. I’d start down an aisle going the right way only to find someone else approaching me from the wrong direction. Walmart employees were doing nothing to enforce their policies, but truthfully, how could they? There were far too many people violating them. Rules, even laws, can only work when most people follow them voluntarily. Then those who don’t can be dealt with. They would have needed employees all over the store directing people, which is not only impractical, it would necessitate employees being closer than six feet to everyone, putting themselves and the shoppers at risk.
In addition to putting employees in danger from the virus, it would put them endanger from violence. From the news come story after story of a violent response to safety enforcement. A convenience store clerk was punched in the face for telling a customer she couldn’t serve him without a mask. A security guard was murdered for not letting a shopper into a store without a mask. Protestors attend opening-up rallies arrived fully armed with assault style weapons. Other protestors scream at and refuse to distance themselves from nurses who come in masks to counter protest and mask-wearing reporters who cover the event.
It didn’t have to be this way. Nothing discriminates less than a virus. A virus doesn’t care whether you voted for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, or no one at all. A virus won’t notice if you’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, or atheist. It will infect without thought both the billionaire and the homeless. It will invade the lungs of Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos, or Pacific Islanders all on an equal basis. It will eagerly attack whoever comes within its reach. Covid-19’s invasion of America should have united us as a people. We should be fighting this together as sisters and brothers. In the fight against Covid-19, we are not each other’s enemy. The virus is the enemy of all of us.
So why aren’t we? The responsibility for this failure rests primarily on one person. I don’t like to get political on this blog, but Donald Trump’s failure isn’t because he’s a Republican. It’s because he’s Donald Trump. Many both Democratic and Republican governors are providing effective leadership in their state’s fight against the virus. I was recently touched by Doug Burgum’s, the Republican governor of North Dakota, plea to the people of his state: “I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they’re creating a divide — either it’s ideological or political or something — around mask versus no mask. This is a senseless dividing line. If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. We’re all in this together and there’s only one battle we’re fighting and that’s a battle of the virus.”
But Donald Trump is about as far as possible from Doug Burgum. Rather than providing the leadership to fight this disease on a national level, Trump has instead divided us as Americans and made Covid-19 into a partisan issue. Because of this, quite literally, he is killing us. From the beginning when fears of the virus first effected the stock market, rather than organizing a national response to combating it, he called concern for the virus as a “Democratic hoax,” designed to bring him down. Because he saw the virus as a personal affront, he did next to nothing while Covid-19 established a strong beachhead in our nation. Covid’s position became so strong before he acted that defeating it would take heroic efforts on the part of all Americans.
But rather than leading those heroic efforts, he continued to portray the virus in personal and partisan terms. When the battle against the virus sent the economy into freefall, he didn’t rally the national together to defeat the disease. Instead, he attacked Democratic governors who battled the virus, including “that woman in Michigan.” Over and over again he has undermined a science-based, united approach and encouraged his supporters to see battling the virus as a fight against him personally. He portrayed the conflict with Covid as Democratic attempt to ensure his defeat in November. His media allies have amplified his message.
Because of his lack of leadership, his supporters (approximately 1/3 of Americans) refuse to see Covid as a serious threat to us all. Rather than uniting across party lines to defeat this invader together, like their leader, they attack their fellow Americans who do battle on the front lines. By doing so, they are ensuring the virus’s victory. Approximately 1/3 of our nation is fighting for the enemy. There is a reason why the United States has over 1/3 of the global Covid deaths when we have less than 5% of the world’s population.
No one, certainly not me, is unaware or unsympathetic to the economic pain the fight against the virus is causing. While my personal finances are unchanged, my son, who was set to graduate in August with a mechanical engineering degree, found his job prospects go from excellent to non-existent overnight. He may end up having to move back into my basement. As a college professor, I know many young people in a similar situation. Many Americans are in far worse financial danger. We all want the economy to recover. Everyone wants life to get back to normal. But until we get the virus under control, no economic recovery is possible. There will be no getting back to normal when the invader still ranges freely in our land. If my fellow Americans refuse to fight it, as a country, we will remain both sick and poor.
Alabama is a strong Trump state. Not coincidentally, it is also a state where the virus continues to ravage unchecked.
I don’t know what to do to change the situation. I’ve found it impossible to convince Trump supporters that the virus is as dangerous as it is. I actually had a Trump supporter tell me Covid-19 didn’t exist. He insisted that the doctor who told me I had it lied to me. I don’t know what disease he thought had me bedridden for 25 days or why he thought an Alabama doctor would be part of a conspiracy to take down Trump. Maybe he didn’t believe I’d actually been that sick. Even if Biden wins in November, he will have a tough time rallying us together against the virus. I fear many of my fellow Americans will continue the fight against him rather than against our common enemy.
We need love. We need compassion. We need empathy. Americans are capable of providing all these things. I have seen it over and over again in both in the past and in this current crisis. None of my or my husband’s family lives close to us (except my husband’s mother who has Alzheimer’s), but during those 25 days that I was bedridden, we had plenty of help. Members of the church I once belonged to dropped off meal after meal. While my husband still occasionally takes his mother to this church, I haven’t attended for years. But that didn’t prevent good hot food from appearing on our doorstep. People—friends, my work colleagues, my fellow dungeons and dragons players, the person who cleans for us—went to the store for us and dropped off groceries. When the father of one of my son’s high school friends wrongly thought I was dying, he offered to let my son stay for free in one of his empty rental houses, so my son could be closer to me without putting himself at risk. Even now the kindness of all of these people makes me weepy.
As a people, we are better than the way we are currently acting. So this is my plea to all my fellow Americans that we stop seeing each other as the enemy. That we unite together as a nation and fight to defeat the invader. We can do it. We are capable of great things. Do not let America’s best days be only in the past.
If you have examples of similar kindness, please share them below.
 I’m not unaware or insensitive that Covid-19 is having an unequal effect on the poor and the non-white, but that isn’t the virus’s fault. It is the inequalities in our society that put some people in risker situations than others.
 I’ve edited his remarks.