Ours is the nation that almost 250 years ago asserted and then won independence from her global-power mother country, declaring the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. Roughly 155 years ago, our Civil War produced a soaked-in-blood, partial remedy to the scourge of slavery that had for so long belied our country’s founding principles. The efforts needed to overcome the Great Depression are among the living memories of some of our fellow citizens, as are the victorious American responses to Fascism and Nazism in Europe and Imperialism in Asia during World War II. Sacrifices of countless Americans produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as part of still-continuing efforts to address the ills of racism in our country. Confronting and dealing with unpleasant truths has been at the heart of these and other meaningful American accomplishments.
The truth does not disappear because we wish it were otherwise. Facts and their results are not influenced by our refusal to acknowledge their existence. Wishful thinking and lies do not produce positive results. For decades, partly in response to sloganeering of politicians telling us what we want to hear instead of the truth, we have sadly deluded ourselves into complacency on many public policy fronts.
Recently we have voted in sufficient numbers to elect politicians who have propounded unprecedented levels of demagoguery. Remember the nonsense promise that our country would quickly construct, and Mexico would pay for, an impenetrable wall on the entire length of our southern border? What about a governor’s and state senators’ assertions that taxes have not increased and will not increase under their watch while year after year after year the math of the state school funding formula combines with rising real estate assessments to continue to indisputably push property taxes endlessly higher? And how many votes have we cast for local candidates pledging that it is easy to cut government spending in the face of all our collective experience to the contrary?
We and those we share this planet with are now confronted by the realities of COVID-19. As recently as a press briefing this past Sunday, President Trump repeated his now familiar but still false refrain that “we have tremendous control” of the novel coronavirus. The hard truth is far different.
There is no vaccine for the virus, and experts estimate that we are 12 to 18 months from having one available for widespread use. As it has in other countries, the coronavirus will spread widely through the US population. It will likely infect hundreds of thousands of Americans and almost certainly result in tens of thousands of deaths; the highest risks are to the elderly and others with compromised health circumstances.
Our medical resources will be stretched and very possibly overwhelmed with those who become ill and require treatment. We can and should implement strategies to slow and limit the spread of the disease. We can and should begin deployment of the people and resources that will likely be necessary to care for those who need it.
But we do not “have tremendous control” over the virus. In fact, repeating that lie does not aid, and actually hampers, honest efforts to address the realities the virus presents.
This current pandemic is a test in real time of our country’s collective capacity to acknowledge the existence of unwelcome truths about COVID-19 and respond by implementing the inconvenient means that medical science and other nations’ recent experiences with the disease suggest will help. Can Americans summon the fortitude to confront the facts about the disease and then to focus on employing strategies that can reduce the coming pain? Can we come together to care for the sick, to comfort those who will lose someone they love, to provide for those who will require help in the aftermath?
The level of America’s success in these endeavors will depend in large part on the extent to which we disregard lies about the predicament we confront, lies that are likely to continue. Equally important will be how fully we come together to address the problem. Can we overcome our recent practice of dividing along political party lines and instead train all energies on fighting the disease and helping the afflicted?
Without doubt, America succeeds when we citizens rally together, keeping our eyes on the truth and hearts committed to our nation’s ideals, and following only the leadership that is true to that path. Can we prove ourselves able to meet that American legacy?