Who do we want to be?
I’m not sure who we are anymore.
I’m sitting here on a Thursday morning in late April watching the rain, which isn’t all that unusual for late April, and as I’m going through my morning reading, which has become more extensive in the past month, I’m noticing a disturbing trend: We’re no longer pretending to be nice.
Put a strong emphasis on the word pretending in that last sentence. I’m not naive enough to believe that we, as a society, have ever actually been nice. While the subjective term has always been applied on a bit of a sliding scale depending upon the person to who it was actually applied, most people have long known that much of the niceness we see in a public setting is fake. We were taught a certain set of manners, a distinct level of public decorum to which we all, or at least most of us, adhered. How we behaved privately, however, has always been in opposition to that public face, and knowing whose word could or could not be trusted was valuable capital in navigating the social landscape.
As most of us have been forced to stay at home for well over a month now, or otherwise socially distanced from the level of population that we might normally encounter, cracks in our social veneer have become major fault lines and many people are no longer making the slightest effort to be nice either in their tone nor in their behavior. To some degree, the public face that has been worn by so many for so long is falling completely off and we’re seeing people for who they truly are.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. One might argue that it was predictable. We have known for quite some time that herd mentality is neither stable nor predictable and we always expect it to be centered toward some vision of self-preservation; such is the nature of the beast. Beginning in 2007, and expanding more across the field after 2013, economic models have stopped assuming that people act inherently logical, putting the growth of their own economic interests ahead of everything else. That we don’t necessarily value profit above all else played a large part in the 2008 recession and is going to be a significant factor in determining when/if the economy gets back on its feet now.
When our herd response to the chance of a lockdown coming was to hoard toilet paper above all else, we sent a strong message as to where our values lie in that, for the most part, we have none. This is self-preservation in hyperdrive. Old people can’t get what they need? Screw them. People with critical illnesses can’t get the medications they need to live? Screw them, too. We turned the grocery store into a battleground. If the fights in the aisles weren’t enough, now people are creating bots to snatch items out of store inventories and taking up delivery spots so that, once again, those most vulnerable can’t get what they need. The number of online hacks has increased substantially, putting more people’s private data in danger, and the trolls who have always inherited the seedier places of the Internet have grown to the point of being a public nuisance.
What is ultimately most damaging, though, is that our elected leaders, those who we depend upon for guidance and leadership through difficult times, have ripped off their masks as well and we’re seeing that this land of the free and home of the brave is more like The Bad Place, a facade based on evil with the intent of inflicting as much pain and torture as possible. We see this in the actions of the Mayor of Las Vegas, eagerly desiring to re-open the town’s casinos, not caring how, or if, they choose to enforce any precautions against the spread of disease. We see it in the words of the Texas Lieutenant Governor who callously says, “There are more important things than living.” We see it in the decisions Governors who are ignoring data and science and re-opening commercial activity in their states long before adequate testing makes those actions safe. We see it in the Senate pro Tempore saying that he’d rather see states go bankrupt than pass another stimulus package.
Most critically, we see the evil in the actions of a president who made it his practice to ignore the earliest warnings of the virus possibly as far back as November of 2019, continually downplaying its severity and questioning the recommendations of medical and scientific professionals, and considered only 30,000 deaths a winning situation. His callous disregard for the volume of human life his actions effect, the demeaning manner in which he speaks to reporters attempting to clarify the situation, and the self-centered insistence on turning every press conference into a campaign rally, proves he cares nothing for anyone but himself and those who are giving him money.
That there remains anyone who still supports this president and those who are committing similar acts of evil proves that we have lost our soul, our national identity, and our social morality. There is no valid claim to greatness in a people who stand on statehouse steps holding automatic weapons in defense of their “right” to move about freely with full knowledge, whether admitted or not, that such actions could impact the health and welfare of hundreds (exponentially) of innocent people. There is no valid claim to righteousness in religious leaders who choose to test God’s sovereignty in order to preserve their pocketbook while potentially infecting thousands. There is no valid claim to morality when pastors and debt holders and even some employers demand people to turn over their entire stimulus checks to them.
I’m not ignoring the fact that there are plenty of people who are doing good within their communities. People who are sewing masks, giving free rooms and meals to medical staff, delivering meals and wifi to children home from school, and many others are demonstrating that there remains some hope that we, collectively, have not lost all humanity.
What bothers me is that there are apparently not enough of those people to overwhelm the evil and drive it into oblivion. If we were a humane society, our shouts and objections would have forced a change in the president’s behavior from the very beginning. If we were all so intent on doing good and caring for those in need, there would be no one facing eviction or worrying about being able to pay for the medication. If we truly cared about the safety and welfare of our friends and neighbors, we wouldn’t need a forced shut down of businesses, we would all simply stay home until the medical and scientific data determined it was safe to do otherwise. That NONE of those conditions exists tells me we are not who we claim to be.
We sit here at a crossroads where we have to make some difficult choices, putting what’s humane and safe and appropriate above our desires, our wants, and our selfish proclivities. There’s nothing “reasonable” about wanting to re-open business that cannot safely enforce social distancing. We are not “protecting jobs” when the first businesses we want open are those that pay the least and employ the most vulnerable. We are not “doing what’s best for America” when our actions overwhelmingly endanger people of color and those who exist below the poverty line.
We are not who we thought we were or who we claimed to be. The masks are off, the charade is over. America, we see you for the evil you are.
Now, you get to choose. Who are you going to be?