Editorial: Spirit of unity is central to accomplishing all we have still to do
Last in an Opinion series
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
We began this series with a simple but critical question: How did we do on the COVID-19 test in 2020?
After a week of reflection, it is natural to end the series with a similar and even more critical question: How can we do better as the pandemic enters its second year in 2021?
There are many elements in the answer to that question, but they all derive from one concept, an idea that one could argue represented the single most important failure in our response to the disease over the past year.
In an April 4 White House press briefing as the potential impact of the coronavirus was beginning to dawn on him and the rest of the nation, President Donald Trump invoked the notion of "war" at least 15 times when referring to the impending battle against the coronavirus. He conjured the image of "thousands of soldiers, thousands of medical workers, professionals, nurses, doctors ... going into a battle that they've never really trained for." He promised the government would "move heaven and earth to safeguard our great American citizens. We will continue to use every power, every authority, every single resource we've got to keep our people healthy, safe, secure, and to get this thing over with. We want to finish this war."
And then he raised perhaps the most important injunction of the day.
"And I want to encourage everyone to keep following our guidelines on slowing the spread," he said. "Sustaining this war effort is -- and that's what it is; this is a war effort -- is the patriotic duty of every citizen. While we may be more physically distant for a time, we're closer together in the heart and in the spirit. And through this, great national unity is happening. We're having a great unity developing that a lot of people didn't think would be possible to develop like this."
Unfortunately, that was not the spirit the president cultivated in the following months, and the result was a wedge between Americans that precluded almost any chance of a unified national response.
Imagine if the president had stuck to his call for a coordinated patriotic effort among all states and all communities and had eschewed any talk of pitting red states against blue states. It may be impossible to pinpoint just how much longer we will suffer because of the divisions among us, but considering the impressive initial success of the administration's Operation Warp Speed in working with pharmacy companies to produce several promising vaccines, one can't help but think we would be farther ahead than we are now -- and that we wouldn't be stumbling as we are in getting these vaccines to the public.
So as we enter a new phase of the crisis under the leadership of a new administration, one fundamental objective must be clear -- to unite us again in ways that we have been united before when confronting moments of adversity and hardship.
Renewing and revitalizing that spirit must become the first order of business for the Biden Administration, and it should likewise be the prime directive for all Americans who yearn for a decisive end to the disaster that has crippled our nation and the whole world.
We will have many difficulties to overcome. As we said in our editorial launching this series, we face manifest challenges to address weaknesses in our health care system, to care for our elderly and to educate our children. As we said in Friday's installment, even after two stimulus packages, the federal government still is stumbling to appropriately meet the economic needs of tens of millions of Americans. We have to keep pressing to fix that. We have to remove the roadblocks that have impeded the rollout of the vaccine that is our most potent weapon in the war on COVID-19 and all the mayhem it has created.
We have to develop an environment of shared sacrifice and of joint effort, of -- in the words of President Trump -- patriotic duty.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases, stood alongside President Trump at that April press briefing at the White House. He was asked how Americans should show their gratitude to the men and women on the front lines of the health crisis, and his answer has specific significance to the situation we face today.
"You know," he said, "when we were at war -- at the height of the war in Afghanistan, in Iraq -- when you're at an airport and you'd see somebody with a uniform come by, everybody would do that. (Claps.) I think that's what we should do when we see healthcare workers. Just applaud them."
Yes, we need to publicly and constantly applaud those who have been critical in keeping our society functioning all these months. But our applause is not just a show of appreciation. It also is a recognition that we find ourselves in the health equivalent of a national war. That we all are suffering. That we all have responsibilities to each other, made manifestly apparent by those who are sacrificing the most by engaging with the enemy directly,
When, with the help of our political leaders and our own personal resolve, we rekindle that spirit, only then can we say with confidence that we are on the path to conquering the pandemic.