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Arnold Ahlert / Mar. 19, 2020

In a Time of Crisis, Let's Stand Together

While tackling coronavirus, how about a national time-out for political divisiveness?

For quite some time, aided and abetted by a rapacious media and take-no-prisoners howlers-at-the-moon on social media, “partisanship porn” has been America’s most enduring frame of reference. You’re either with me or you’re the enemy, the idiot, or simply beneath contempt. Thus one must be ridiculed, defriended, socially ostracized, and/or ignored. All of our differences are irreconcilable and civil war inevitable.

Except that it’s not.

This writer is a conservative who finds much of the progressive agenda wrongheaded at best and detestable at worst. But an agenda is not a person and hatred, simply for hatred’s sake, might be the most contemptible default position one can have — in the best of times.

In a time of national emergency, it may prove deadlier than the coronavirus that has precipitated that emergency.

One wants to point out that the Trump administration has done a lousy job reacting to the virus, while someone else wants to counter that there’s a double standard regarding how well the Obama administration handled swine flu and Ebola? Point and counterpoint. Tit for tat. Nah, nah, nah, nah nah.

Toward what end, other than to stoke division in a time when unity is desperately needed?

Columnist Micheal Goodwin reminds us that even during a world war, soldiers on both sides took a respite from the baser aspects of the human condition. “Starting earlier in December and culminating on Christmas Day in 1914, many allied British and French troops on one side and Germans on the other left their trenches and greeted each other on No-Man’s Land,” he writes. “The sudden fraternization happened on many spots along the Western Front, with soldiers swapping souvenirs, raising toasts, singing Christmas songs and playing ­soccer.”

He believes the same mindset should prevail in Washington, DC. “If warring European soldiers could do it a century ago, surely warring American political leaders can do it today,” he asserts. “God knows our nation needs a truce.”

Indeed.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt the partisanship that afflicts our Ruling Class will play itself out in whatever series of measures politicians attempt to implement during this crisis. Thus, conservatives will complain about possible loss of constitutional rights precipitated by mandatory shutdowns of various economic sectors, while progressives will complain about efforts viewed as sacrificing vulnerable Americans to protect the economy — all while reliably hysterical media pundits exacerbate the differences and fan the flames of panic for their own perceived advantages. Conservatives will rail against nationalization schemes, progressives against tax cuts, etc. etc., ad infinitum.

Here’s an idea: In a nation beset by large philosophical differences, how about inserting a sunset clause into every measure enacted by Congress during the crisis? According to the current worst-case scenarios, we are in for a long period of hard times. Perhaps such sunset clauses could be tied to information regarding when the transmission of the virus peaks and begins to wane. At that point, any measure related to the outbreak will either have to be renewed or it will automatically expire.

A heavy lift? No doubt. But one that would certainly mitigate the paralysis that inevitably arises when one side sees the other as seeking permanent changes, using coronavirus as a pretext. Indications that bipartisanship is already occurring are a welcome sign, and such clauses would further that end.

Perhaps financial markets should be temporarily closed as well. Since panic is the current worldwide default position, and most economies are in some form of suspended animation, it seems sensible to suspend the unprecedented and potentially catastrophic gyrations of financial markets as well. Price discovery, which is the basis of the entire system, can be determined at a later time.

Americans themselves? One hopes that self-quarantining and isolation might induce reflectiveness. Perhaps we might begin to realize that most of the issues we argue about, sometimes to the point of insanity, are reflective of our … luxury. The overwhelming majority of Americans are well fed (even to the point of obesity) and our definition of “poor” is the envy of a world where, for the overwhelming majority of people, simple survival is still a 24/7/365 effort.

And then there’s perspective. “For those who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, there was nothing unusual about finding yourself threatened by contagious disease,” writes self-described “80-something” columnist Clark Whelton. “Mumps, measles, chicken pox, and German measles swept through entire schools and towns; I had all four. Polio took a heavy annual toll, leaving thousands of people (mostly children) paralyzed or dead. There were no vaccines. Growing up meant running an unavoidable gauntlet of infectious disease.”

In modern day America, “growing up” has become an increasingly heavier lift in an increasingly narcissistic nation. No doubt largesse, coupled with technology, has made “look at me” a national sport. But one suspects a crisis that has likely caused millions of Americans of every generation to contemplate their own mortality may ultimately engender a much-needed “were all in this together” response. At the very least, we may realize just how petty many of our disagreements are, and one hopes that in turn will engender an appreciation of each other that transcends those differences — even if it is only for the duration of the crisis.

We already know where the alternative gets us, and the reality that some people will never get it should not deter the rest of us from seeking common ground, no matter how narrow the parameters. Americans will always disagree, even vehemently, about what is right and wrong for our nation, but the wholesale elimination of mutual respect does not have to be part of the equation.

Moreover, we should be enormously thankful for the legions of unsung, everyday heroes who persevere and often risk their own well-being taking care of the ill, delivering much-needed supplies, and performing other innumerable tasks that may ultimately be the difference between civilization and anarchy. Few of their names will ever be known, but millions of Americans will owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

America persevered after Pearl Harbor and 9/11. We can do it again. And maybe, just maybe, for the first time since it was coined, there is a phrase Americans can take to heart in an entirely different context than it was first presented:

Never let a crisis go to waste.

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