The remedy for what ails America is spiritual, not political
Americans are aware that 215,000 people in our country have died from COVID-19. They also recognize that a growing number, perhaps even a greater number, of fellow citizens have died from, or are enduring, the intense mental health consequences of coronavirus lockdowns and limitations, and the consequent economic fallout. It seems casualties and victims have amassed on both sides of the “Dr. Fauci is right – Dr. Fauci is wrong” continuum. The Great Barrington Declaration that is on today’s front page of both the Washington Post and the New York Times, is a perfect example of this divide. Highly-esteemed epidemiologists are now in open disagreement about the strategy America has employed, and presently employs, to reduce COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, and whether those measures incur worse collateral damage.
This standoff leads most Americans to ask: Who can we trust to tell us the truth? People do not know where to turn for information that is not spun to advance a particular agenda. I search the internet each day for facts and analysis not tainted with bias, but unfortunately, the truth has become hard to find. By April our national and state political leaders seem to have pivoted from a discussion on the merits of various COVID strategies, to using the virus as a wedge issue. Some politicians exaggerated the dangers and possibility of death from COVID to frighten the public, destabilize the economy, and undermine President Trump’s re-election prospects. Others downplayed the obvious perils posed by the coronavirus in blind support of the President in his pursuit of a second term. The “red state – blue state” divide which once was the electoral map description of the political divide defining our country, became the most reliable predictor of how governors and mayors would react to the public health challenges of the last seven months. The policy deliberation process thus became reversed – predetermined decisions went in search of science and data to support them.
Where’s the journalism?
With warring political partisans accusing their opponents of doctoring the data, one would hope our country’s “fourth estate” – the news media – would be a fair arbiter of what was, and was not, true. For the most part, that has not happened. Here again, the “red state – blue state” dynamic divided and conquered us. Death-by-death coverage and highlighted horror stories sought to define the pandemic through sensational anecdotal evidence. Other media outlets gave a pass to the reckless disregard of common-sense public health precautions and sought to minimize the risks from COVID, claiming a hoax. In a healthy democracy there must be an impartial, objective press to, well, mediate the information provided by the three branches of government. Instead of serving as a watchdog of the truth and our freedoms, too often the news and social media flouted basic standards of journalism.
When I was young, I enjoyed watching professional wrestling (before steroids ruined the sport). I often have said that life imitates wrestling, and the recent presidential debate buttressed that belief! Lately I have pondered the parallel between the ineptness of the wrestling referee back then (who was in on the rigged outcome of the match), and many news and social media outlets now arbitrating affairs in the public square. With most news stories, it just seems the fix is in.
The end result of all of this is that truth may have become a COVID casualty. The fear and distrust that unavoidably attend face masking, social distancing, isolating of the elderly and at-risk, and contact tracing, are becoming endemic in civic life.
A spiritual awakening
What can be done? Love and trust, and a renewed awareness of God and the human dignity conferred by God which binds us together, are the only antidotes. America has remained united throughout its history by a belief that objective truth can be discovered through faith and reason. Beyond the boundaries of the ten commandments given by God to Moses and embraced by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of all faiths or none at all, is the precept to love one’s neighbor as one self. Forty years ago Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned of the dire consequences when God is forgotten by man. Truth becomes the first casualty, and disregard for life, the environment, and the rights of others, quickly follow. The elderly, disabled and mentally ill suffer first, most, and longest when society descends this downward slope.
The public health challenges now facing America have exposed the spiritual poverty that afflicts aspects of American life. Americans should expect more from our branches of government, our news and social media, and our presidential candidates. A renewed awareness of God can bridge the divisions that widen among us by the day. It can also accomplish the healing that the upcoming national elections cannot, and will not, achieve. Anything short of a spiritual reawakening in America will fail to cure what ails our beloved country. A discussion must begin now on what such a reawakening might look like, and who might lead it.