COVID-19 continued its ever-expanding merciless dominance over our country, with nearly 4.7 million confirmed cases and upwards of 154,500 deaths.¹ Unemployment benefits ended for 30 million Americans.² We experienced a record-breaking 32.9% drop in GDP last quarter.³ Schools began to reopen. There were the sounds of baseballs striking bats and basketballs hitting nothing but the bottom of the net. In the midst of this, for a few short days, our eyes and hearts were diverted from the virus ravaging the nation and focused, instead, on the remarkable life of John Lewis, a life that ended too soon.
The man was unique. Arrested 45 times, beaten nearly to death twice, frequently confronted face-to-face with people who openly despised him because of his skin color and his quest for equality. Regularly deprived of basic human rights. Yet someone who professed and practiced peaceful protest. The man never raised a fist or held a gun as he fought for anti-discrimination laws, voting rights and fair housing to name just a few. A man who urged us to get into ‘good trouble, necessary trouble’ to help the country become one welcoming to all of its citizens. An admirer of Gandhi and his staunch belief in non-violence. The third of ten children born to sharecroppers in Alabama. A 17-term member of the House of Representatives. A man of honor, a civil rights icon, respected by supporters and adversaries alike (save for the current resident of the White House). A man eulogized by three presidents. A visionary. A hero to many. The last of a generation. A man who lived long enough to see an African American in the White House and, just days before his death, to stand in Black Lives Matters Plaza in Washington, D.C. That his body was carried through the plaza on its way to lie in state in the Capitol’s rotunda — the first such honor for an African American — was only fitting.
You will be sorely missed, John Lewis. May we embody your spirit, manifest even a small portion of your courage, and continue your important work. There are many souls to save. We will walk with the wind, as you’ve instructed, and do our best to make you and the country proud.⁴
As the glowing and emotional tributes to John Lewis ended, as our attention unavoidably returned to reality, the near-constant feeling of dread, depression and powerlessness that is a new normal for many reemerged. Lewis is gone. There is no unifying voice of reason or comfort. We are again left to our own devices to attempt to address the serious issues we face. The acceleration of COVID-19, insufficient availability of testing and the debate about wearing masks. An economy in freefall. Racial injustice. The ongoing deployment of heavily-armed, anonymous, quasi-military Homeland Security agents ostensibly to protect federal buildings in Portland and, possibly, other cities with Democratic mayors.
A new shiny, unsavory object has now been added to the mix, one designed, no doubt, to divert our attention from the government’s failure to control the virus and the accompanying economic disaster: the potential need to postpone the November election due to possible voter fraud and the threat of a ‘rigged’ election. Our latest nemesis: voting by mail. Will the hits never cease?
The positions taken by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart News Network, The Washington Times and other conservative news and opinion sources on these topics are clear and consistent. The positions espoused by PBS, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post and The New York Times are equally clear and equally consistent — and, not surprisingly, diametrically opposed. It is as if these two clusters of news sources are describing entirely dissimilar sets of events, opposing realities, with radically different players. The problem is that the events are identical, as are the cast of characters.
Of the many challenges we face, our inability to agree on basic facts may be the most significant. And, potentially, the most deadly.
We continue to be cleaved into two warring societies, two hate-filled tribes. It’s time for this to stop.
Let’s try to come together now, at least on a few things. Regardless of your political affiliation or your preferred news sources, let’s agree that:
1. The spread of COVID-19 can be deterred by the wearing of a mask in public, staying physically distanced from others, and frequent handwashing. This is based on consistent, documented and confirmed scientific research. Try as some might, there is no factual basis on which to dispute these findings. They are all we have to protect us from contracting the virus and helping us return to some semblance of normalcy. To refute them is to ignore scientific fact. To refute them is to admit ignorance.
2. Those who choose not to wear masks in public are putting others at risk. They may scream about personal liberty. They may argue that the government cannot mandate the wearing of masks. They may say that there is no evidence that wearing a mask provides protection. But they are wrong. Wearing a mask is not a political statement; it is an attempt to save lives. Not wearing a mask is tantamount to driving drunk, as doing so has the potential to kill the driver and innocent people. Do you allow your children to drive drunk or be in a car with someone who is driving under the influence? Didn’t think so. Wear a mask.
3. Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) is a damn fool. Gohmert has been outspoken in his unwillingness to wear a mask in the Capital building or elsewhere. When he tested positive for COVID-19 last week, he attributed it to him being forced to wear a mask.⁵ That somehow wearing a mask caused him to breathe his own breath which contained the virus and infected him. Really. Sadly, there’s no cure for stupidity.
The absolute bottom line is this: facts are facts. Try to ignore the noise and distractions created by those promoting self-serving opinions. Instead, question. Instead, seek truth. We, as a nation, will have a fighting chance to resume living the sooner we do. And, maybe, just maybe, we will have the opportunity to get into what John Lewis referred to as some good trouble, some necessary trouble. Let that day come very soon.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, August 2; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/ These data are from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), so who knows?
⁴ If you haven’t already done so, read his Op Ed that ran in The New York Times on the day of his burial. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/opinion/john-lewis-civil-rights-america.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage