A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ron Daley: Will the coronavirus pandemic unite the country to become the next ‘Greatest Generation?’

Will we Americans meet the challenge as a united nation against the virus as the “Greatest Generation” did against Hitler’s Nazism, Italy’s Fascism, and the Japanese aggression as our patriots did on the battlefield and working in the factories in World War II.

It is yet to be determined as we enter the early stages of the war against a new deadly contagion. We are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the men and women who fought for our country and democracy. We had our heroes in President Franklin Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower, Britain’s Winston Churchill and Rosie the Riveter.

Rosie the Riveter poster popularied suring World War II (Image provided)

Our country is as divided today along partisan lines as it was during the Civil War. Facebook and social media platforms are filled with namecalling and anger towards people who do not share their political beliefs. Many Americans are tuned in to their preferred news source and are reluctant to consider any other sources. The partisan politics in Washington DC has spilled over into the states where little civility is found making it difficult to make the necessary legislative compromises.

While we are just in the first weeks of this pandemic, scientists and medical experts predict that we are several months away from being able to measure our success against the virus. The debate has already begun on how seriously we should consider the virus as well as the practice of containment and social distancing. Is protecting the greatest economy in the world more important than strict measures to protect the virus from spreading?

Politics will be a determining factor in the course we take. Political views are shaping our citizen’s thoughts on the seriousness of the virus threat and how we should respond. Two national polls in early to mid-March show a major divide between Republican and Democrat.

Ron Daley resides in Lexington. He was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2017.

The NBC/Wallstreet poll published on March 15 found “68 percent of Democrats are worried that someone in their family could catch the virus, while just 40 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of independents share that concern. Nearly 80 percent of Democrats believe the worst is yet to come, but just 40 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents believe that.”

Democratic voters consistently said they would change their travel and social plans at much higher rates than Republicans. For example, 61 percent of Democrats said they’ve stopped or plan to stop attending large public gatherings, but only 30 percent of Republicans said the same.

The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published on March 17 found similar results, “Just about 56% of Americans consider the coronavirus a “real threat,” representing a drop of 10 percentage points from last month. At the same time, a growing number of Americans think the coronavirus is being “blown out of proportion.” Most Republicans saying it is overblown and most Democrats considering it a legitimate threat, the poll revealed.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion observed “The consequences of these differing perspectives are shaping how people are responding to calls for action.” Less than a week after the poll results, after a couple of weeks of shutting down businesses and social gatherings, and the stock market fell significantly, voices emerged that the cost to the economy was going to be too great.

Social distancing notice during 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 (Image provided)

Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he would rather die than see public health measures damage the US economy, and that he believed “lots of grandparents” across the country would agree with him. “My message: let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Patrick, a 69-year-old Republican said. “Don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick said. “Don’t do that.”

Patrick said he feared that public health restrictions to prevent coronavirus could end American life as he knows it, and that he is willing to risk death to protect the economy for his grandchildren. Glen Beck, conservative political commentator, agreed, saying, “I’d rather die from coronavirus than kill the country from economic shutdown.”

While this debate continues, our healthcare workers are the soldiers at most risk treating those with the virus. Many of these workers are getting the virus and many more states they expect to become infected. Just as we have sent soldiers in harm’s way without the protective equipment in the beginning fight in the Middle East against IED’s, our healthcare workers do not have the gowns and face masks they need. The workers return home to shed their hospital gowns and sleep away from their families in their garages. Our healthcare professionals and first responders are the real heroes and hopefully will be granted extra hazardous duty pay.

There are many other heroes from the people working in grocery stores, first responders, and volunteers providing service. There are numerous examples of unselfishness and kindness which demonstrate the good side of humanity.

We are fortunate that there appears to be a strong spirit among Kentucky leaders working together through a spirit of bipartisanship and common purpose. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has shown strong leadership in making tough decisions while offering a calm, reassuring spirit that “we will get through this together.” Kentucky is getting high marks for his actions and the response of Kentuckians.

Will this crisis unite us, or will it further divide us? Whichever side you lean towards, be safe.

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