Social media are ablaze this weekend with the criticisms and speculations of Monday morning quarterbacks. Now that the situation is seemingly under control in East Tennessee, and some of the panic has subsided, the critiques begin. The last thing I would ever do is criticize someone who had the timeless misfortune of finding him or herself in a decision making position during this pandemic. There is no training ground to prepare a leader to make the decisions our mayors, governors and president have had to make over the past month. Much like Abraham Lincoln, who you will remember suspended writs of Habeas Corpus, these leaders should be graded on a curve. With that being said, this is a time for critical thinking. It’s time to talk about what is working, and what isn’t, where we erred and where we saved lives.
I’ve never understood the impulse of many to blindly trust an expert whose name they had never heard last week like he is Moses descending Mt. Sinai, stone tablets in hand. Perhaps it’s a natural Appalachian mistrust of slicksters and outsiders, or perhaps it’s because I’m old enough to remember the government experts who claimed Iraq had WMDs, or Al Gore’s early global warming fear porn. Experts, by very definition, know more than anyone else about a given topic. Their input should be treated as the primary source of information going forward. Only a fool would assert that we shouldn’t heed Dr. Fauci’s advice. What I do take issue with is the outright dismissal of competing ideas with the solutions recommended by the experts. They don’t have a crystal ball. Their job is to detail for decision makers the potential calamity of this virus. They are not paid to consider the economic pain that is coupled with these measures. Stifling the public discourse about solutions to this virus is unAmerican, and those who would condescend to business owners and furloughed employees airing their grievances probably aren’t living in the pressure cooker that is life for millions of Americans right now.
Weeks ago, the expert’s models predicted that at this point, even with shelter in place protocols in effect, East Tennessee hospitals would be overwhelmed. It was a huge miss. The predicted “peak date” for coronavirus cases in Knox County was April 15. That date has come and gone, and our hospitals sit empty. They canceled elective surgeries to prepare for a massive influx of corona patients that never came, and now they are hemorrhaging cash. Rural hospitals, already on the endangered species list in Tennessee, don’t have the cash reserves that major medical groups like Covenant have. Our hospitals are on life support.
Without much debate or discussion, we tacitly approved of the temporary suspension of many of our civil liberties for the public good. Whether that was foolish or patriotic is a debate for another place and another time. We did it under the auspices of our experts and their warnings, and the notion that we were “flattening the curve.” Again the narrative seems to have shifted, and we are finding that for some national leaders flattening the curve was a Trojan Horse. They intend for us to hide away from the virus until it can be eradicated. This is not feasible, and it is time to fight back. We cannot accept the indefinite shut down of our country in the hopes that a vaccine will be procured in the next year or so. We must come up with a better plan.
Some would argue that anything less than indefinite shutdown is “unfair.” At the very root of that accusation lies the difference between conservative thought and liberal thought. Liberals believe in the full power of the federal government to create an earthly utopia, free of viruses, poverty and war. Conservatives believe we live in this world, but are not of it, and it is our charge to work together to make the best of the hand we are dealt. I am reminded of a timely quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, “It is not our part to master all the tides of this world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set.”
Plainly, it is not possible for the government to fix this problem. Congress doesn’t have a magic wand, it is not divine and omnipotent, and we don’t have enough money to sustain the course we have selected. Those are facts, albeit harsh ones.
The economic pain inflicted by this virus has not yet begun to be realized. Many of our businesses are on a metaphorical ventilator. Few still believe that life and commerce will return to normal when this pandemic subsides. I am not a medical expert. I’ve never read a chart, sewed up a wound or diagnosed an illness. I know very little about those things. But I do have the same common sense that God endows most every person with, the ability to make decisions for myself. This is the crux of democracy. I don’t need to be an expert in anything to understand that if we remain on this course indefinitely, it will prove disastrous.