Terry Bracy: COVID-19 could be the end of 'America first'
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Terry Bracy: COVID-19 could be the end of 'America first'

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

March began for my wife Nancy and me with an invitation to a fancy luncheon put on by the American Cremation Society. The great American marketing machine was again targeting profits, this time potential casualties of the coronavirus and we were on somebody’s list. Notwithstanding our pride at being capable athletes in our 70s, the invitation was a humorous reminder that we are statistically old and positioned toward the top of the great escalator to the afterlife.

Crises strip away all pretensions. Social masks are replaced by real ones. Society divides into sharers and hoarders. The unavoidable visit to the supermarket becomes an instructive lesson in priorities and behavior. Before our local grocery store imposed limits, one would see shoppers filling multiple carts with toilet paper, leaving none for anyone else. You would also encounter shoppers careful not to take the last of an essential product if their need is met. By my count, generosity trounced selfishness by a lot.

Economic injustice is painfully obvious. NBA players are immediately tested while health-care workers in our hospitals and homes are left wondering about the consequences of their daily exposure to the sick. Hourly workers stay at their counters and cleaning jobs to make modest ends meet while others have the luxury of following the rules of physical distancing.

And when the tests become available, will they be free? Most personal bankruptcies are caused by unemployment and medical bills, and almost half the country reports putting off medical care because of cost. The wisdom of national health insurance becomes more apparent every day.

We may be living in the last days of “America First.” The idea that we could wall ourselves off from trouble has been forever defeated by this virus. There is no protection from the air and wind and human connection, no edifice nor army nor nuclear weapon that can defeat an enemy like COVID-19.

The defense requires science, discipline, credible information, and international teamwork. The White House treats this as a political problem. Leaders emerge from state and local governments, from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York to Mayor Regina Romero in Tucson, where they issue tough orders to close businesses and limit social contact. History will mark them as heroes.

A Canadian friend sends me a clip from the Montreal Gazette headlined “China donates thousands of medical masks, personal protective equipment to Canada.” Isn’t this what America used to do? We were the provider of last resort, and yet now it is apparent to the world we cannot get out of our own way much less help them. While our president calls the virus that causes COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” in an attempt to unload resentment and anger on the world’s oldest civilization, China’s response is to reach out across the globe supplying medical equipment and expertise. Like a seesaw, China rises in world opinion and the U.S. goes down.

There will be good from this calamity. Telemedicine will take a giant leap forward. making it possible to bring the best medical expertise to the corners of America left behind. Patients’ discussions with their doctors will become common on Zoom or a like technology. Factory jobs will return to America after industries experienced supply disruptions from inexpensive foreign operations.

A vaccine will be found and with it perhaps other scientific discoveries. Congress will order a sweeping investment rebuilding the research-based government infrastructure deemed unnecessary by this administration. Perhaps the whole issue of health insurance will finally be resolved, most likely with a single-payer system. Most important, the crisis has brought us together as a country once again. We have relearned that the success of our democracy depends on an informed nation of people willing to share and help one another.

Sometime during the last three decades, America lost its way. Success became defined by personal wealth. Yet, who do we look up to today: President Trump or Dr. Anthony Fauci? I would like to take a vote on that.

Terry Bracy has served as a political adviser, campaign manager, congressional aide, sub-Cabinet official and adviser to presidents.

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