By Mary O’Brien, MD
I’m confused. It’s too dangerous to go to school. It could spread COVID-19. It’s too dangerous to go to work. It could spread COVID-19. It’s too dangerous to eat out, get a haircut, go to a concert, a clinic graduation, wedding, or funeral. It could spread COVID-19. But riots, vandalism, looting, and arson are somehow First Amendment rights, and they override concerns about spreading COVID-19. Has everyone gone insane, or is it just I?
The reality is, going to school, work, or other everyday activities was never really problematic. Riding on filthy, overcrowded subway cars or living in a nursing home has been really problematic. So far, there is no statistical correlation between the economic shutdown and COVID-19 case rates, hospitalization rates, or mortality rates. Sadly, there are devastating correlations between riots, anarchy, and the protracted decline of cities.
Some of us are old enough to remember the spring of 1968. It was horrible. Shortly after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, appalling levels of violence broke out at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Cities across the country burned and many neighborhoods never recovered. Areas of Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, and New York City are still scarred today.
Three months of lockdowns from COVID-19 have shown many educated people they can earn a living from the comfort of home. The violence and destruction of the past two weeks will give many people pause about remaining in big cities. The exodus has already begun.
Unfortunately, for those left behind, taxes of every type will increase, but the quality of life will decrease even more. Economic decline leads to declines in education and public health. And the people who suffer the most are those least able to cope.
The chief duty of any public official is to protect the citizens, not to lock them in their homes. We have witnessed a series of dreadful errors in judgment on the part of many mayors and governors — over the past few months (in March 2020 and beyond). It has devolved into gross incompetence and cowardice over the past two weeks of late May and early June 2020. People in the media love it. Suddenly, they have a topic to replace COVID-19.
Politics has a massive impact on education and health care. We cannot pretend otherwise. In light of that, I’d like to offer a few thoughts:
1. Ignore 95 percent of the people in the media. They live for conflict, anger, and fear.
2. Realize that anyone promoting conflict, anger, or fear is a big part of the problem — in any situation.
3. Understand that most people are not inherently racist, sexist, xenophobic, or homophobic, but identity politics lives on. It’s cheap and it’s easy.
4. Recognize that businesses, large and small, are a good thing for individuals, neighborhoods, and society at large. Punishing business owners with violence, absurd taxes, or excessive regulations is spiteful and wrong.
5. Know that people typically get the kind of behavior they tolerate. If you tolerate violence and chaos, you’ll get more of both. A famous passage from the Talmud sums it up, “When you’re nice to the cruel, you’re cruel to the nice.”
The year 1968 was awful. Let’s not make the same mistakes again.