By Michael Willard
In some ways, confinement in a worldwide pandemic is like the 1929 Coca-Cola slogan: “The pause that refreshes”. However, there’s a serious and bitter after taste, like the Great Depression that then roiled the country.
I rode the bull, El Diablo, through the ups, downs, and all-arounds of risky market gyrations and revolutions in Eastern Europe from the mid-90s to 2015, and was proud of my self-appointed moniker “The Optimistic Alien”.
For now, I’m not changing. In the face of the coronavirus, I still look at life’s upside. I might be tired but not defeated. El Diablo, though, should be tongue-hanging-out exhausted. For the most part, I beat the rascally devil.
The optimistic appellation, however, needs dusting off occasionally, though it is generally the plain suit I put on each morning. I believe many of my fellow Americans are equally attired. No fancy duds for sure, just day-time dreamers.
The French historian/diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville gave a litany of fine qualities attributed to America, but none he said was the reason we live in a great country: “America is great because she is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
If any have followed my various essays over the years, you know I have at times — and particularly in these last years — questioned whether we were once great and good but have not lived up to the boast and brand.
Was the grandiose vision merely the romancing of an idea? Or, was perception sideways with reality. Fact is, the cliche’ that perception is reality is an ad man’s false equivalency. Eventually, reality sinks in, no matter how many coats of whitewash applied.
I have taken exception to the chest-beating claim that we are the leader of the free world. This is especially true when we abandoned the battlefield on the greatest of issues, such as climate change, nuclear sanity and some semblance of livable equality for all our people.
This is critically true when we see pictures of immigrant children in cages, when a nonsensical wall on the southern border is simply a porous and silly political statement and no more, and when racial tensions are encouraged by the man who sits behind the resolute desk.
The cloud that currently envelops the world — this damn virus — makes a mockery of so many attributes we cavalierly attribute to ourselves, especially the claim we have the best health care system in the world.
We don’t. Empirical real-time evidence suggests we might not even be close.
As a crisis manager, my first rule is to envision the worst-case scenario. The coming of this virus was as obvious as blaring klaxons. A pandemic that could alter the way we live has always been sky high on the risk management scale.
It wasn’t about the slight possibility that a meteor would clobber us and eliminate humankind, or even that the Second Coming was nigh. It was a tangible certainty — after Ebola, after Swine Flu, after the 1918 flu epidemic — that we were on borrowed time.
Acknowledging this didn’t take second sight, merely education and leadership. It was also common sense. The President, ironically, blames the Chinese for not sounding an early alarm. He claimed the virus was hardly more than a common cold.
There is, though, a silver lining.
Oddly enough, I believe events might shape this nation into stepping up to its world leadership role. This pandemic is a great equalizer and shreds our haughty and nationalistic pretenses.
The virus has inconvenienced us, and we don’t know as yet to what end. It’s not about missing a yoga class, but missing paychecks. It’s about death randomly visiting households and not playing favorites.
However, as has happened so many times in our past, we see this country coming together, despite feckless leadership at the top. We see an America working in a cooperative spirit.
Democrat and Republican politicians are joining feverishly to find economic solutions, and scientists are searching together to discover that silver bullet vaccine.
Perhaps this is, in essence, the “pause that refreshes”. This is not perception., but it is reality.
Yes, America can be great, because she is generally good, particularly in crisis times.