Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it-Mark Twain
Any coward can fight a battle when he’s sure of winning- George Eliot
A team is where a boy can prove his courage on his own. A gang is where a coward goes to hide. ― Mickey Mantle
Reporting for duty for 12 hour emergency room shifts to render treatment to those stricken with a highly infectious and potentially lethal virus requires a special type of courage for which we should all be most grateful. To those who provide us a semblance of normalcy as we navigate our new topsy- turvy reality by collecting our garbage, delivering our mail, serving in our grocery stores, pharmacies and more so that our most essential needs continue to be met, we should also be appreciative. Each night at seven PM we yell, scream, cheer, bang pots and pans out our windows, while outside cars honk joyously in celebration of their efforts. One of my neighbors provides a bugle reveille calling us to exhort them loudly and passionately on to the finish line, for this is a marathon.
Often heroes are unaware such capacity exists in them until their moment of truth is met. Too often acts of courage are confused with fearlessness but those who perform such acts attest that it was not their lack of fear but rather their ability to place it on a shelf and focus, which made such heroics possible. Not everyone is capable of certain heroic tasks. And there should be no shame in that. We all come into this life with different skill sets and personalities. Courage can be measured in ways other than pulling people from burning buildings or performing evacuations during severe climate events. Taking an unpopular stand for a just cause, in the face of the possibility of employment loss or close relationships is no doubt courageous as well.
Cowardice is the other side of the same coin. The amplification of ideology through the barrel of a gun while the like-minded insinuate mob violence is not courage. It is vigilantism of the highest degree and it never leads to anything good. It is straight out of the fascist playbook. It leads to Jim Crow, it leads to lynching, it leads to Bolsonaro, Modi, Chavez, Mussolini, and the travesty installed in residence presently at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC. In a worst-case scenario it can lead to Germany in 1933- but with nuclear weapons.
There are some who mistakenly attribute the virtues of bravery to the armed marchers who descended upon Michigan’s capital of Lansing as 73 more corpses were added to the state’s fatal inventory. This same contingent of people first appeared two weeks earlier. At the time, a photo was taken of an unmasked man yelling in the face of masked peace officers, who were undoubtedly under strict orders to maintain their collective composure, despite the threat of possible infection from such actions. The mask, in the case of the officers, protects the offender from being infected by the officer. The lack of such a mask by the offender, at such a close proximity puts the officers at risk. These are not the actions of the brave; these are the actions of the thoughtless and the incredibly stupid at a time when the state has a way to go before flattening its curve. Hundreds of people strapped with semi-automatic weapons, secure in the knowledge that a sensible governor is not going to over react and commit armed security forces to the job of forcibly removing them, combined with the rapt attention nationwide of viewers anxiously glued to their TVs, provides a measure of duty free propaganda for the policies of a president who is known for never wanting to pay for anything. These are not the actions of heroes but rather those of the cowardly school bully. The true illustration of bravery here comes from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who, by upholding her oath as the chief executive of her state, hasn’t allowed such over-zealousness to divert her course in protecting constituents from the virus and from themselves. She risks a previously bright political future. Fortunately, thus far, the polls back her up. But in times like these human nature can be given to great swings of anxiety minus the element of common sense.
Inability to accept responsibility is another hallmark of the coward. The last administration left a 69-page playbook for the current administration outlining the eventualities of a pandemic in the United States. It also increased funding and staffing to divisions of the NIH (National Health Institute), CDC (Centers for Disease Control), NSA (National Security Administration), HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) and the NSC (National Security Council). But instead of preparing for this pandemic, this “leader” disavowed the warnings of experts, while mangling the distribution of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and endangering front-line warriors for political purposes and in the service of outright cronyism. He complains about “broken tests” left over for a disease that did not even exist at the time. He has lied about test availability. He has questioned fatality statistics as over counted while members of his own task force suggest the exact opposite. He hailed China at the start for its transparency but now demonizes it to score cheap political points at every opportunity. He has fired or silenced the voices of experts and installed the unqualified, like his son in law, to positions light years beyond their abilities. As the virus rages inside the White House he refuses to mask up but requires it of everyone else, indicating that he will not risk infection from any of them, but will not offer them the same considerations should he become infected.
His Vice-President recently stumbled into the Mayo Clinic of all places, sans mask. A few days later, he attended an Iowa conference of executives from the food industry. Prior to the commencement of the conference an aide entered the room to instruct the properly spaced and masked executives to remove their masks before the VP entered, effectively endangering everybody in the room. The option of on demand testing is not available to most of us, despite what is being disseminated from the house of pointed misinformation. The health of these executives was compromised for the sake of political optics to a base they care little for except in the currency of their votes. The charlatan in chief and his ambassador of mendacity can inoculate themselves from the dangers of infection while their loyalists open their boxes of empty promises. This is what cowards do.
The phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” is a figurative adage meaning that difficulty will not inhibit the determined. This gang that cannot shoot straight takes the phrase too literally, as evidenced by a recent Rose Garden “briefing” made briefer by the questioning of my new heroes CBS correspondent Weija Jaing and CNN’s Kaitlin Collins with a big assist from Yamiche Alcindor of PBS.When Ms. Jaing inquired about the insistence of framing the pandemic as a competition between nations as the president lied about US testing achievements; he called it a “nasty” question and told Ms. Jaing to “ask China”. Ms. Jaing then proceeded to challenge him by asking why he was asking that of her in particular. In case it has not already become evident, Ms. Jaing is a Chinese American. The coward in chief then turned tail and called on Ms. Collins for the next question. She deferred back to Ms. Jaing. He turned tail again and attempted to call on Ms. Alcindor who deferred back to Ms. Collins. His attempt to bob and weave from Ms. Collins and back to Ms. Alcindor was spoiled when Ms. Collins pointed out that he had, in fact, called on her next and she was just trying to give her colleague an opportunity to finish her follow-up. He told her that she was too late and then, without hearing from Ms. Alcindor at all, hightailed it out of there unable or afraid to skirmish with someone who punches back. The Three Musketeers themselves would have been envious of the sublime parrying by these reporters. When Harry Truman said “If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen” I imagine he never thought that the day would come when one of his successors would run to the kitchen in search of comfort food. Perhaps the word successor is incorrect in this context as it cannot be spelled without “success” which, like courage, is another concept this administration has absolutely no familiarity with.