Responsibilities of Citizenship During the Pandemic

Medical and quartermaster corps men in connection with the United States Army Hospital. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus rises, we are brutally faced with the reality that public policy directly affects the number of Americans and Montanans who are victimized by this modern plague. And also by the reality that, because of its nature, public policy is not always driven by cold hard facts, science, and evidence, but is at least partially driven by politics. In some ways that is bad, but in other ways, it is good and necessary.

This is a time when people are called upon to join the communal effort to “flatten the curve” of medical destruction and death, to help move us toward a more controlled medical situation in the face of having no “cure” for the silent viral enemy. Medical and public health leaders have been sounding the alarm bells and flashing red lights about the dangers of a pandemic since the Ebola crisis in 2014. Yet we are now coming to the realization that the United States has, at best, had a flat-footed response to the challenge, a response that is now leading to exponentially-rising numbers of both cases and deaths.

Writing this as I sit at home, cloistered off because at age 75 I am in such a high-risk category, I know I will be chastised for failure to fully and completely stand behind the actions of our federal leadership. I suspect I will be accused of betraying our country because we should all be “pulling together.” But in the fifty years I have been deeply involved in public policy, I have learned that the duties of citizenship are steeped in the need for active engagement, not passivity – voicing our concerns rather than sitting in silence.

We as citizens have the right, even the responsibility, to demand that the leadership we have chosen rises to the task in front of us. In fact, that is almost a citizen’s duty in a democracy. We have the right to demand that our elected leaders be ahead of the curve, not behind the curve, especially when missing that curve means death for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. We have a right to demand that our elected leaders take advantage of the expertise we have developed in government with our tax dollars, rather than decrying that expertise as a “deep state” product with some conspiratorial agenda.

Political people shout “accountability” from the rooftops when it comes to the actions of individual citizens, especially those at the lower economic levels. Yet, those same political folk do not want the “accountability” lens focused on them. They suggest we should blindly fall in line behind a president or governor during times of crisis. But responsible citizenship calls upon us to not meekly line up behind bad direction in a crisis but to insist upon fact-based decision-making that leads us in the right direction.

We citizens are not rats following a pied piper to the sea nor lemmings marching to the sea. We are citizens with a responsibility that goes beyond the ballot box to demanding performance (and accountability) from those we elect.

In saying that, our critical eye should not be blindly partisan. It needs to be shaped by values and the common good, by the facts of our situation. It needs to be based on rational thought and analysis, not virulent political rhetoric or tribal thinking.

Criticism of the initial direction of our president has helped begin to bend the curve toward better public policy. If we are finally moving away from denial, delay, and deflection as our direction, it is because citizens have been willing to criticize the bad direction. That is the way a democracy is supposed to work.

As citizens, we are called upon to make shared sacrifices based upon the reality of our medical situation. Maintaining “social distance” – for some “social isolation” – is contrary to our active nature, yet it is necessary to keep the coronavirus crisis curve low. Do your part by practicing social distancing and other needed actions. And also, as citizens, contribute to the better good by critical thinking and active voicing of your concerns.

The country needs your thoughtful voice.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Evan Barrett

Evan Barrett, now retired and living on the Butte hill, is a regularly published political columnist in many Montana daily newspapers. Though never an elected official, Barrett’s political and governmental experience includes three years as Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party and twelve years on the Democratic National Committee; senior staff positions with Governors Forrest Anderson, Tom Judge and Brian Schweitzer, Congressman Pat Williams and Senator John Melcher; and campaign management positions with Judge, Williams and Melcher. Barrett is a recognized Montana historian, teacher and award-winning chronicler of Montana’s progressive past.


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  • On Dec. 1, the next confirmed patient in China fell ill.

    On Dec. 13, the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment.

    Three days later, a 65-year-old man was admitted to hospital in Wuhan with a lung infection.

    On Dec. 18, Democrats in the House of Representatives impeached Trump.

    On Dec. 29, Dr. Ai Fen, the head of emergency at Wuhan Central Hospital, alerted her superiors to seven cases of unexplained pneumonia. She was reprimanded and silenced, according to “60 Minutes Australia.”

    On Jan. 1, eight Chinese doctors who had posted information about the illness on social media were detained, and laboratories were ordered to destroy virus samples.

    On Jan. 3, Li Wenliang, a Wuhan ophthalmologist, was forced to sign an official confession that he had spread false “rumors” about the virus. He would later die of the illness.

    On Jan. 6, John Bolton announced he was prepared to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial, and the media went into overdrive.

    The next day, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning about “pneumonia of an unknown etiology” in Wuhan.

    On Jan. 14, the World Health Organization, doing China’s bidding, tweeted that Chinese authorities “have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.”

    On Jan. 15, after a one-month delay, Nancy Pelosi used gold pens to sign the impeachment articles and led a ceremonial procession to deliver them to the Senate.

    The next day, the impeachment trial — presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — began.

    On Jan. 20, the first US coronavirus case was reported, in Washington state.

    On Jan. 22, opening arguments against Trump began in the Senate.

    On Jan. 25, the State Department prepared to evacuate US citizens from Wuhan.

    The next day, Bolton accused Trump of saying he would withhold military aid from Ukraine unless it investigated Joe Biden. Less prominent were five cases of coronavirus in the United States.

    On Jan. 30, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the Chinese government for “extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak. [It] is very impressive .?.?. China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.”

    It sure was.

    On Jan. 31, Trump closed the US border to China and quarantined US citizens returning from Hubei province for 14 days, the first time such measures had been taken since 1969.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci would later say the travel ban was crucial in slowing the spread of the virus.

    But at the time, it was slammed by WHO and China as racist. Biden called Trump a “xenophobe.”

    If anything, as a China hawk who believes in border security, Trump was ahead of the Democrats and media who now blame him for the outbreak.

    Asked Tuesday if impeachment had distracted him, the president mused aloud, “I certainly devoted a little time to think about it, right.

    “[But] I don’t think I would have done any better had I not been impeached . . . I don’t think I would have acted any faster.”

    The president doesn’t want to admit it, but there had to be a price for the time and energy the administration and Congress wasted fighting over impeachment. The media was consumed by it and little attention was paid to the catastrophe unfolding in Wuhan.

    White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx this week pointed out that if medical experts were slow to comprehend the threat, it was because “we were missing a significant amount of the data” from China.

    We can all play the partisan blame game but that only lets the real culprit off the hook; it is the Chinese Communist Party, whose deceptions cost at least two crucial months and unleashed a pandemic.

    Soon, there will be a reckoning.

    • Mr. Trump must have been distracted by impeachment, he held rallies on January 9th, 14th, 28th and 30th. He golfed January 18th, 19th and February 1st. Impeachment ended on February 5th, giving him time to hold five more rallies and to golf three more times. Surely he was distracted by impeachment, but as he stated on March 13th, “I take no responsibility at all.”
      “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile,but is morally reasonable to the American public.” Theodore Roosevelt

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