May 1, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Biggest Political Story Isn’t What You Think
Millions believe self-sacrifice is necessary and right.
It can’t be said often enough. The biggest political story of the year isn’t the 2020 election. It isn’t the pandemic. It isn’t the death toll (64,000 and counting). It isn’t the record-breaking number of unemployed (30 million). It isn’t Donald Trump making everything, and I mean everything, much worse than it needed to be. It sure as hell isn’t those “ersatz phallus swingers” intimidating Michigan legislators with long guns.
No, the biggest story is so big as to be invisible. It’s so obvious as to be silent. The biggest political story of the year is the tens of millions of Americans sheltering in place for the sake of their own well-being and safety, and for the sake of all Americans. (The second-biggest story is Americans who are not paid to risk their lives risking their lives by working in grocery stories, pharmacies, gas stations, and nursing homes.)
Tens of millions of Americans are staying home for their own sakes and for the benefit of the common good.
Staying home might not seem like a political act. After all, what’s political about being scared of catching the coronavirus, which is a death sentence to the elderly and causes even 40-something men and women to stroke out? But please. Make no mistake. It is.
It’s as political as “jackbooted thugs” storming state capitols (to borrow the NRA’s favorite form of slander). It’s as political as the president sidestepping any and all accountability for the United States having the highest tally of dead compared to all industrialized nations combined. It’s as political as the Republican Party giving away billions of dollars in goodies to friends. It’s as political as Trump rushing the country back to some semblance of normal, risking a second wave more deadly than the first.
But more than that, it’s a better politics, and it’s a better politics, because it’s moral.
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You are staying home not only for your benefit, but for everyone’s benefit. Yes, it’s driving you crazy. Yes, it’s driving your kids crazy, which drives you more crazy. But millions seem to believe such sacrifice is necessary and right, which is not only small-d democratic, it’s small-r republican. Staying home means staying healthy (or at least not getting sick), which means we are actualizing, willingly it or not, the Good Life.
This is important for a number of reasons. One is that the biggest political story of the year doesn’t get the degree of attention it deserves. (It’s understandable why white men wielding semiautomatic rifles cause alarm, but these people should not be confused for a majority perspective. They represent a vanishingly small minority of chuds.) Importantly, the president won the last election vowing to make America great again. While Trump is failing, most Americans are following a far more prudent course.
Even more important, however, is what the pandemic is revealing about the American character—traits and qualities demanded of a nation committed to democracy. I yield to no one is my animosity toward fascism and a major party laboring to establish 21st-century apartheid. But I concede to the need to step back and marvel at the courage, patience and stamina of the millions of us doing what’s right. The challenge is only beginning. But no challenge can be overcome without the right kind of liberal spirit.
While the president is failing to make America great again, most Americans are following a far more prudent course.
I confess to being skeptical. Trump’s election seemed to suggest an electorate that had forgotten the old democratic faith, a republic grown tired and no longer feeling the thrill of saying the words, at the end of the allegiance, with liberty and justice for all. Trump’s victory signaled the rise of a “nation” within a nation, one already at war with the other but that did not desire disunion as much as domination without complaint.
Since then, however, the people seem to have awakened, or at least cracked open a sleepy eye, not only to what an authoritarian has done but also to what the people themselves allowed to be done. I hope now that voters realize a president willing to extort governors into being “nice” to him in the thick of a pandemic is of a piece with a president willing to extort a foreign leader into sabotaging an election. I hope now that voters realize the same president vowing to make America great again is the most anti-American president of their lifetimes. I hope now that a majority of the people realizes beating fascism takes unity and the overwhelming demonstration of power.
Presidents, leaders, institutions, and laws don’t make a nation. (Borders sure as hell don’t). What makes a nation is its people, and what makes a people is its character. Yes, some of us want to destroy us. But most of us don’t. Indeed, most of us want to do what’s right for everyone. The biggest political story of the year is tens of millions of Americans staying home for their sakes and for the benefit of the common good.
That’s a good reason to hope.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.