Let’s talk about sacrifice.
On Wednesday, folks in Maryland — like people in other states and cities across the nation — had to begin wearing face coverings in stores and on public transit to curb the spread of the coronavirus. And outside the rural farm and feed store where I buy our pets’ food, it got ugly.
“Sir, you can’t enter the store without a mask,” a worker stationed outside the entrance said to an older man forging ahead past the fruit sapling and tomato plant display with nothing to hide the scowl on his face. “Sir.”
The man jutted his chin out and pulled his shoulders back.
“This is America,” he spat. “You can’t tell me what I gotta wear.”
A second, larger store employee joined the first guy, silently, and the huffing boomer swatted at the air and returned to his truck.
Yes, this is America, sir.
And buying the stars-and-stripes yard art and truck decals and listening to the country music playing inside that Maryland store isn’t what defines being an American right now.
Clogging the state capital in Michigan, waving American, Trump and a few Confederate flags while chanting “Lock her up” in defiance of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order — as protesters are doing this week — isn’t living up to that ideal either.
Holding religious services and parties in defiance of social distancing is not American.
Right now? Sacrificing is American.
Wearing the mask, staying at home, innovating, pivoting, doing what you can to keep people safe and working is American.
This is the first time since World War II that all Americans have been asked to sacrifice.
Sure, we had some warm-fuzzy unity in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks. But the biggest change in behavior for most Americans was airport shoe removal and building security. The families of those killed and wounded that day, the military and Muslim Americans bore the load on that one. The rest of America moved on, even as the war that began almost two decades ago continues.
We’ve got a president (and two former presidents) who demonstrated how easy it was for many Americans to avoid putting their lives at risk during the Vietnam War.
The nation has seen other conflicts, other financial and health crises, but not any that required every single American to sacrifice in some way.
That’s why we keep mooning over the Greatest Generation. World War II touched everyone and demanded sacrifices from everyone. And here’s our chance to emulate them.
Nearly half a million Americans made the ultimate sacrifice during that war.
But while men and women went to war zones, the Americans — all of them — back at home supported them and went without.
They planted victory gardens, bought more than $180 billion in war bonds, sealed loose lips and baked war cakes. They went without pantyhose and sugar. The women left home and riveted in America’s factories and shipyards.
There were terrible injustices: Japanese Americans were robbed of their property and liberty, African Americans were subjected to segregation and violence. Yet their sons still fought for this country, displaying astonishing heroism.
Once again, we have a global threat impacting every single American. Some have lost loved ones, some have lost paychecks, some have lost businesses they spent years building. At least 22 million jobs have vanished in the past four weeks.
“We will not comply” chants from protesters in Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio this week are heartfelt when they come from folks who can’t work and are on the brink of losing everything.
But these protests — one was also planned in Virginia’s capital last week — are disturbingly political.
The public health orders and shutdowns aren’t the whims of overreaching governors, as right-wing agitators are trying to paint them during these angry rallies, swaddling the angst in cheap Americana and further dividing a nation that is struggling to unite and sacrifice together.
This is happening everywhere.
From Times Square to Trafalgar Square, from Bondi Beach to Waikiki Beach, the Eiffel Tower to the Macau Tower — everything is shut down by necessity.
Tucker Carlson is telling his Fox News viewers that Whitmer’s social distancing guidelines are a show to catch Joe Biden’s eye for a VP slot.
So does that mean every leader across the globe is shutting down their nation’s economies to impress Biden, too? Ridiculous. Dangerous. Divisive.
There is only one group of people who can help us survive this pandemic — the people in power.
When we needed factory workers during World War II, American leaders found a way to create nurturing child-care centers that even sent kids home with a warm and healthy dinner so women could go to work.
Instead of harnessing that kind of power and action, Washington, D.C., is filled with infighting and finger-pointing. The $350 billion Paycheck Protection Plan ran out of money in two weeks while glitches are preventing the $1,200 stimulus checks from reaching Americans.
It’s time for the Trump administration and Congress to set an example.
And it’s time for the guy at the feed store to put a mask over his piehole and understand what it really means to be an American.