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We're better than this

While the nation remains in the midst the current pandemic, it also faces a crisis of morality and civility. At a time when we should use our collective strength to save lives, some see wearing a mask as some kind of subjugation or violation of a phantom Constitutionally-permitted freedom.

This crisis is exacerbated by leadership failures at all levels of government and, sadly, lack of honesty in communicating the gravity of the pandemic. It is, however, a societal failure as evidenced by this recent story in USAToday: “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, recently talked about heightened threats to him and his family and his security detail. Fauci made the comments on CNN's "The Axe Files" podcast and said that many of the threats come from people who are angry and believe, “I'm interfering with their life because I'm pushing a public health agenda.”

Even sadder is this quote in the story by Dr. Fauci: “The kind of not only hate mail but actual, serious threats against me are not good. It's tough. Serious threats against me, against my family, my daughters, my wife. I mean, really? Is this the United States of America? But it's real. It really is real.”

Think about that for a minute.

The individual who has dedicated his life to saving lives of his fellow citizens, first from HIV/AIDS and now from COVID-19, is being threatened even as he tries, yet again, to keep us alive.

And if that wasn’t disgusting and frightening enough itself, there’s the two people in a Marshall, Minn., Walmart late last month who wore face masks with a Nazi swastika on them. It was the first day of Minnesota’s mask regulations that mandated face coverings be worn in businesses and indoor public spaces. Also, Walmart, like many other major retailers, has made masks mandatory.

How did they respond to what is a commonsense approach to saving lives: They invoked the symbol of hate under which more than 11 million, including six million Jews, were exterminated. Bystanders quickly, and rightly, condemned their actions. During the now-viral video of that encounter, the woman wearing the swastika said it was to symbolize what would happen to the U.S. if Joe Biden is elected president. It was, to them, a political statement. To anyone with any moral character, it was an affront to our nation and the lives lost during World War II to ensure that that symbol would not fly over the world.

That is what civil discourse, concern for others and our nation has degenerated into.

Those of us old enough to have lived through the Vietnam War and its impact on our country remember well the phrase: “America, love it or leave it.” The nation was divided as to the legitimacy and necessity of the war. It was a troubled time with sometimes violent confrontations in the streets. I don’t remember, however, violent rhetoric against individuals on the periphery of the issue.

Even as the internet provides for instant communication around the world, it simultaneously separates us from each other. We no longer have to see people in-person when we can see them via a video app. We can now find a niche for ourselves in websites that mirror who we are or who we want to be.

It also provides a level of anonymity that fosters behavior that once was considered unacceptable, such as the death threats to Dr. Fauci and his family.

It’s time to take a step back, rethink what we want our world and our lives to be, and work toward those goals. If we don’t, we’re no better than the swastika-wearing shoppers.

(Note: I had the privilege to meet and spend time with Dr. Fauci when I was at Shippensburg University. The University selected him for an honorary degree in 1999. As chair of the Commencement Committee, I hosted him during his visit. He was a consummate professional who was very unassuming and was humble in his acceptance of the degree.)

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