Charles Q. Sullivan
Op Ed

A Tale of Two Viruses

Yes the pandemic is worrisome. But it's compounded by a political virus, a lack of leadership.

By - Apr 12th, 2020 05:54 pm
Donald Trump. Photo from

Donald Trump. Photo from

Give to our leaders and all ruling powers, peace and good government,
So that under them we may live a steady and untroubled life,
in unity with all humankind,
In the way of godliness and respect for the dignity of all.
Gib unsern Fürsten  – Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)
                     (Sung by Calmus Ensemble Leipzig)

I am a 77-year-old single male living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, concerned about the health and safety of my daughter and a niece who are both nurses, my sister and brother-in-law who are in senior care facilities, my grandchildren, an elderly sister-in-law and many nieces and nephews who I can’t visit, and the many friends, colleagues, and neighbors who are struggling to deal with similar circumstances as a result of this pandemic. And, of course, my own health!

But I am even more distressed about the future prospects of the thousands of individuals in my community and beyond who were living in desperate situations even before the virus hit this country, who don’t have the resources or connections to cope by themselves, and who see not only a lack of short-term government assistance, but growing evidence of long-term continuation and deepening of their desperation.

This weekend Christians all over the world recall the historical impact of a humble leader who brought truth, light, and love into the world. Even those who profess other faiths, or none at all, are reminded of the importance that leadership and responsibility – and especially, choice – play in the past, present, and future for all of humanity.

The contrast could not be more timely or extreme between that historical figure and the arrogance of the current purported leader of the world, whose list of attributes resembles more the characteristics of a destructive virus than a compassionate leader.

Adding to the endless list of labels that have already been applied to this president, perhaps “virus” is even more apt. Or, since the virulence of dysfunction did not originate with him, perhaps “primary carrier.” But the opportunistic presence of a multitude of disenchanted hosts, coupled in time with the voracious COVID-19 pandemic, has exacerbated the already frightening levels of xenophobia, greed, potential gun violence, and inequality of all kinds: economic, health care, education, etc.

United States citizens living in Milwaukee are subject to a double dose of these viruses, both the physical and political, although the pandemic has not peaked here, yet. We are living in possibly the nation’s most racially disadvantaged city, in a state whose political climate increasingly blocks voter participation in the democratic process.

The highest goal of leadership is to act for the benefit of all humankind – an ideal we see in our religious aspirations, and all around us in the service of our health-care workers, first-responders, and many others who continue to put themselves at risk in consideration of the needs of others. The irresponsible ways in which political leadership insists on pitting “teams” against each other puts humanity in the back seat, and ultimately deprives society of any clear perception of the truths necessary for survival and prosperity.

There exists somewhere a cartoon that may be uniquely applicable to this situation: it shows an angry man standing next to a clearly frightened individual. The angry man is pointing a revolver at his own head, and proclaims to the other, “And you’re next!” Those who blindly and aggressively defend the president’s dishonesties and distortions fail to see that any benefits from that loyalty are bound to be transient, and that it is only a matter of time before they are “next” to be abandoned or destroyed.

Likewise, as deniers of the severity of the coronavirus, or as enthusiastic cheerleaders for the rapid relaxation of restrictions and opening of the economy, they are standing strong against the weight of facts, blindly confident of their rightness, and oblivious to the virus already in their midst. This is not about the economy. Not now.

One might consider this president to be the personification of the quote about Americans, often (erroneously) attributed to Winston Churchill: “You can always count on [Donald Trump] to do the right thing, after he has tried everything else!” But no! In these circumstances there is no time to try “everything else.” And there is no evidence (outside of his self-promotional fantasies) that he will rise above his own ego, admit his (perhaps unwitting) complicity in allowing the early spread of this virus, or allow the capable advice of his experts to take precedence over both the groveling and the self-serving exhortations of his sycophants.

How many thousand additional tombstones will be engraved with “Gone Too Soon, Courtesy of Trump and His Enablers,” because of political unwillingness to deal with the pandemic in a timely and honest fashion? And do we really expect future displays of forthrightness in confronting environmental issues, or infrastructure, or voting inequities, or health care inequities, or the economy?

To be clear, I don’t object to the actions (and inactions) of this president because of his political affiliation (which is largely only a matter of convenience anyway), but because of his vigorous unwillingness and inability to serve others – ANY others.

When he was elected, I morbidly joked that a new drug was soon to be put on the market for those who were upset by that election. The drug was to be called “End-It-All.” Little did I anticipate how many ways this presidency itself would bring our democracy, and our existence, close to the precipice.

For the health and safety, and indeed the longevity of you and all those mentioned at the beginning of this essay, I pray and urge every individual to choose to take a responsible leadership role in moving our society and the world into an era of optimum mental, physical, psychological, and political health. Only then can we expect economic health.

Prepare yourself to vote responsibly, and encourage and enable others to do likewise. Insist upon and protect the right and opportunity for every citizen to vote. This is a bare minimum.

This weekend is, for many of us, a time of both reflection and thanksgiving. At the beginning of this essay I offered a biblical text (1 Timothy 2:1-2) that was set to music by Heinrich Schütz, and was to have been a part of a concert originally planned for this June focusing on leadership, responsibility, and the significance of choice in this election year. I hope you will find it meaningful, regardless of your agreement or argument with the sentiments expressed above.

We are indeed all in this together, whether we agree or not.

May you have a Blessed Easter.

Categories: Op-Ed

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