America has a mission. We face a clear and present danger. We are in for a rough ride. Our 327 million people have been invaded and our land occupied by a microscopic threat. This is a bug most people outside of the southern Chinese province of Hunan where the bats suspected of being the source of this coronavirus came from have never encountered. A bug so unseen that even the people of Hubei province had never encountered it. This is the nightmare scenario of the great plagues in Europe or the ravages of smallpox in the New World.

Frankly, the United States needs to survive this disaster and come out still a cohesive nation on the other side of it. That’s our mission. It’s a gigantic one and every one of us needs to help. We need to become a grassroots army united in one purpose, the perpetuation of the great American Experiment intact enough to recover and prosper again.

We came into this crisis a wealthy but divided nation. We were indulgent in the hubris of our prosperity. We were enjoying the luxury of narcissistic self-expression where, thanks to the internet, everyone could be the center of their own universe. We all retreated into our safe spaces. We saw no need to tolerate anyone who didn’t agree with us. The tiniest differences triggered some among us into fulminating rage. It was as much a national disease as COVID-19. We forgot how much we depend on each other to survive on what really is a hostile planet that is very, very good at killing whatever tries to live on it.

And now the planet has reminded us that we really were all created equal. The question is, will we listen?

Will we, in this moment in time, as we watch the very fabric of our society stretch to the breaking point, find the American Dream hidden inside the noise?

Here are some suggestions Americans can do to help:

Be Constructive Not Distractive

If there’s one thing you can count on about Americans is that we speak our minds. Quite honestly, not everything we speak about makes sense. Many among us just like hearing their voices. They seek attention like a drug addict needing a fix. They have no idea how to stand down when it’s not their turn.

The simple fact of the matter is the United States has entered emergency crisis mode. Emergency leadership now rests in the hands of a precisely defined set of individuals who must react in real time to rapidly evolving conditions. Governors, acting as regional heads of state, must navigate on a day to day basis to manage limited resources to respond to an exponentially expanding medical crisis. Backing them up is a federal government led by the President who must carefully allocate the reserve resources of the nation across the needs of fifty states. Throughout this, the Governors and the President must also work together to manage an orderly shutdown and restart of the American economy. The President bears the weight of the responsibility to chart a path and marshal the resources to ensure the balance of medical and economic response does not endanger the existential viability of the country. 

Make no mistake about it, this is a daunting and complex task. It’s a war footing with real casualties. Medical preparedness or capacity calculation mistakes mean more casualties. Economic planning mistakes can trigger destructive unrest in the moment and long-term degradation to the economy.

Be realistic and accept the reality that no one is ever fully prepared for something like this. Everyone is coping with stress and overload. Frustrations are expressed. Tempers flare. But problem solving carries on.

We must work together get through the storm. We are in lifeboat America bobbing like a cork along with now one hundred eighty-one other nations. It doesn’t matter who these people were or what they stood for before this crisis hit. This is a come as you are party, like it or not, they are who we have. And we need to help them succeed, or we will all pay the price because not all those national lifeboats will make it through this crisis without capsizing.

Be an American patriot. Make it your mission to help these fifty-one people succeed. They need all the support they can get. I guarantee you that our common nightmare is that they might fail us in our hour of need.

Frankly, in the reality of lead, follow or get out of the way, everyone else falls into the latter two categories right now. Congress, the media, activists, industry are all supporting actors. For the rest of us, it’s time to put aside the luxury of narcissism.

Let’s not kid ourselves that there won’t be noise. Human nature is what it is. We will see politicians, media outlets, special interests, celebrities who will succumb to their addition to attention. It’s up to us to remind them that now is not the time.

Remember, this won’t last forever. We can have it back later when times are better. But for now, let it go, even on the Internet. If we lose out nation because we can’t keep each other focused on the goal, it won’t matter what any of us ever thought. We’ll be gone.

Compassion is Medicine

Times of crisis like these bring out fear and panic in every one of us. We all feel the threat of it. We all deal with the primal effect it has on us. It’s what makes us human particularly in the face of an adversity that we are almost powerless against.

But there really isn’t room right now for petty tribal politics. It’s a time to put those things aside and see each other as Americans in a common struggle. It’s very important that we rebuild the bridges among each other that we let fall in the bliss of issue politics we enjoyed for the last decade. It was quite the party. We all howled at the moon. The party is over, at least for the time being.

There is nothing worse during a crisis than the feeling that, if you need to reach out, no one will extend a hand to help you. Or worse, that the last thing you will see when you ask for help is a fellow American saying no, with prejudice. That’s not what the best of America stands for. That’s something all of us will have to rise above; because as of now, each other is all we have. 

It’s time for us to think about how we can tell the people that we were uncomfortable with just a month ago they are valuable to us because we value them as Americans. We should take the time to tell each other that we don’t care how different their beliefs are from our own, all we care about right now is that we live to fight another day.

Compassion needs to be backed up with action. While government can tend to medical capacity and economic strategy, looking out for our people and culture is something we the people must take responsibility for. There are many things individuals can do to help improve the quality of life in trying times. Here are some thoughts to help you stretch your imagination.

Let’s start with the people that we know and like. Check in with them regularly and say something nice each time. In such a stressful time, just hearing from someone and knowing that you are not alone, that someone cares, is medicine for the soul. We may be forced to be physically apart, but we can use the very same internet that drove wedges between us to try to deepen our connections. We are all left to our own devices. We can be cheery, even playful. All of it helps.

Then, rise to the moment. Do the same with the people you know that you disagreed with during the “safe spaces” era. They may be family, friends, even coworkers. To the extent you can, reach out to them and tell them that those disagreements mean nothing when compared to the fact that you know they’re alive and matter. Wish them well and tell them you hope they make it. Try to find common ground that can diffuse yesterday’s indulgent triggers.

They may not get it right off the bat; but if it becomes part of the culture of who we are, that we can come together in the middle of a crisis, it will lay the foundation for a better and more cohesive America.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

Make the time to say nice things to the fearful. The internet spreads all sorts of fear mongering among us. Some of it is real, most of it is gossip. Rumors of incidents that may or may not trace to verified police report case file numbers and incident footage collected from impartial surveillance camera footage; not cell phone snapshots, which can be staged. Extraordinary diligence is necessary before taking anything on the internet as real, particularly so for something so explosive as cultural prejudice.

Because the virus came from China, there are reports of hate crimes that people are lashing out scapegoating ethnic Chinese to express their anger against the government of China.

In America, in another one of those identity politics #metoo effects, the fear is that all Asian Americans will be targeted. The internet gossip quickly jumps to imply that all non-Asian Americas are lapsing into a knee-jerk repeat of what happened to the Japanese during World War Two. You hear “safe space” concerns anecdotes, “I feel like people are looking at me with angry eyes” talk when you engage in casual discussion about it. The news media reports on these incidents which in turn creates a feedback look to reinforce the fear on the internet. And then politicians get involved and fan the flames of fear.

Similarly, other identity groups create flames of hate problems. The group Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization which sets up field hospitals in some of the most war torn areas of the world to serve the desperate needs of Muslims, established a field hospital in New York’s Central Park to handle overflow patients from nearby Mt. Sinai hospital. In an act of documented prejudice as callous as someone allegedly leaving a go back to China node on an American nurse’s windshield in a parking lot, progressive pundits like the Atlantic focused wary, if not angry eyes on the volunteer group.

The bottom line is that all of these fear of identity reactions are garbage. And there’s something all of us can do about it.

Praise the Angels Among Us

Be nice. If you happened to go by any COVID-19 support facility like a volunteer hospital or testing station, wish the people working there well and thank them for making America great in this time of need. Then tell your peer group you did so and encourage them to do the same. Goodwill is precious medicine. It cures stress and lifts depression, for the giver and the receiver.

Heck. Randomly leave a nice note on that Asian lady’s car windshield saying you know that Chinese-Americans are not agents of the government of China, that you hope they stay safe and that they should smile because a fellow American cares. If nice notes permeate the internet’s echo chambers, it will disarm the fears people have and replace it with community. Really. It’s worth doing.

Take the time to recognize and thank the people who help. Write a letter or send an email to the people like Michael Lindell, the president of MyPillow that started producing protective masks. Or to Geoff Martha, the president of Medtronic that donated their patents and blueprints for ventilators to competitors to help accelerate the production of these devices. Or to Elon Musk or Jack Ma for their efforts to donate medical supplies. There are others. They all matter.

Just as important, make the effort to thank the people who don’t have famous names that are helping. Those people at home making masks to donate to hospitals. Given the latest guidelines for everyone to have commercial or homemade masks, we need at least 327 million of them. These people are a cottage industry “Made in the USA” grassroots army. That’s huge. 

Here’s an urban hot zone idea. If you have an business that is open in an area where it’s difficult for truckers to find a restroom, invest in some extra soap and sanitizer then put a sign in your window that says “truckers welcome”. Maybe even ask your local police department if they can designate temporary reserved street parking large enough for a tractor trailer.

There are hundreds of more selfless and kind things you can do. If you have one, I’d love to hear from you because I will share any good ideas I learn about. Or if there are people who you think should be recognized, let me know about them too. Email them to me at dennissantiago@americaoutloud.com. 

This article is just the beginning of a chronicle of our shared American journey during this time. The point of this one is to start to broaden our thinking and find things we can do to make the lives during this crisis a little bit easier and a lot more appreciated. 

You get the idea.

It’s the American thing to do. The very great American thing to do!