By virtue of the date of my birth, I am among the more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus ravaging our world. In the last few weeks, I have been enormously grateful, as most of us are, to all the “essential workers” — those brave men and women who are doing everything from delivering groceries to tending to the very sick in our nation’s hospitals. They are our first responders to this crisis and we are deeply indebted to them for their service and courage.
At the end of the week this crisis took head spinning twists because of the flip-flopping, haranguing and indecision of the leader of the free world — the President of the United States. He’s in a very difficult position for a person who suffers from extreme narcissism. He appears unable to care about others and sees only how things affect himself. If things go wrong in the weeks to come, he doesn’t want to be blamed. If things go well, he wants all the credit.
This is the opposite of leadership. A leader makes decisions and knows that if thing go badly, the leader is responsible. And if things go well, there’s credit to be had. That’s the nature of leadership. So it’s quite a balancing act, laughable if it didn’t have such tragic consequences, for President Trump to both claim dictatorial powers to open and shut the economy and then defer to the state governors after all.
And now he’s gone a step too far: he is fomenting rebellion. He is encouraging those who’ve abandoned their ability to reason in order to be a true-blue loyal follower of Trump to “liberate” certain states with protests, demanding that their governors lift the restrictions that are just beginning to work.
I know there are not only the mindless Trump supporters who stand shoulder-to-shoulder and shout horrible things like “lock her up.” I know well-educated, well-read, intelligent folks who believe that the level of shutdown is way out of line with what’s necessary. I respect them even though I disagree vehemently with them — the science simply is not on their side.
But now, to those reading this, as a senior in your midst, I beg of you: don’t threaten those of us who are so vulnerable to this ravaging virus. Please, help us live through this. We are frightened. The truth is we cannot now know if shutting down our economy the way we did was absolutely the right and best thing to do. But here’s what we do know: it was the moral thing to do. It put life above profit. It put the value of saving lives above economic stress.
And that’s the way a moral society should function.
Please, for the sake of those of us so frightened by our vulnerability, listen to the scientists, the doctors, the true leaders who, in the absence of national leadership, have had thrust upon them the responsibility to take care of us all. And they are succeeding. They don’t crave credit and attention like our President. They just need our cooperation. And so do the seniors and other vulnerable people who are all around you, and who beg you now to be patient and follow science and reason, and not partisan politics, at this critical juncture of human history.
My life, and the life of someone you love, may depend on it.
Michael Berk is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel, the largest Jewish congregation in San Diego and the oldest in Southern California.