Hero Stuff and Villain Stuff in a Public Health and National Crisis

June 10, 2020

Observations from Tom Nash

Chicago Disability Attorney Tom Nash

An often repeated phrase during the current COVID-19 crisis is “We’re all in this together.” And though there are exceptions, ordinary Americans have responded accordingly. And there have been countless inspiring examples of humble American patriotism and heroism. What about our leadership?

Hero Stuff

Lakeview Pantry volunteers. Wrigley Field may not be hosting games yet, but spirited, giving volunteers are distributing 1,200 boxes of food daily at the ballpark and two other sites to feed
Chicagoans who are struggling to provide for their families. (A troubling statistic: nearly 1 million people in Illinois filed for unemployment during the current crisis and that number is likely to go even higher.)

Caregivers at nursing homes. An often overlooked group of heroes. More often than not, working for low wages, these caregivers are truly on the front line. As of mid-May more than
1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in Illinois nursing homes, nearly 48% of the statewide total.

Public transportation workers. As Chicagoans return to work, public transportation is essential and the employees of the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace Bus will be at the wheel just as they have been throughout this uncertain time. During the pandemic ridership has declined as much as 88 percent, yet these transportation organizations have almost entirely maintained service. Even though new guidelines have been implemented to safeguard public transportation workers, many have lost their lives to the virus. Hero stuff, indeed.

My Block My Hood My City If you are not familiar with MBMHMC, this not-for-profit organization provides youth with new experiences, exposing them to possibilities beyond their own communities. It helps teenagers overcome the poverty and isolation they face, boosting educational attainment and opening them to opportunities that make a difference in their lives.
MBMHMC has engaged volunteers across racial lines who have been passing out personal protective equipment to seniors across our city.

SSA hearing office staffer. Not all hero stuff involves groups of people. Sometimes it’s just the actions of one caring person like in this story from Nash Attorney Rob Dorton: “I had a hearing office assistant in Evanston go way out of his way last week to get a case put back on the docket after the hearing office erroneously removed it. It is a continuing disability review case. The client is a cancer survivor and hasn’t received benefits in a year and a half. It was close to a hearing date, but SSA took the case off of the docket due to a misreading of its own coronavirus scheduling rules. We sent a letter to the judge, and the hearing office assistant agreed to hand deliver it to the judge right away. The case was back on the hearing schedule within an hour. The hearing assistant didn’t have to take an extra step to help us or our client, but he did, and it saved our client months of anxiety and additional waiting.”

First responders and essential workers are doing hero stuff every day. They deserve our appreciation and admiration. They include: health care workers who are in the trenches in this fight against COVID-19. Police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians continue to answer the call and are showing their bravery every day—the latter fearlessly entering homes with unknown potential COVID exposure—to help people. To those and everyone providing essential services and who don’t have a social distancing option—Thank You!

Villain Stuff

Presidential leadership in what direction? The pandemic has dragged on, with over
100,000 deaths and a devastated economy. Yes, some media critics have voiced the position that the lack of a comprehensive national Coronavirus strategy makes every day without it a crisis which is longer, costlier, and deadlier. The president chooses this public health crisis time and the power of his office not to lead and help us. He is more consumed with conspiracy theories and divisiveness than being the right kind of leader or any leader at all. The president touts from the bully pulpit of the White House to millions of followers the notion that a media critic be investigated for murder! The incident the president seizes upon in his attempt to manipulate the American people is a tragic 19-year-old death by accident of an intern in the office of media critic and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough—who was 800 miles away at the time! The medical examiner found that the death was accidental, due to a heart problem that caused the aide to fall and hit her head on a desk, and no evidence has ever emerged to suggest otherwise. That family grieves the loss of their loved one. Most have likely forgotten about this attack on our democracy as the president goes on to his next distracting target.

As to any defense that the president is just “defending himself “against media bias? Dictators tout the media as the “enemy of the people” and encourage the jailing of their opponents with terrible lies. Compare the letter of the widower of the woman begging the president not to drag him and the family into the evil charade—“the single most painful thing I have had to deal with in my entire life” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/business/letter-to-twitter-ceo.html. Even after this letter, the president claims the family would sure want to “get to the bottom” of his fake conspiracy lie. For the president, any form of criticism justifies any form and level of abuse. The dictator streak is harming our public health when we need a leader. Watch Fox News re: the recent denunciations of the president from his former Chief of Staff General John Kelly and his former Secretary of Defense James Mattis in connection with the president’s unprecedented unleashing of American military against its own citizens—for a bizarre church photo op.https://www.foxnews.com/politics/john-kelly-defends-james-mattis-after-trump-rebuke.

Looters. As a Sun Times editorial points out, the looters and the president have been “taking a national moment of legitimate grief and outrage over racism and the police killing…and hijacking it for terrible selfish gain. The looters want to burn a building, grab a case of liquor or make off with a pair of shoes.” The president and enablers harm our democracy, turning us against each other.

The Fraternal Order of Police union and in particular its current president is a tremendous barrier to racial progress in Chicago. The Chicago Sun Times reports that he is “one of the most frequently disciplined officers in the history of the Chicago Police Department.” As an African-American friend recently said, “We say this with love for police officers. If we can discipline and convict those who abuse their power, your job will be safer, your relationship with the public will be better, and your ability to do good and protect the city will be greater.”

Finally, during this unprecedented crisis most of us have adjusted and learned new ways to live more simply, generously, compassionately—and some even in heroic ways. We always have room for more heroes. For white people such as myself, it is not enough to be just not racist, we have to talk to other white friends about the millstone of racism around the neck of America—and be anti-racist.

These are my observations and opinions—they are mine alone. I know that you may agree or disagree and that’s okay. I invite and encourage your comments. And if you wish to discuss anything, you can contact me on my direct line 312-605-9111.