Mere weeks ago, I was sitting in a meeting room in Enfield, New York, listening to a parade of speakers berate the local Town Board over its decision to take the Pledge of Allegiance out of the official agenda. It’s the type of decision that is tailor-made for controversy in this era of the culture wars: Operationally, it makes no difference, it’s not like the board would be more or less powerful if they did or didn’t say the pledge. It’s 12 seconds of logically insignificant routine, and its exclusion doesn’t render the many boards in other parts of Tompkins County who also don’t include it in their agenda any less valid or Constitutional.?

Yet that day it created such ugly division, with audience members condemning the board’s gall to remove the 31-word mantra, to the point that the crowd recited it two or three times, defiantly expending 62 or 93 words, for those keeping count. All in the name of showing that they’re more American than their duly elected counterparts.?

The jingoist sentiment that someone or something is “more American” than anyone or anything else is patently absurd and deserves as much ridicule as the world can offer. But not in recent memory has that ever been more obvious than today (though in fairness, it will likely seem more obvious tomorrow, and the next day, and the next hundred or so after that). COVID-19, or the coronavirus, has risen to the unique challenge of uniting America by being so terrible that there isn’t really any choice. As reports come out that reveal the virus can spread to people young and old, obviously and subtly, it’s quite clear that we are all on equal footing here (unless you’re a rich celebrity who can get tested quickly, but that’s a different topic).?

There’s not much recourse here. Not many of us have ever experienced anything remotely close to this, especially not on American soil. Caring for your fellow humans is hopefully the first instinct in a time of such confusion, but there are a lot of people suffering right now who need proof that isn’t just an unattainable bumper-sticker ideal.?

Doesn’t matter if you stand on your tip-toes during the pledge or if you turn around, shove your hands in your pockets and kneel, both groups are just as likely to receive a positive diagnosis some time soon. We all are. These types of situations, the gigantic, eyebrow-raising stories that haunt headlines for weeks and months aren’t ever going to end permanently and reduce us all, once again, to one people trying to make it, no matter how much some of us would like to trample over others to be the first in line. And by the way, because it always happens this way, why even entertain the nonsense in between?

Of course, as I write this, Mayor Svante Myrick is delivering an address on Twitter explaining that there have been two racist anti-Asian incidents in the last 24 hours. They were apparently being harassed about the coronavirus. So, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe instead of showing the best of us, it’ll show the worst. It wouldn’t be the first time.?

(2) comments

Frynella Higgenbothom

One of the aspects of human beings' almost limitless capacity for denial and self-deception that has always particularly saddened me, is the belief that, when things get tough, people will come together. That we're best when we've got our backs against the wall. History shows us that exactly the opposite is, in fact, closer to the truth. Most people cave under pressure, because, it turns out, behaving ethically is exactly like everything else, from playing baseball to nuclear physics: you're only good at it if you've practised. And practised, and practised, and practised. Exemplifying a skill while under pressure is HARDER than doing that same thing when the going is smooth. Not easier. The people who will rise up and do what's right when the pressure is on are the same people who were, all their lives, all the time, trying to do what was right even when there was no pressure at all. They got good at it. Sadly, that doesn't turn out to be quite as many of us as we would like to believe.

Beth McGee

I appreciate these important words, Matt. It has seemed even more of a futile waste of positive energy and benefit to the community when we have met for three meetings and no one has offered to say the Pledge. But, our Town Board is getting important work done in spite of that drama and I'm very proud of Councilpersons Mehaffey, Bryant, and Deputy Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond for understanding the complex issues that are before us during this difficult time and in our uncertain future. Thank you for keeping our community informed with real, accurate information.

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