Americans must come together to overcome this pandemic
By Ben Slack

Posted on April 22, 2020 10:47 AM

Ben Slack is a graduating senior in Russellville High School's Class of 2020 and a 2019 alumnus of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship Student Congress, an immersive high school summer program for students interested in politics, leadership and public policy. Slack was one of 50 exceptional rising high school seniors from across the nation selected for the program last summer in Lexington. He was recently invited by the Henry Clay Center to share his opinion on the response, thus far, to the Covid-19 pandemic. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, Slack will attend the University of Kentucky this fall where he has been accepted into the Lewis Honors College. His chosen course of study is pre-law.

The world that we are currently living in is one that no one would have fathomed a month ago. We are living through what will someday be a presentation in a history class, decades down the road. As a seventeen-year-old senior, the COVID-19 pandemic that has rapidly transpired throughout the month of March has turned my life upside down; everything that I have been waiting for and promised has already been cancelled or is hopelessly postponed.

While this is very disheartening, I realize that a global pandemic takes precedence over dances, parties, sporting events, and all of the other luxurious benefits of living in American society.

What we as a culture would say are our defining characteristics have been ripped away from us, all in the good name of public health, leaving myself and millions of Americans questioning what makes us who we are. Currently, the flaws in our systems and culture are being exposed mightily. States are in bidding wars with each other over medical supplies, hospitals in hard-hit areas are beginning to become overwhelmed, and the country is scrambling to manufacture enough ventilators to keep as many Americans out of morgues as possible.

It is very easy to get infuriated at our current reality, especially when you consider the 2018 termination of the White House Pandemic Response Team and the repeated affirmations by the President at the infancy of the crisis saying that everything was going to work out and that little needed to be done to prepare.

Now, our country is shut down. Everything that gives us joy in the outside world has to be closed for the good of the public; for most, the only solace is in our technology that can keep us connected to friends and family, although it is nowhere near the same.

But, in times of crisis like these, hope must be found somewhere. Charismatic leaders such as Andy Beshear of Kentucky and Andrew Cuomo of New York have been effective and inspiring in fighting for their people and offering whatever glimmer of optimism that they can.

Kentucky, in its aggressive approach to combating the spread of coronavirus, has limited its cases significantly in comparison to its neighbor Tennessee, who did not take similar, serious measures.

New York, the hardest hit state, has begun to work as a unit and shift patients, equipment, and doctors around the state into the areas that are under the most stress. By doing this, each hospital is now part of a collective system that is working for the benefit of all New Yorkers and not just the inhabitants that immediately surround its walls. Beshear and Cuomo have made it clear that in order to win the fight, everyone must be in it together.

There is no time for selfishness during an emergency of this magnitude; collaboration is the hidden key that will shorten the duration and volume of the crisis. However, our society in America does not always promote these values. Our system revolves around getting to the top no matter what and making sure that you stay there, even if that is at the cost of others. This is especially difficult when we live in a Federal system. Power in our country is divided into one nation, 50 states and Washington D.C., and thousands of municipalities, counties/parishes, and communities that are simultaneously competing for the ear of the public.

Yes, this system is the foundation of our nation and has worked (almost) swimmingly for over 240 years; however, it is being tested right now. Each state has its own set of restrictions on what its inhabitants can and cannot do, which means that if someone is upset at their government for shutting down something, they could go across the border and, upon returning, endanger countless people in their place of origin.

How is it that this is possible, especially in an age of communication that makes collaboration simple and easy, no matter the distance?

We are at a time where the nation needs to take a page from New York’s book. This fight is one that every single American will have to deal with at some point; thus, we must come together as one nation, as Americans, to win this fight. It is time to drop the title of Kentuckian, Ohioan, Californian, or New Yorker, and just say “I am an American.” It is time for the federal government to grab this buck by the horns and unify policies, people, and resources in order for us to gain normalcy as soon as it is safe to do so.

COVID-19 is going to change our society forever, but the sooner our many bureaucracies start acting as one unit, the sooner that we get the chance to reclaim what makes us Americans again.


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