The only thing we have to fear?

“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”


Those words were written by President Donald Trump on Twitter as he returned to the White House on Monday, after spending the weekend at Walter Reed Medical Center getting treated for COVID-19.


Almost instantaneously, news sites and television reporters were producing the exact same story. ABC, for instance, did a story saying “families of COVID-19 victims slam president’s downplaying of his diagnosis,” featuring people like Liza Billings, a New York City nurse who lost her brother to COVID-19, who called the president’s comment a “slap in the face.”


“Unfortunately it did dominate our lives didn’t it?” said Amanda Kloot, wife of Broadway star Nick Cordero, died with COVID-10. “It dominated Nick’s family’s lives and my family’s lives. I guess we ‘let it’ — like it was our choice?” 


I’ll admit that I’ve disagreed with an awful lot that Donald Trump has said over the last four years. I’ve shaken my head in bewilderment at many of the things he’s tweeted, and I have been flabbergasted by the foolishness of some of the things he has said. One of my most sincere wishes is that he would have learned long ago how to govern his tongue, and think before he speaks.


But in this case, I have perhaps never agreed more with the president about this than anything else he has ever said, and I find the calculated and very intentional perversion of what he was saying — and the grotesque parading around of people in pain to attack the comment — to be beyond reprehensible. 


Perhaps it is because I myself wrote something very similar back in March, when I said, “Fear and panic are the mortal enemies of logic and reason. When human beings are fearful, they turn into base, instinct-driven primates. When millions of us do this at the same time, really idiotic things start to happen, because there are always those that are all too happy to prey on our irrational monkey brains for their own benefit.”


You will note that neither I, nor the president, said anything along the lines of “COVID-19 isn’t dangerous and you shouldn’t care about it.”


Quite the contrary, I said in my piece back then, “Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not making light of coronavirus. It is something that should be monitored, actively fought against by health care professionals, and us as citizens should take reasonable precautions to stay healthy ourselves.”


COVID-19 is dangerous. It is serious. I know several people who have contracted it, and more than one who has experienced severe health consequences as a result. One person close to me ended up in the hospital, and struggled with it for nearly a month. Another I know is still experiencing complications — the well-documented cardiac issues stemming from COVID — well after having contracted the illness. 


It is a problem, and one you should care about and actively try to protect yourself from. We should be on our guard, and no one should pretend that this isn’t a big deal.


But it is possible to acknowledge all of that, while also telling us that we should not let COVID-19 become an all-consuming source of fear and paranoia.


Upon his election to the presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation, which was then in the grips of a soul crushing Great Depression that was literally destroying lives all over the world. “So, first of all,” he said, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”


Fear is something that Roosevelt understood to be the enemy. An enemy that takes a major problem, and gives it the ultimate authority to control your life. Denying fear does not deny the problem in question, it simply gives you the control over it, and will perhaps, allow you to more adeptly challenge that problem.


Something we once understood in this country, but alas no longer seem to. A shame.


Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland.

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