The Coronavirus Reset

A woman wears a mask while waiting to ride the New York City subway in Manhattan, April 30, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and getting an all-around clean start after COVID-19.

We began the month of May, at the top of a Friday morning, with a necessary interview with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee about a graphic sexual-assault allegation. The questioning, of course, came after a set-up that included the unholy litany of accusations against the current president of the United States.

The Biden interview came a few days after a post-midnight tweet from the president ridiculing a number of media personalities in cruel ways, including the cohost and spouse interviewing Biden that morning. And before that tweet was another from the president announcing that he would be attending Mass virtually at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the next morning, on Sunday. The cardinal celebrating Mass acknowledged the president, which predictably incited some anger. The comments on YouTube during Mass brought out some of the typical politics in people, but as I saw more than 20,000 people watching, I couldn’t help but pray that miracles were happening. Perhaps a late-night presidential tweet led to little seeds of encounter with God, even through a screen, and brought people closer to Mass than most had experienced in the month of April.

I normally work overtime to not let life or even a column revolve around tweets, especially presidential ones, but I think that those two offer a critical chance for national reflection. We’ve had our lives upended in many ways these past weeks and months now. And that includes Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Coronavirus has become the priority. Even if we are trying to live as normally as possible, the kids not being in school, the work meetings via Zoom calls, the masks we wear in a world of too many figurative masks anyway, expose the reality. Many of us know that things won’t be the same as before even as we are beginning to reemerge in various places from quarantine. And yet, whatever the truth are to allegations, you get the sense, too, that the same-old is just about to rear its head again — we are going to fall into the same old politics, which, even when it had some good as its end, seemed to bring out the worst in so many of us.

That Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s, with so many people tuned in, gives me some hope. Hope that seeds are being planted. You’ve got to wonder when a few days later the president is back behaving badly on Twitter, though. But God can work in delayed reflections, too. And miracles can happen. A tweet even from a president isn’t the biggest thing in the world, needless to say, but we desperately need of some change of tone with respect to virtue.

During that Mass, Cardinal Dolan preached about the Gospel reading for the day, about the road to Emmaus. That’s the road Christians are meant to be on always. Walking with Jesus, recognizing God present in His creations, even when we can’t be present for His Presence in the sacraments of the Church.

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden talk about Christianity. Joe Biden professes, of course, to be Catholic, despite his position on abortion, the killing of the innocent unborn. Donald Trump said at the March for Life this January that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. Even those he tweets about? Even those in the media? Even Nancy Pelosi and “Sleepy Joe”? These are not moral equivalents, to be sure, but how do we look to our fellow man, really? This has an impact on how policy affects the human person.

What this coronavirus time should be reminding us is that we are all equally vulnerable. Yes, maybe some of us are more vulnerable than others to COVID-19, but it will be something — we are all mortal beings with an unknown end date. While some know death is coming sooner rather than later. Are we ready? Can virtue be seen in our lives? Do we treat people with respect and defend life? I think we have to do both. Don’t we want to do both? Will this time draw us together, instead of more violently apart, to do what we have been saying we’ve been doing — loving our neighbor, protecting the vulnerable innocent? Let’s do it for real — whether it be the noble service of politics or the gift of family or community or any human life.

I don’t know whether Joe Biden is guilty or not, but I do know we need to restart our culture on virtue. We are all sinners, but a society that values goodness and decency would be one that flushes so many poisons out of our system. Now we need a reboot. We probably can’t expect it from politics and those with the loudest microphones, but we can demand it by the choices we make and the conversations we engage and the way we live our lives. May all these virtual encounters with faith and “thoughts and prayers” bear real fruit. As we reopen, let it be a Beatitudinal reset — a start in the virtues.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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