We need a hero. How else to explain what motivates thousands of New Yorkers to go out on their rooftops or throw open their windows at precisely 7 p.m. every night to scream and yell, and applaud and bang on the pots and pans – all to show the beleaguered and literally life-risking nurses, doctors and hospital staffers working in the epicenter of a global pandemic how much they are appreciated, even loved.
But in a time of a public health crisis without precedent for all but a handful of living Americans, we also need villains – a role that a handful of vulture capitalists straight out of central casting are all too willing to play. Sure, it’s a crime (and uncalled for), but very few tears were shed when a vandal scrawled “Joel Kills” on the ritzy Rittenhouse townhouse of health care capitalist Joel Freedman, after he demanded $1 million a month to use his empty 500-bed Hahnemann Hospital for any coronavirus overflow. Folks like Freedman or record mogul David Geffen – showing the world that it’s easy to cope with a deadly pandemic when you can park your $590 million yacht in the warm waters of the Grenadines – are easy pickings.
It’s human nature. Faced with our understandable fear of the great unknown, we impose a narrative that makes sense of it all, and that started even before TV news needed to fill 24 hours a day. And the stories we tell ourselves to live through the coronavirus are real. The people working overtime through an epoch of invisible sickness and death – especially the health care workers on the front lines, but also the once-too-easily forgotten folks who stock our grocery shelves and pick up our trash – truly are heroic, while Freedman’s villainy of squeezing every dollar out of an iconic hospital before shuttering it has been hiding in plain sight.
At moments like this one or, in recent memory, 9/11, it’s life-affirming to remember that the majority of our neighbors are good and decent people, not just trying to survive, but willing to pitch in for the good of the community. But here’s what we – and the folks in the media who funnel the news we get nonstop – often fail to grasp: Most Americans, including those struggling on the margins, are good people trapped in a wretched system built around us.
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