The Safe, Silent Supermajority Is Getting Us Through This

In the shared sacrifice we’re separately experiencing together, there is hope. 

The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.

Milwaukee, staying at home. Photo by Nate Vomhof.

In this time of crisis, it’s easy to get discouraged. The depth of tragedy seen in these past months feels almost too great to even really make sense of. It’s unimaginable, the havoc and suffering and sorrow this ugly virus has brought to the doorstep of so many. It is truly a dark time.

But as bleak as things seem, we are going to get through this. We are getting through this. 

“Distancing is the most impressive civic-minded act I've ever seen in this country,” wrote David M. Perry, calling it an act of “patriotic love.” 

Despite everything that has happened and continues to happen, there is hope in America. There’s hope in the courage and bravery and unflappable determination of health care workers going to hospitals every day to heroically fight this virus on the front lines. There’s hope in the underpaid mask-wearing grocery store employees and delivery drivers working to keep people supplied. There is hope in the creativity and spirit of restaurants and small businesses pulling every lever to find their way through. People are demonstrating remarkable resilience, and it’s that resilience that is carrying us.

And that resilience is something we desperately need because you don’t have to look far to find those who are failing us. The events of the last few days here in Wisconsin don’t exactly lend themselves to optimism. Whether it’s the images of a cohort of suburban protesters at a mall, railing against a public health order, some doing so while waving a white supremacist confederate flag, or the actions of the Republican legislative leadership taking extreme measures to obstruct life-saving action with no end-game or plan in sight, it can be hard to find that hope. 

And though the actions of these extremists have dominated the statewide debate, it’s the safe, silent supermajority who are remaining in their homes, wearing masks in public, keeping their distance, flattening the curve, and, truly, saving lives. Most people get it. And there is massive bipartisan consensus that these policies we’ve undertaken to combat this virus are the right thing to do.  

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Andrea Palm, Secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said the efforts of the governor’s stay-at-home order have prevented the deaths of as many as 1,400 people. 

This point is one that’s been tucked into stories about the growing number of coronavirus cases and deaths, but it’s one that cannot be overlooked. The actions of Wisconsinites who are abiding by this order and doing their part are preventing the deaths of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people. Staying home is saving lives. Truthfully, it is a remarkable moment of sacrifice. 

“Sacrifice” is a word I’ve thought a lot about these past few months. We are all sacrificing something -- some more than others, of course -- but the level to which so many are willfully sacrificing to save the lives of others is astonishing. It is through this shared sacrifice that we are not plunging into greater depths of tragedy. 

This is a time of unrelenting, daily hardship — some of which sadly will not be overcome — but it’s also a time of true civic-minded sacrifice. The collective action so many are taking is accomplishing something real, something meaningful, something that is keeping people alive. 

The heroes in the hospitals have a fighting chance to beat this thing because so many of us are staying home. And once those heroes have more space to do their jobs, it doesn’t mean we stop there. We can bring that same spirit of shared purpose to hold our nation’s often-fumbling leadership accountable as we navigate a new era. Forging ahead will take much more than turning a sign from closed to open. It will take months and years of dedicated action to see this through the right way and really, truly do what’s best for people. 

We will reopen, eventually. We will see our family and friends, go back to work, sit down at our favorite restaurant, visit our favorite park, and finally spend some time together. We’ll get there the right way at the right time, and until then, we’ll sacrifice a little bit, but we’ll do it for each other — and lives will be saved.

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