A Test of Character

Author: Gary Hart

Like individuals, nations are tested from time to time.  America has had its share of tests, not least our terrible Civil War, but also the Revolutionary War before it, the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the long twilight struggle known as the Cold War.

Today we face a new test, one that cannot be won by military means.  But one that will call upon our national character, nonetheless.  Alas, we do not have a Winston Churchill at the helm of the ship of state.  But we could use someone like him.

Churchill is brought to mind by yet another gift book from my longtime friend Bill Shore.  It is The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson and chronicles the first year of Churchill’s prime ministership as Hitler overran Belgium and the Low Countries and then France.

It would be 18 long months before he could get the United States to enter the struggle to save Western civilization and even then, Pearl Harbor would be required to overcome the pull-up-the drawbridge isolationism popular once again today.

After extricating a third of a million men in the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, all the British had was Churchill’s promise of “blood, sweat, and tears.”

Since the war that followed, World War II, we have faced the Soviets and then al Qaeda and ISIS.  Both required one kind of military and then another.  But now we face a single virus cell that migrates with lightening speed using individual humans, and their planes and ships, to spread across the face of the globe.

The front line of our defense is composed of thousands of health care workers who daily, hourly, put their own lives at risk.  The Italians serenaded them from their balconies and the Spanish gave them loud applauds all together all across their nation.

Though our leadership has not suggested it, we might give consideration to a national demonstration of our gratitude to them.  Each one of us could end up calling on their sacrifices on any day to come.

Health care workers are generally underpaid, and they receive no medals for their sacrificial care.  If you should encounter one at the supermarket, eyes hollow from lack of sleep, you might think about simply saying thank you.

Like looming climate disasters, species loss, plastic ocean islands, burned Amazon forests, childhood hunger, homelessness, and much else, all the costly weapons in the world will not stop or even slow the coronavirus.  And this one will not be the last one.  Over the horizon others are baking and entering the bloodstreams of a wide variety of animals or even plants that will be brought to distant rural and urban markets and thus into the mainstream of human life.

We are not prepared, mostly because we have taken from public health services and laboratories to build even more sophisticated ships, planes, and tanks.  Nature, and particularly its dark side, has a way of making us question our priorities.  The current virus will kill more Americans than died on 9/11, for which we were also unprepared.

America, and for that matter the world, are being tested.  We could use at least one if not several Winston Churchills.  But our political system has not been producing very many of those in recent times.

Consider who among us has the learning, the skills, the insights, the stature, the power of voice and imagination to bring our nation together, to rally our spirits, to call upon our better angels, to shame our partisanship and raise up a mighty nation.

That task becomes even more daunting when there is no Hitler with the Luftwaffe.  But is just a single microscopic cell.

The symbol of our resistance and steadfastness will not be units on parade in uniform with bombers flying overhead.

The symbol of our character may be thanks to a nurse or doctor…and perhaps singing from our porches and balconies.

America’s character is being sorely tested and on the outcome of that test will rest the future of our nation.

9 Responses to “A Test of Character”


    A benevolent and warm article or post. A call to, not arms, but rallying, nonetheless.

    The calling the medical heroes, the military heroes, of this war, on a cell, is apposite.

    The cell of this virus, also another sort of enemy, like a cell of a terrorist, but weirder in being invisible.

    Churchill is a one off, like Kennedy, rarely was there someone as good with a turn of phrase, as well as an intellect of magnitude.

    Both won prizes for writing.Both men of substance.And very human.

    Our host has not as far as known, won a prize for his fine, writing. But he shares these qualities with these great leaders.

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Senator Hart,

    If individuals pass the test and mostly stay at home for the duration, then nations should be able to cope alright, assuming that governments continuously improve their response.

    Should that response include a national mail-in ballot for the election in November? I know Colorado has this in place now along with a couple of other states- how hard would it be to make this a national program and could it be put in place in time?

    I hope we don’t have to worry about the presidential election being postponed for any length of time …

  3. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    What I find disheartening is the lack of focus on the fact that, although several of the truly informed health care professionals have pointed this out, this pandemic is likely to last for as much as 18 months, if not longer. Most people are not equipped “to stay at home” for much more than 2 to 3 weeks. Our physical, as well as economic, life cannot be sustained by most, if not all, of the citizens of this world. We are not only facing a dire medical future, which can possibly be confronted and overcome with time, but our economic future is very bleak and not really able of being confronted in any way that will produce a positive outcome for most of the world’s population.

    When the supplies of food and other necessities stop being available in our distribution system, because those who produce them are staying at home also, then we will start reaping the whirlwind of our disastrous choices of our current national, state, and local political leadership, or lack thereof.

    What happens when the sanitation workers do not pick up and dispose of our prodigious amounts of waste, our fresh water and waste water treatment facilities personnel do not report to work, our emergency services personnel do not report to work, our distribution systems personnel do not report to work, and our truck drivers do not report to work? Are we ready for any of this? Are we ready for any of this? No, because we just expect all of these services to continue without disruption, because we need them and our needs have always been met.

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    I agree that we are not ready to deal with the disruption you outline.

    Which is why we need to focus on slowing and stopping the spread of this virus by doing all that we can, at the individual level and at all levels.

    That means taking now common actions – formerly known as drastic – the planet over while at the same time ensuring that essential supply chains keep running and ensuring that all of the people responsible for keeping those chains running stay healthy. I think we’re getting better at this every day.

    Being an unabashed and unapologetic cockeyed-optimist, we can beat this thing in record time if we all do all that we can to stop this outbreak by, in the words of Chris Cuomo, surrendering the ‘me’ for the ‘we’!

  5. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Stephen D. Pillow, this one’s for you.

    I overheard a man about my age (65) standing in line behind my wife Jasmine and me yesterday waiting to get into a nearly empty Pavilions supermarket in Burbank: “Is this Russia?” he asked.

    This quip, which resonated with both of us, may have been prompted in part by my state’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, having effectively house-arrested all seniors in California on Thursday.

    Given the ability of non-symptomatic people to spread the virulent Coronavirus (“CV”), we’re not over the repression line YET but we’re now verging on UnAmerican measures. Grinding society virtually to a halt short-term to prevent the spread of the wicked virus is one thing. Medium-term: another thing. Long-term: totally unacceptable. All “terms” measured in weeks not months. South Korea contained the outbreak without going the nation-wide lock-down route, so our short-medium term prudent need to do so seems primarily related to our inability to mass test.

    The reality is there has to be (and IS) a time limit to these draconian measures. It (CV) is NOT the Black Death redux and we’re NOT going to completely denature America over this for the long term (measured in several weeks not months). Yet I’m not at all sure our nearly 100% BOZO elected pols (in both old parties) know that. “We the people” may have to get tough at some point and firmly tell them: enough is enough.

    The main reason is the one that underlies Stephen’s well-taken concern over the long-term ramifications of the lockdown: Whereas our almost universally mediocre pols had/have plans for “continuity of government” in case of a national emergency, they had/have no plan for “continuity of society” in the event a pandemic required temporary drastic measures to grind the economy nearly to a halt. So whereas we might keep health care delivery systems from being overwhelmed by using the draconian quarantine and social distancing measures such as those announced by Gov. Newsom and his counterparts we will likely have a social safety net catastrophe on our hands within 1-2 weeks.

    There is simply NO WAY unemployment offices and related social services will be able to keep up with demand. And I’ll believe Trump’s promise of large checks being mailed from the Treasury to Americans when I see them. If such checks arrive at all it is unlikely they will be in large enough sums to prevent what Jesse Jackson once called “the misery index” from skyrocketing.

    In truth it is as unlikely as it would be ironic if the miscreant Republican president were to (even temporarily) turn the US into a nanny state. After all, the whole GOP has railed against that concept for 50 years! And if they balk at making Americans whole from the CV lock-down Stephen Pillow may well wind up being a prophet (hopefully with honor) in this space for predicting that we will likely “reap the whirlwind” over time.

    I’m not familiar with the situation in other states, but the State of California could implement its own income replacement plan by drawing on our fairly-ample “rainy day fund” instituted by former Gov. Brown. However it appears that no plan of this sort exists! Instead Dum-Dum Newsom is irresponsibly counting on Trump and Mnuchin to send full income-replacement checks timely to locked-down California residents from Washington DC! Something dumber than such reliance can hardly be imagined.

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    Wow. I mean, just … WOW.

    First off, America lost its chance to be South Korea soon after the virus went to work in Wuhan. There’ll be lots of time to discuss that.

    Is it really un-American to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we’? America’s bungled response to this outbreak has, at the very least, resulted in many lessons to be learned so that, in future outbreaks, draconian measures can be avoided.

  7. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Eric C. Jacobson, I would like to thank you for your well thought out response to my dire warning shot of 20 November. I am not a total pessimist when it comes to my outlook for our future after the Covid-19 pandemic. However, I do not foresee only a 2-3 week period of adversity as you have outlined. Yesterday I saw a comparison between the timeline of cases of confirmed infections in Italy and in the United States. The rate of infection on a daily basis was almost exactly the same. Yesterday the Italian government announced that 670+ of its citizens had died in the past 24 hours. Their reporting is only about 10 days ahead of ours. Neither of the curves is slowing down.
    Many Americans refuse to believe that this pandemic will or should have any effect upon them and their lives. If they don’t feel sick, why should they sit at home and not work? “I am an American, I have a right to do as I see fit, and NO ONE is going to tell me what to do.” Many of these are the same people who voted for and still support the current occupant of the white house, who is constantly misleading them with misinformation and outright lies. To me that is a fairly gloomy outlook.

  8. Paul G Says:


    “Nature, and particularly its dark side, has a way of making us question our priorities. The current virus will kill more Americans than died on 9/11, for which we were also unprepared.” – GH

    The unlearned lessons viral events since the 1918 flu pandemic reveal a darker side of our human nature by our tone-deaf-sociopath fox-in-chief ignoramus who trumps his medical experts to prioritize his re-election campaign while mocking virus victims. Murdoch’s president (Ailes post-Nixon reincarnation project) remains determined to have us listen only to him as the chosen one who will save us AND Wall Street.

    My first awareness of this unfolding tragedy was the Feb 6, death of Dr. Li Liang who was among the first to warn fellow medics online of the deadly “novel” virus. Naturally, like the virus, his nation’s savior-dictator did not like the doctor’s divergent opinion and had him arrested, beaten, silenced. Now, as US citizens suffer and die, “our” president continues to insist we’re close to a cure (of this hoax)!

    “I’m not hearing that,” he responded when told of mask, ventilator and bed shortages adversely impacting medical workers and first responders reminiscent of the days of SARS, MERS and EBOLA scares and even 9/11; he publicly ridiculed a reporter’s suggestion that living former presidents be invited to join him to reassure Americans. He calls himself a “War President even as he ridiculed a reporter for inviting him to give FDR-like reassurance to those of us with increasing fear.

    UnAmerican in his callousness to the contagion reaching his own Party’s US senate colleagues, he publicly mocked a devastated western state governor as a “snake” and reacted in a snarky tone “Gee, that’s too bad,” when a reporter revealed that the virus has caused US Senator Romney to self-isolate.

    But since the senate majority recently (accepted Barr’s summary and conclusions which he’s been writing for us since his Nixon era CIA service) decided our Constitution and Laws do not apply to kings, princes and potentates of Murdoch’s world empire, we the little people remain beholden to the fox-in-chief as more and more gasp for air.

    The question remaining for us may not be so much whether we’ve entered the dark side of nature with the evolution of this extremely fast moving novel virus that threatens our natural human instinct to physically interact with each other – unless our medical experts are successful in winning this war with the virus; but rather why have we not learned from the fatally self-righteous blundering leaders of 1918?

    “More dangerous than a lion is an ignorant man.” – Kurdish proverb

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    The Kurdish people are blessed with comparatively stellar leadership and instructive proverbs!

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