In times of emergency or tragedy, the United States has an uncanny ability to put differences aside and come together. This is when it is the strongest.
In recent weeks this has played out in all 50 states, as the COVID-19 pandemic has altered everyone’s way of life. We’re all discovering a new group of first responders — healthcare and grocery workers. Their sacrifice and hard work have captured the admiration of everyone.
March 16, following a week where sports seasons were canceled and universities students sent home, the White House released official COVID-19 guidelines. The guidelines encouraged people to stay home when they’re sick, avoid discretionary travel and avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
After the release of these guidelines, governors followed suit. The states of California, New York and Illinois were among the first states to issue “stay at home” orders, which prevented people from leaving their house except for essential reasons. March 23, Gov. Tony Evers issued a “stay at home” order for the state of Wisconsin. The order went into effect March 25 and will last until April 24.
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By the end of March, 32 of 50 states issued “stay at home” orders and the American economy has come to a halt. There has never been a broad economic lockdown like this in the history of the U.S. And while there is a general consensus the lockdown is necessary, it comes with a high cost.
After one week of Evers’ “stay at home” order, 115,679 Wisconsin residents filed for unemployment. Nationally, the numbers are even more staggering. Since the beginning of the year, the Dow has dropped 21.76%, and in the last week, over 3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits.
Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders have echoed the sentiment of many around the country in stating they’re concerned what an extended economic lockdown could mean for working people. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have been critical of the lack of transparency coming from the Governor’s Office. Both Vos and Fitzgerald stated they were not informed of the governor’s “stay at home” order ahead of time. Neither legislative leader expressed opposition to the order itself. Still, each was concerned about the toll the lockdown would take on small businesses and the inevitable spikes in unemployment.
“I want to understand the ramifications of what they are proposing way before we decide to do anything so we can be smart and wise,” Vos said.
Many will see these comments from Republican lawmakers and accuse them of being more concerned with economic growth than human lives. This unfair criticism misses the point. Fitzgerald expressed support for the White House and CDC guidelines that led to Evers issuing the “stay at home” order. It is fair for lawmakers and citizens alike to ask for their government to be transparent about the decisions they make — especially when you’re asking an entire state to stay home for a month.
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Evers acted decisively and correctly in issuing a statewide lockdown. Issuing the lockdown puts Wisconsin locked in stride with the CDC, the White House, and the majority of states in the fight to halt this growing pandemic. But if this lockdown is to persist, Evers must continue to update Wisconsinites on why this is necessary and what we’re doing to control the virus in our own state.
The general public’s participation in this statewide lockdown is a burden, but it’s admirable. The vast majority of us are experiencing some sort of economic loss. At the very least, we are extremely inconvenienced.
Critics of America’s capitalist society often claim we are only concerned with maintaining a robust economy, and everything else plays second fiddle. What does it say about this capitalist society that we’re willing to lock down our state and shut our businesses to protect a minority of the elderly or those with preexisting conditions? It’s heroic and it shows the best of America.
Columnist and pundit Jonah Goldberg commented on this same phenomenon.
“The simple fact is that this country is doing something morally heroic,” Goldberg said. “I hate metaphorical war rhetoric, but we’re taking the ‘millions for defense, not one penny for tribute’ approach to this. It may not work. It may not last. It may not make the most sense economically. But we’re doing it anyway.”
Critics will say Republican lawmakers’ sole purpose is to ensure economic gain, even at the cost of lives lost. Others will say Evers is acting as an authoritarian and violating our civil liberties. Both are wrong. Evers’ action was essential in combating the spread of the virus and the catastrophic loss of life. But, we need people like Vos and Fitzgerald to encourage government transparency and ensure this economic lockdown does not permeate longer than it needs to.
Though this fight is far from over, our country and our state are engaging in heroic behavior. Whether it’s the health care workers on the front lines, grocery store employees continuously restocking supplies or the average citizen doing their part and staying home — we are all indebted to each other.
Tripp Grebe ([email protected]) is a freshman studying political science.