Commentary

Susan J. Demas: After a year of doing the right thing in the pandemic, it’s OK if you’re angry

May 31, 2021 6:32 am

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The last 15 months have wrought a bone-tiredness that’s hard to fully describe or even comprehend. The pressure you feel as a parent of trying to keep the people you love safe, dealing with the worrying sickness and death of friends, changing nearly every aspect of how we work and live has been like a daily vise grip on my brain.

I’m someone who lived with near-daily migraines for a decade, so that kind of pressure isn’t new — but it was different. The dread made it different. Watching people you thought were reasonable refuse to wear masks, post crazy tirades about restaurant health policies and attack those just trying to do the right thing will make you question your faith in humanity.

Once folks with AR-15s showed up with Nazi flags at the Michigan Capitol last April to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as a dictator who should be murdered while hospitals in Southeast Michigan were struggling to find enough places to stack up bodies — well, it was hard to feel like we were all in this together.

When you have Republican leaders from former President Trump on down make terrible choices — refusing to have a national plan to fight the pandemic, denying basic science on health mitigation methods and screaming that they were tyranny — we know this pandemic has been far worse than it needed to be. We would be looking at far fewer than 600,000 Americans dead, not to mention the thousands more who will struggle with long-term health problems.

It didn’t have to be this way. And that’s where the anger comes in.

At this point, after we’ve watched so much senseless death and the explicit right-wing tactic of turning public health into a gun-toting culture war, it’s OK for those who have tried to be good citizens to be angry.

After all, the folks who are irrationally angry about vaccinations and spew conspiracy theories or those ready to riot over the McDonald’s dining room being closed (that’s a corporate decision now, not a government one, by the way, Kyle and Karen), seem to make their way onto TV news on the regular, so their usually completely unfounded concerns are fully covered.

A COVID-19 memorial in Detroit’s Rosedale Park community | Ken Coleman

But as for the exhausted majority who have tried to do the right thing, knowing that the annoyance of certain rules and monotony of pandemic life was the price we had to pay longer because of the very loud folks who refused to think of others and prolonged the plague?

We’re supposed to hold our tongues and cheerfully move on.

We’ve been told by well-meaning politicians and doctors and journalists that we musn’t upset the angry anti-maskers (who of course are now anti-vaxxers) that have helped make COVID the hell it is. If we just respond to their deranged Facebook rants with stammering kindness and fact-checks from publications they consider to be Marxist pablum, we can really get through to them, we’re told.

If you still have the patience of Job and want to engage them, bless you. If some folks need free doughnuts and beer or a chance to win the lottery to entice them into getting a shot that basically guarantees they won’t die of a lung-shattering disease (or kill others), I don’t care. Whatever gets more shots in arms so that one day, no one has to fight through or die from severe COVID again.

But the fact that anyone needs to be bribed to get their ticket punched to avoid suffering and death for themselves and others is just one more sign of how broken our social contract is.

And so as I’ve watched politicos make enough to buy a lakehouse lobbying against basic health rules and criticize leaders for doing the same things during COVID they splash across their Instagram feeds, it’s hard to deploy the Lansing cynicism that set in after I started covering the Capitol 15 years ago. It’s not just politics; this isn’t what you do in a crisis of this magnitude. There are lines you shouldn’t cross and I’m sorry no one told you that.

We’ve learned a lot about our friends and neighbors, and a lot of it hasn’t been pretty.

There’s a lot I’m looking forward to in my post-vaccination world (I celebrated by cutting my hair for the first time in a year so I no longer sit on it, the excitement). I’m also looking forward to hopefully going to my son’s high school graduation next year, hiking with my brother who lives across the country again and celebrating Christmas with my parents this year.

The joy of knowing so many people who I know — and don’t — are safe and protected now has made me weep on more than one occasion. It definitely helps the anger start to dissipate.

But if you’re not there yet — if you never really get there — that’s OK. Those who have behaved the worst in this pandemic, whose cruelty and selfishness made so many others ill and miserable, were given every outlet for their inexplicable rage.

For those who still carry the scars of this pandemic, of the unfathomable loss, and find that anger is still fresh, I would say that is a very human impulse amid so many who have clearly lost their humanity.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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