COVID lays bare the myth of American exceptionalism in stark arithmetic: With over half a million dead, we have one of the highest per capita death rates of any nation, a ghastly truth in a country said to be the most technologically and scientifically advanced on earth.

The essentials of infection control seem better understood by people in poor countries than in the minds of millions of Americans. Even now, there are those who show a robust, even prideful ignorance about the efficacy of such standards of basic epidemic containment as masking, social distancing and vaccination.

Yet in truth, scientific illiteracy is only one variable in the ghastly calculus of 500,000 dead. As ignorant as many are about the essentials of modern public health science, there is equal ignorance about the moral duties of citizenship. We would not be mourning over 500,000 dead — and facing the ungodly prospect of another 100,000-plus deaths — had there been much less gibberish about socialism or fascism or some other “ism” and nonsense about constitutional rights, and much greater understanding about our mutual and communal obligations.

It is highly unlikely as many as half a million of us would be dead if in January 2020 we had a sane and moral leader able to direct a massive, coordinated and professional public health response, as well as many fewer millions of people lacking the mental and moral capacity to embrace a federal response to this pandemic.

More bluntly stated, America needed brains and integrity at the top, but also more brains and integrity at the bottom. I believe we have it once again at the top, but I am unsure we can achieve it at the bottom without a massive national campaign to push scientific literacy and the ethics of moral citizenship.

The Rev. Maureen Ausbrook

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