Let’s see, where were we? In May, when we last wrote to you we highlighted the bravery and ingenuity of local and national groups, organizations, and individuals addressing myriad challenges of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In case you missed it, please go to Gazette Chicago’s website at www.gazettechicago.com to read the May editorial.
Where are we now? Pretty much in the same boat— unless you spent Memorial Day weekend in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and other points around the country, where you hopped off your water crafts by the hundreds to have a few drinks in the lakefront bars and wade into the beachfront waters. Social distancing? We think not. Those who reveled in the Lake in the Ozarks all have been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. Wonder how many will do so? As of this writing, the number of deaths due to the coronavirus nationwide has now exceeded 100,000 and will keep climbing through the summer. It is most likely to be 30,000-plus above whatever figure the Center for Disease Control provides, due to deaths that have not been tracked directly to the virus or victims dying of cardiac and other-related illnesses exacerbated by the virus.
Memorial Day 2020 had an extra solemn tone to it. Not only did we remember the bravery and sacrifice of our war dead during our nation’s history, but we stopped and bowed our heads to those who died from the coronavirus and the many heroes and heroines who have literally given their lives to care for these victims and to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of others. Not to mention every other first responder outside of our hospitals and medical centers and essential workers who are risking their lives and also dying to try and keep you safe. Keep in mind, too, the enormous stress put on these healthcare providers and essential workers—the untold story here is the mental health crisis that is developing from this pandemic. It makes one incredulous to see the selfishness of so many people who won’t practice social distancing to keep themselves, their loved ones, and these front-line heroes safe. All for what: a little fun in the sun?
Speaking of bowing our heads. We knew eventually that the struggle to control the coronavirus would find its way into bipartisan politics at its worst. From Washington, DC, to state capitols, the debate has moved tragically from “follow the science” to follow the directives of a Republican president hell-bent on getting re-elected by refusing to fully acknowledge this international crisis and arguing it is time to “move beyond” the virus, rather than attempting to save more lives by ushering in more testing and contact tracing. But, did this really have to meander into a fight between church and state? Of course, it did.
On Friday, May 22, President Trump said he would “override” church officials across the country who refused to reopen their places of worship. Really? Since when did the president of the United States have authority over religious entities? Was Trump so worried about the faithful struggling to find solace during a national pandemic by wanting to gather with their fellow congregants? Was he concerned that since he can’t personally offer one ounce of empathy to his fellow Americans that maybe they could find some comfort from their pastor’s pulpit? Or, was he itching to get back to his regular schedule of Sunday worship rather than tweeting his vitriol to the masses or playing a round of golf at his own Trump National Golf Club in Virginia? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. All Trump was doing was playing to his base.
And the media didn’t see this? Certainly not the Chicago Sun-Times, which placated Trump and played right into his hands. The very next morning, in its Saturday, May 23 edition, the Sun-Times ran a bold headline on its front cover, “Sunday Showdown” and framed Trump with his scowl and sans a mask, bordered by Governor JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot on either side, with their masks diligently in place. All because once again, an uninformed Trump throws something out there that has no credence and the media rushes to give him the publicity he craves. Anyone who has been a parent or guardian knows that you don’t reward children for bad behavior by giving them a lollipop or an ice cream cone. Yet, in the era of Trump our local and national media offer sweets and treats to this petulant president day after day.
The other major disappointment when it comes to religious groups during this time of COVID-19 is the ill-advised, ignorance, and stubbornness of some of our local ministers and pastors refusing to follow State of Illinois and City of Chicago social distancing directives and re-opening their places of worship recently. These church leaders wail that their flock needs them. Really? Did they bother to read, or did they just ignore the reports out of Ringgold, GA, and Houston, TX, that when churches there reopened in May, they had to shut down again after members and leaders tested positive for the coronavirus? Was that worth it? Was that responsible leadership? Must have been one heck of a couple of sermons. How terribly unfortunate and unnecessary this was.
We are grateful that Cardinal Blasé Cupich of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and religious leaders among our Jewish and Muslim brethren are saying instead, “hold on there—not yet.” For those of you who find that gathering with fellow congregants enhances your faith, we sympathize with you. We even are empathetic to the need of pastors and ministers to have a Sunday collection to keep their ministries going. But, we implore that church leaders not open church buildings at the cost of their flocks’ lives and livelihoods.
Here is a question for those ministers defying the science and directives: Ask yourselves what would Jesus do? Imagine Jesus, during his active ministry, preparing to gather his believers along the Jordan River and instructing his disciples to gather the masses along the hillside. “But, Teacher, there is a terrible outbreak called the coronavirus, and it is killing people by the thousands. Is this wise to do?” Peter might ask. Think about what Jesus would do in this situation. We certainly don’t think he would be reopening churches in today’s time of COVID-19.
Basically, the decision is in your hands, not your pastor’s or minister’s. Do what is best for you and your loved ones. And, if you are getting pressure to “come back” to your place of worship before it is safe to do so, here is some advice: find somewhere else to practice your faith.
One last thing on this church versus state conundrum. Gazette Chicago is extremely disappointed in local businessman Willie Wilson, throwing his money behind these pastors and ministers defying the stay at home order. Fine, we know you’re a millionaire, Mr. Wilson. And we know you are planning an independent run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Richard Durbin of Illinois (after an unsuccessful run for Mayor of Chicago). But your pandering to these ill-advised religious leaders to pay their possible fines from the City for their violations shows your complete lack of understanding of this crisis. You are trying to pander to a potential base of voters just like Trump has been doing for months now, and that doesn’t put you on the right side of sound thinking either. And, you want to be a senator for Illinois? Sorry, we find you unqualified, Mr. Wilson, and will remind our readers of your actions come November.
Once again, Federal dollars going to the wealthy and well off. Gee whiz, will this ever end? Now comes a report that $500 million will go to the most financially secure hospitals and medical canters in the nation, rather than those inner city and rural hospitals on the verge of collapse due to this pandemic. In the era of Trump, the rich get richer, no matter if you own an airline, an oil company, a behemoth like Amazon, or another Fortune 500 company. If there is one sane person left in the White House, can you please earmark these funds to institutions like Saint Anthony Hospital, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, and the UI Health System, right here in our community? Each day, these administrators and health care workers are on the front line of this pandemic, and they need an infusion of cash to help keep them going. The Department of the Treasury led by Steve Mnuchin is completely out of touch as to what institutions and individuals need help during this financial collapse.
The Grim Reaper is not who you think he is. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, too, is at fault. The Democratic Congress asked for approval of another measure to bring aid to suffering American households, but “The Grim Reaper”(McConnell’s gaudy self description, not ours), was once again ready as Gazette Chicago went to press, to let this bill die like the 200-plus others that have arrived DOA at his doorstep during Trump’s time in the White House. These bills all would aid middle-class and low-income families, by the way. This, too is leadership? Keep in mind that The Grim Reaper is up for reelection in Kentucky in the fall. If you can spare a few dollars, consider making a contribution to challenger Amy McGrath, and help get this walking roadblock to democracy out of office. You can go to her website at https://amymcgrath.com/.
Circling back to Memorial Day 2020. It was gut-wrenchingly noticeable to see President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence make their appearance at Arlington National Cemetery sans masks. Once again, a misguided symbol to their base that all is well in America and time to get back to normal. Of course, the shortsightedness of this includes the fact that vulnerable military veterans were present. This is how we show respect to those who sacrificed to keep this country free? What a brazen lack of regard for those who have served and are trying to live out their finals days in comfort and peace—and not to have to die alone from the coronavirus. Are we stretching too much here? Just the fact that Trump and his loyal sidekick Pence (who also refuses to lead with integrity at every turn) would appear without masks sends a chilling message about their ignorance and lack of compassion and empathy.
And to show where the president has his priorities, he goes out of his way to ridicule Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, for actually wearing masks on Memorial Day. Trump said it made Biden look weak and later said it actually improved his appearance. This, coming from the man who should be leading this country in its time of crisis. Shortly after his Memorial Day misbehaviors, Trump began to wage war with Twitter, for finally having the spine to fact-check his vitriolic tweets in real time. This came after, in a span of seven days, the president’s tweets became even more abhorrent, including falsely accusing MSNBC talk show host and former congressman Joe Scarborough of murder. We have an even better idea, Twitter: shut down the Trump account and maybe, just maybe, he would start acting like a grown-up and lead from the front rather than from behind his mobile phone. Will either happen? Highly unlikely.
Then we have State Rep. Darren Bailey (R) of that bursting metropolis, Xenia, IL, who blatantly challenged Illinois House Leader Michael Madigan (D) by refusing to wear a mask at the first day of the Illinois spring session in May. He was promptly shown the door and the next day obliged with a face covering. Meanwhile, many Americans cry foul that having to wear a mask in public harkens to the days of Adolf Hitler. Really? Can anyone truly make the argument that sane, practical measures resulting from the recommendations of scientists and epidemiologists equals the dictatorship of the worst mass murderer in history? Maybe some among far-right wing Republican legislators, right-wing media talking heads, and Trump’s loyal base could, but rational thinking Americans?
Then came word that Rep. Bailey has joined with three other Republican downstate legislators who are calling for a recall of Governor JB Pritzker. Why? Because State Rep. Allen Skillcorn of East Dundee, IL, believes Pritzker should be removed from office because the Illinois Department of Employment Security website kept crashing when thousands of Illinois residents tried to make their unemployment claims at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis. The others are frustrated with the Priztker’s four-phase plan to reopen the Illinois economy. Their chances of getting enough State Representatives and State Senators to go along with their partisan grandstanding are slim, yet it doesn’t stop the effort here in Illinois and nationally to demean Democratic governors, who have outpaced their Republican counterparts when it comes to rationale thinking that follows the science in the time of COVID-19.
The insanity continues.
Where are the heroes in this Administration and within the Federal government during this crisis? We wait patiently for someone, anyone, to step up and say “Enough, the lies and the misinformed information must stop!” Could it be Dr. Anthony Fauci? What about Dr. Deborah Birx? Is there anyone else within the Center for Disease Control, the Federal Drug Administration, or within the White House to say: “No, hydroxychloroquine is not safe and neither the president nor you should use it as a preventive health regimen.” “No, we are not past the peak to reopen communities safely.” “Yes, we need a national, concerted effort to stem the spiraling numbers of deaths in our nursing homes.” “Yes, we should be vigilant when these meat packing plants reopen around the country and demand safeguards for those workers.” “Yes, every American should be wearing a mask in public to protect others, no matter where they are living.” “Yes, the coronavirus will be with us until a proven vaccine can be distributed to hundreds of millions of Americans and billions around the globe.” Can someone, anyone, speak up even though they are in fear of losing their jobs? Is the paycheck too important? We get it—we don’t want to lose the sound judgment and voice of Dr. Fauci. He seems to be the only reasonable person left to whom we can turn, besides a handful of rational governors and Congressional leaders. We yearn for the days of leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. They put country and Americans first. Not now, not from this administration.
Immigrants in Illinois and across the country are suffering greatly during this pandemic. Gazette Chicago’s coverage, beginning on page 8 of this issue, tells the plight of immigrants in our community facing additional pain and hardship due to the coronavirus. Our story shares some startling statistics: that one in seven Illinois residents is an immigrant, while one in eight has at least one immigrant parent. It also shows that more than 250,000 U.S. citizens live in Illinois with at least one family member who is undocumented. This data may or may not sit well with some of you, but how about the fact that more than 20% of all business owners in Chicago are immigrants or that 19.2% of the foreign born work in “essential critical infrastructure” jobs? Many of these workers are on the front line of this crisis, yet do not have healthcare coverage at their jobs and fail to qualify for Federal aid through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The end result? Approximately 53% are going back to their factories and other jobs before their COVID-19 tests come in because they are desperate to put food on their tables. As of this writing, Latinos account for 42% of the coronavirus cases in Chicago. However, other immigrant groups are also suffering, including Asians and other people of color. “I am particularly aware in times like these, of how much we rely on our immigrant community to provide essential services and how much they are underappreciated,” said Peter Zigterman of World Relief Chicago. Immigrants are afraid to go to hospitals for fear of dying alone and are scared that their status could change when they step forward for assistance. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is asking immigrants to come forward and benefit from City services related to the coronavirus. If you know of an immigrant or an immigrant family that is afraid during these especially frightful times, reach out and assure them they will be cared for in a sanctuary city such as Chicago.
Is professional sports in this country really worth it at this time? Of course, we all need distractions from the coronavirus and we are all getting a little loopy after three months of staying at home for the most part. The Chicago Bulls 1990s-era documentary, The Last Dance, held our attention for five wonderful Sunday evenings. And yes, we sympathize mightily with the workers who cut the grass, pour the beer, and provide us meals at the ballparks. But, as professional sports teams in America struggle to find ways to reopen their seasons (the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League) or have the first umpire yell out, “Play Ball!” (Major League Baseball) and have the National Football League and the NCAA kick off their football seasons, we pray that they do so safely for the players, the managers and coaches, the stadium workers (whether the fans get to come back or not), and all of their families. Rational thinking once again must overcome the needs of billionaire owners and millionaire players to salvage the 2020 seasons.
Congratulations to all of our 2020 graduates. We have seen virtual graduations and graduates taking photos in caps and gowns in front of their high schools and universities. We see the yard signs saying “Congratulations Class of 2020.” We ache for our young people who have yet to have the opportunity to celebrate together. We hope that this summer or fall brings you the celebration you have worked so hard for to enjoy with your families. In the meantime, we are pulling for you. Don’t lose hope and know that you can and will do great things in the years to come. We, the members of your local community, need you. You are living through the most unprecedented times in our nation’s history, yet you will come out of this stronger, together. We wish you the best in your next level of learning or as you pursue your first job after college. We are proud of each and every one of you!
Keep your chin up and reach out to others. This time of COVID-19 will continue to play itself out before us, as maddening and stressful as the days are becoming. We will continue to keep hope alive with you, pray for you, and serve you where we can. This is all so overwhelming and we wish you and yours once again the very best in the days and weeks ahead. As best as you can, reach out and help others whether it’s through a donation to a local organization or placing a call to a neighbor to make sure he or she is okay. For those who need them, seek the resources to help you manage the stress—go to our website for a list of the many resources available. Continue to practice social distancing—especially now that the warmer weather is upon us. After months of being cooped up in our homes and apartments, it is human nature to want to gather with family and friends. Take heed of our local public health officials and follow their recommendations before you wander outdoors in larger groups.
May the God you worship bless you, protect you, and heed your prayers; whether you do so in the quiet of your home or during a walk in solitude, or at a time whenever it is safe to gather again in your house of worship. Remember though, the most important thing is that God hears you no matter where you pray.
Stay safe and secure. Again, we stress that we remain all in this together.