OPINION: Biden’s call for unity and actual pandemic plan, are panaceas for our traumatized nation

If you haven’t watched or heard Amanda Gorman read her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris yet, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. 

At 22, Gorman, the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate, is the youngest person ever selected to read a poem at a United States president’s inauguration. She represents everything we dream our children will become when we drop them off for their first day of kindergarten — whip smart, brave, thoughtful, strong, poised and ready to slay the world’s injustices. 

Gorman’s poem recognized the trauma of the past but looked forward to a brighter future: 

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished,” she wrote. “We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.”

This Wednesday morning was such a stark contrast to that horrific Wednesday two weeks ago, when we all watched as a hateful mob hopped up on the lies created by Donald Trump and perpetuated by his loyal followers sought vengeance for a “stolen election,” tore into our nation’s Capitol building, bludgeoned Capitol police officers, trampled their own supports to death, constructed a gallows and cried out for the death of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

This week, our nation began to shake off the trauma of the past four years. 

Instead of hearing only lies from our president about a global pandemic that is now killing one person every 6 minutes in Los Angeles and has taken the lives of more than 400,000 Americans — more than the number of American soldiers killed in World War II — in just one year, we saw a president-elect and vice president-elect gather at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool the evening before their inauguration to remember and honor the victims of COVID-19. 

“For many months, we have grieved by ourselves,” Biden said Tuesday at the COVID-19 memorial. “Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together. Though we may be physically separated, we the American people are united in spirit.”

Whether you’re a Biden fan or not, watching our nation’s leaders finally recognize the horrors of this pandemic was the first step toward healing the trauma caused by Trump’s lies about COVID-19 and his refusal to mourn those struck down by his administration’s incompetent response

And while it does no good to continuously dwell on the “what ifs” while we’re still fighting an unseen foe that has already mutated to become even more contagious, we must remember how far ahead we could be right now if we had all joined together to fight this pandemic instead of allowing a divisive strongman to politicize the very things known to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities — wearing face coverings, avoiding crowds and staying home until virus levels dropped. 

We can all see success stories in other parts of the world. New Zealand, for example, has been COVID-free for more than two months. On Jan. 16, the country threw a concert for 20,000 of its residents and did not require face coverings. Imagine if Americans had had a leader who took this pandemic as seriously as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

In February 2020, while Trump was still denying the severity of COVID-19 and telling Americans the outbreak would be temporary and COVID-19 was “going to disappear,” that, “one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” New Zealand’s prime minister was implementing that country’s pandemic flu plan, prepping hospitals for COVID-19 patients and implementing border-control policies to delay the coronavirus’ arrival. 

In March 2020, while Trump was still lying to us, promising Americans that the pandemic was “something we have tremendous control of” and that “anybody who wants a test can get a test” — and those were just two of the roughly 50 falsehoods the president told us in the first two weeks of March. 

On March 26, New Zealanders went into a hard lockdown for a total of seven weeks. Ardern’s national stay-at-home order worked. By early May, the country had eliminated its community spread of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, Trump was telling us over the summer that the pandemic was “fading away” and that his administration was “getting it under control,” that “99 percent of COVID cases are totally harmless” and that the United States had “the best (COVID-19) mortality rate in the world.” 

None of those things were even close to the truth. In reality, the U.S. had one of the top 10 worst rates for COVID-19 fatalities in July 2020; daily cases had doubled; the World Health Organization was reporting the true severity of COVID-19 and saying hundreds of thousands were suffering from “long-term” effects of the virus; and public health experts were warning a second surge was headed our way. 

The sad truth remains: If our nation’s leaders hadn’t ignored and lied about COVID-19 for so long, we likely would be living a much more normal life right now and we wouldn’t have lost so many loved ones. 

We now have a president and vice president who are rolling into their first day on the job with a detailed plan to vaccinate 100,000 Americans in 100 days; double the number of drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites; and manufacture and deliver personal protective equipment to our nation’s hardest-hit corners.

To be clear, all of these things should have been done ages ago, but we don’t have the luxury of dwelling on the “what ifs” anymore. 

We have to come together in this fight against COVID-19 and have zero tolerance for those still trying to politicize the only weapons we have in this fight, including mandatory mask orders, rules related to gatherings and, of course, the COVID-19 vaccinations. 

As Biden said when he announced his COVID-19 plan: “We didn’t get into all of this overnight. We won’t get out of it overnight either — but we will get through it.”