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Fear is not the answer to this pandemic

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fear is in the air. It is in every breath we take. It fills our lungs. It dictates our actions. We dodge an invisible enemy, knowing it is out there, but never sure quite where or when it might hit.

And this dictates fear among us.

The unknown has a tendency to do that, and COVID-19 is the unknown. It is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. So it’s easy to be afraid. It’s the default for most of us.

Something very serious and scary and real could hurt my family or me or our nation. It already has. And a lot of us are afraid.

I have an 80-something neighbor, who is also a friend. She wears her mask when required. She wants to stay safe. She follows the rules, because that’s what good people do.

One night last week I was chatting with her outside. We were socially distanced, but I lost track of that and took a step toward her. When I realized my action, I apologized and asked her if I should step backward

Her response was not what I expected.

“Oh, no,” she said. “It’s OK. We decided we aren’t going to live in fear.”

I silently applauded her courage. Choosing not to live in fear is courageous when you are nearly 90 and living in the midst of a pandemic.

Another neighbor, probably in her 70s, learned of my dad’s passing and offered a hug — a real, live, genuine warm-bodied hug. I remembered the words of my other neighbor about refusing to choose fear and I thankfully returned the embrace of this dear friend.

I’ve contemplated fear in the last few weeks.

I feared going to the grocery store, I feared my daughter going to the hospital to have her baby.

I feared (and avoided) going to a restaurant. It just wasn’t worth the risk.

I feared the downfall of our economy, and I feared for those close to me who have lost their jobs.

I feared visiting my dad for what the pandemic could do to him or what it could do to my family and me. And then I lost him to non-COVID illness.

And more. There is much to fear if you let yourself go there. It’s nearly impossible not to go there.

But, then there is my 80-something neighbor who has chosen a path that does not include fear (or at least not a path where fear is in control.)

I applaud her. I celebrate her. And, I’ve decided to emulate her. She is my role model.

Like her, I will follow the rules and the protocol. I want to keep everyone (everyone!) safe. I won’t engage in behaviors that could potentially hurt others.

Still, I have made a conscious decision: I will not live in fear. Quite simply, I can’t. Living out fear long-term is a death sentence. Because death is, unfortunately, inevitable. Whether is it COVID during a pandemic or heart attack during a pandemic, is there really a distinction?

No. But here is one distinction I believe we all should make: If we live in fear and die, we die in fear. If we continue to live, carefully, honestly and responsibly — but refuse the fear component — then we continue to live a quality life we all want, deserve and desire.

Stay safe, my friends. But deny fear as much as you can. It paralyzes. It harms. It hinders.

Fear is not the answer to this pandemic.

An interview with President Trump: Why he's confident in reelection and reopening

Three weeks before Election Day, President Donald Trump is trailing in the polls, but he remains confident of victory. “We have tremendous enthusiasm,” he says in an interview. “They only have negative enthusiasm. ... Negative enthusiasm doesn’t win races. Positive enthusiasm, meaning they like somebody” is how elections are won.

Speaking with me and my American Enterprise Institute colleague Danielle Pletka for our podcast, he cites a Fox News poll showing that 49% of Americans think their neighbors are supporting him (“These people know their neighbors,” he says) and a Hill-HarrisX poll that many Americans think others lie to pollsters when asked about their voting preferences, as evidence that the polls are wrong.

Trump has just returned to the campaign trail after contracting COVID-19. I asked how getting COVID-19 affected him and his outlook on the novel coronavirus. “You know, I’ve lost five friends,” he says, “some very close to me, and they were gone very quickly. And now, when I think of what I went through, I think that we would have saved those people. You know, we’ve had a tremendous increase in really great drugs. And whether it’s Regeneron or the Eli Lily version of a similar drug, the antibody drugs. So, we’ve done a lot of great work in a short period of time and FDA has been terrific.” Trump has promised that every American will have free access to the same drugs and therapeutics he got.

Trump has been criticized for pushing too hard to end the lockdowns and reopen the economy. But just this week, David Nabarro, a doctor and special envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organization, stated that “we in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus.” Nabarro noted the devastation lockdowns have wreaked around the world, especially for the poor: “It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”

The president was way ahead on the dangers of lockdowns, so he would be right to feel vindicated. “But you look at depression, you look at drugs, you look at alcoholism, you look at all horrible things that were taking place with these — people are just locked in their homes, their apartments, they couldn’t leave. And it’s a terrible thing. And I came up — I think it was me — the cure can’t be worse than the problem itself.”

We discussed the new Gallup poll that finds 56% of Americans say they are better off now than they were four years ago — a stunning number considering that we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, triggered by the worst pandemic since 1918 and followed by the worst racial unrest since the 1960s. In 2012, when Barack Obama won reelection, only 45% of Americans said they were better off; in 2004, when George W. Bush won a second term, only 47% said they were better off; even during the 1984 reelection campaign of Ronald Reagan — the man who coined the phrase “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” — only 44% answered yes.

So, with 56% saying they are better off, Trump should be cruising to reelection. Yet, according to the RealClearPolitics average, only 42.2% of voters say they plan to vote for the president. I asked him why so many voters approve of his policies but not of him, and what he can do to win them over in the next three weeks. “Look, all I can do is create the greatest economy ever and we’re doing that,” he says. “We’re doing it at a level that people are shocked. Because, again, I say we’re rounding the turn. ... I think people are going to want law and order. I think they’re going to want a great economy.”

Yes, they do. But swing voters also want their president to be presidential — and that is not what many of them felt they saw in the first debate. A New York Times/Siena College survey of voters in Florida and Pennsylvania found that 65% disapproved of the president’s debate performance — including one-third of his supporters. The president needs to turn those impressions around. He needs to spend the next three weeks explaining to Americans who approve of his policies but not of him why they should vote in their own self-interest and give him a second term.

Biden is making a play for those voters. He’s been using Trump’s language on the economy, talking about buying and building American, and portraying himself as a moderate who is pushing back on the radical elements of his party. His argument is: You can have all that you like about Trump without all that you dislike.

The president believes the economic recovery will help persuade these voters. “Look, I built the economy once and now I’m building it a second time,” he says. “It’s going to be even better than it was last year.”

Americans already trust him over Biden on the economy. What Trump needs to do is convince them that the next four years will be different than the last — that he can end the rancor and unite the country. “If we didn’t have COVID come along, we would have a unified country right now. Because success was bringing it together,” he says. Before the pandemic, “I was getting calls from Democrats and people that normally I wouldn’t be talking to too much. They wanted to get together, they wanted to work things out. There were tremendous discussions going and then we got hit with COVID and that superseded everything.”

He says that if he wins reelection, his opponents will finally have to accept his presidency and begin working with him. “I really believe that they will say it’s time, it’s time,” he says. “Success will bring our country together. ... We’re going [to] make the economy stronger than ever before. The best year we’ve ever had was last year. The best year we will ever have is going to be next year and that’s going to bring people together.”

Right now, that message is not getting through. The president has just under three weeks to change that.

Who's zooming who?

It seems the movers and shakers within the Wyoming small college community are all for promoting higher education in the Cowboy State.

They are, that is, until that promotion threatens their own institutions.

That was one selfish, non-progressive message sent Wednesday during the second of two hearings to gather public input into breaking Gillette College from the Northern Wyoming Community College District into its own.

Bob Baumgartner, chairman of the Eastern Wyoming College Board of Trustees, spoke out against Campbell County’s application, arguing that allowing Gillette College to be self-governed doesn’t bring anything new or unique to the overall landscape of community colleges in the state.

Another reason is money. He’s afraid a new college district would dilute the state allocation of money for the seven existing districts because the pie would be divided eight ways instead.

There hasn’t been a new college district created in Wyoming since 1968, which is enough evidence that it’s well past time for expansion. This really isn’t a true expansion because the new district would govern an institution already established in the system.

However, if Baumgartner and others around the state want to maintain there’s no room at the inn for a Campbell County college district, we can do that as well.

And we can do it with Baumgartner’s own arguments, starting with what’s new and unique.

While true that breaking Gillette College into its own district doesn’t change what’s offered and available at state community colleges, it’s also true that Gillette College has historically been a very progressive and evolving institution.

Our $18 million Pronghorn Center is just the tip of the iceberg that has seen our community invest tens of millions of dollars into our college. State-of-the-art technical education facilities and the Area 59 tech makerspace provide a unique level of education not available anywhere else in Wyoming.

Before the NWCCD abruptly eliminated all athletics except rodeo, Gillette College’s programs — athletically and academically — were perennial winners and frequently ranked nationally.

In fact, there’s a strong argument that when considering the overall landscape of community colleges in the state, Gillette College brings much more to the table than Eastern Wyoming College.

Then there’s the fact that Gillette College serves about 60% more students than EWC. Based on fall enrollment numbers from 2019 (the pandemic makes this year’s numbers skewed), Gillette had more than 2,400 students compared to about 1,500 for Eastern.

If the absolute maximum number of community college districts in Wyoming has to be capped at seven forever, then perhaps Baumgartner should consider — for the greater good — dissolving his district and become part of another.

Of course, that’s a rather absurd “solution,” but not much more so than suggesting Gillette College doesn’t have anything unique or new to offer. The truth is, once broken from the NWCCD that has an all-Sheridan board, our district has the potential for being the state’s leader in small college innovation.

It’s often said that you can’t put a price tag on good education. Seems that’s true unless someone threatens to take a bite out of your bottom line.

Baugmarter argued Wednesday that approving the new district would “further weaken every existing community college” in the state.

If this goes through and Campbell County voters ultimately approve raising our property taxes to pay for an independent Gillette College, that will be an opportunity for Baumgaqrtner and other small college communities to pay more to support theirs as well.

It only weakens other districts if their communities and their commitment to higher education are weaker than ours.

The argument shows that Gillette will have to fight jealousy and territorialism if it is to become its own district. A key strategy will have to be to show that we’re all in it together for the betterment of Wyoming and its youth.