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The Virus Before the Virus

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

With Americans hunkering down at home in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, it can sometimes feel like the end of days. However, for an unseen number of our countrymen, today's struggle is hardly different from a miserable day-to-day existence.

If you work in the school system or as a teacher, then you know who I am talking about. The kid who comes to class with incomplete homework, a bad attitude and no respect for authority. His mother -- these days the dads are hardly ever in the picture -- is not engaged in her child's life or schooling. In fact, if you were to go to her house to talk to her you would likely find her sitting on the couch, strung out on drugs, living in a filthy home that resembles a pigsty.

Homeless people walking the streets often get our attention because they clearly have nothing. But more insidious are the men, women and, sadly, children, who go through life like zombies. No goals, no discipline, no positive influences, no inspiration, no hope.

This dystopia is the reality in today's America, even if it's rarely spoken of in polite company and hardly ever is the focus of mainstream media. It's the dark and despairing side of America that we want to pretend does not exist, but it surely does.

Go to a third world country, as I have many times, and you will see people living in abject poverty. But the emotional and spiritual poverty you encounter in America is almost worse because we are all blessed to live in a land of possibility and promise that rewards hard work and offers more opportunities for advancement than any nation. And yet, so many of our neighbors squander the rich offerings placed before them, opting instead to live off of government subsidies and merely skate by in life.

Young people bounce from dead-end job to dead-end job, too busy thinking about the next puff of marijuana, hit of meth or other poison that they use to pollute their bodies and deaden their minds.

And those stimulus checks that have begun arriving as a way for the government to take care of the most vulnerable? Most of that money will never make it to these people or have any real impact. The government will have garnished much of the funds to collect unpaid child support and alimony. The credit card companies will gobble up the dollars, taking a small bite out of the debt that most Americans carry over from one month to next. We have become a nation of indentured servants, slaves to lenders and self-made deadbeats.

It sounds surreal, but inside the homes that line the inner-city streets of this country, the existence of coronavirus may even be good news. Misery loves company and for those who prefer complaining to hard work, it will bring joy to see so many people who are usually gainfully employed scrounging for their daily bread, filing for unemployment and relying on handouts from Uncle Sam to sustain themselves.

For those whose poverty is not just financial but also mental and spiritual, coronavirus makes no difference whatsoever. It's just the latest chapter in life's book of misery. When you have nothing to live for, then dying can seem like a good option in that it provides a reprieve from the daily pain of life.

Before the COVID-19 virus came to our shores, we had a self-made virus of entitlement and laziness that had already infected millions and was continuing to spread. It was the virus before the virus. In pockets of the Deep South, the Midwest and from the East Coast to the West, you will find people living the lives I describe.

Previous generations of Americans -- those who, if they are still alive, are the most susceptible to the virus -- faced down hardships and emerged victorious. They confronted fascism in World War II and liberated concentration camps. They prevailed over communism and survived tumultuous cultural and geopolitical shifts.

I can only wonder if future observers will say the same about the generation coming of age in the 2000s. Will they have the fortitude and will to survive and thrive? The signs are not encouraging.

America may be the world's only superpower, but how long can that be sustained when so many of our citizens drag their neighbors down and are bursting the social safety net, which was designed to provide short-term assistance as opposed to a lifetime handout?

Make no mistake about it, our country is sick. Unless we are willing to take our medicine and change our lifestyle and mentality, then our collective demise is unavoidable.

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