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Common Sense in the Time of Corona

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

Quarantine Life – Day 25.  I’m a cynic. I wasn’t when I was younger – I was an energized, enthusiastic idealist – but ten years in the Marine Corps, two deployments, age, and a profession in national security in one way or another for the past 21 years has jaded me.  Maybe it’s my fault – I write geo-political action thrillers for a living, I pay close attention to the news (God help me), and like all political creatures – and against my better judgment – I engage endlessly in the nihilistic Wild West of social media known as Twitter.  On some days, it makes HBO’s Westworld look tame, minus the gratuitous violence and nudity.  And while I distrust ALL politicians and personally define politics as the absence of morality in leadership and decision-making, I still utilize one seemingly long-forgotten attribute in analyzing the day’s events – common sense.   


I’ve been tracking this outbreak since the end of December, when news stories started surfacing about this unknown virus.  For some of the best reporting from the beginning, I strongly recommend you check out Jim Geraghty at National Review Online.  His reporting has been Pulitzer-level stuff.  In fact, many media outlets, including ones I disagree with politically, such as The New York Times, have done excellent reporting on certain aspects of the Coronavirus crisis.  The truth is that there is plenty of blame to go around – most of it resides solely on the Chinese government; but that’s an entirely different series of articles – and when this is over, the media will have a field day with “what if” and “gotcha” questions. 

Looking at the way this scourge has raced across the globe like the world’s worst runaway train, the only thing that could have prevented the horrific spread in the US was the immediate cessation of all international travel back in late January/early February.  But how realistic was that?  Could you imagine the uproar in the media had Trump just cut us off from the rest of the world?  The endless accusations of racism would’ve consumed the media for weeks on end.  The reality is that we live and die with lessons learned from cataclysmic crises like this one, and maybe next time, we do stop all international travel.  No exceptions.  Do not pass GO; do not re-enter the US until the crisis has passed.  That will be an issue up for debate.  But it speaks to the larger point – utilizing common sense when facing a crisis, and I fear we’ve lost that ability, especially as the quarantine days and weeks drag on and on and on.  


The latest example is the partisan debate over the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which I was able to spell correctly on my first try. I’ve seen all sorts of anecdotal evidence both for and against its use, and I’m not a medical professional, nor did I play one on TV named McBetley.  But, again, using common sense, I know that if I were sick, taking a turn for the terminally worse, I would take anything to save my life.  I’m pretty sure my family would demand it of me, at least I hope so. (Quarantine days can be long at home.)  But alas, common sense seems to no longer exist in the mainstream media, at least when it comes to this issue.   

Yesterday, I retweeted a Fox News article about HCQ and tagged Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC, adding my typical sarcasm, which I admit, was pointed.  Shockingly and to her great credit – I mean that sincerely – she replied directly and publicly to me, rather politely, given the circumstances, and linked an article from The New York Times about the potential financial interest Trump might have for promoting HCQ. Mika has nearly 950k followers and a cable news network; I’m just a thriller writer with a small following, a former Marine, occasional columnist, and advocate for victims of burn pit exposure. The only reason I have any platform is because of my books.  Having said that, I read the article she sent, and I replied rather civilly, with this: Okay. Read it. But take a step back - do you REALLY believe that Trump is pushing HCQ to make a buck? Obviously, we disagree politically, but I would never have thought that about Obama, Bush, or Clinton. It's the height of cynicism. And HCQ seems to work, at least anecdotally.  


I am not naïve.  I understand that politicians, ALL politicians, are self-serving creatures 99 percent of the time.  But I truly believe that this crisis, one that is not of our making, is that 1 percent, and that everyone involved is doing everything they can to save as many lives as possible.  No president would push a solution for financial gain, not at a time like this, not when the entire focus and heightened scrutiny is on every action he takes, every word he says, and every decision he makes.  This is a war of attrition, always measured in lives.  The lower the number of deaths, especially given the size of the estimates from the ever-changing models, the better the outcome.  Mistakes were made, and more will likely be made.  In the military, that’s called the fog of war.  I’ve been critical of this administration’s handling and the speed of its initial response, but we are all Americans, and we are all in this together.  That includes Mika, that includes President Trump, and that includes all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, political positions, or personal beliefs.  This is still going to get worse before it gets better, but we will get through this, even if we do our best to self-destruct in the middle of it.  


My advice is simple – calm down, take care of your loved ones and yourself, and use common sense.  

Semper Fidelis.  

Matthew Betley is a former Marine officer, a recovering alcoholic, an advocate for victims of toxic exposure to Burn Pits, and a political action thriller author of multiple novels.  His latest thriller, RULES OF WAR, was published in July 2019, with a new standalone thriller recently completed.  Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBetley or find him on Facebook or Instagram. 

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