Leonard Pitts: I will die one day, but not of stupid

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2020

Someday, I’m going to die.

This, I grudgingly accept. I have no idea how it’s going to happen. Maybe I will die of having a tree fall on me, of eating tainted shellfish, or of being struck by lightning. But this much I guarantee. I will not die of having wagered my life that TV carnival barkers, political halfwits and goobers in MAGA hats know more than experts with R.N.s, M.D.s, and Ph.D.s after their names.

In other words, I will not die of stupid.

Not that there aren’t plenty of opportunities to do so. Indeed, in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the question of when and how the nation’s economy should be reopened, we seem to have tapped the U.S. Strategic Stupid Reserve. The result has been a truly awe-inspiring display of America’s matchless capacity for mental mediocrity.

Surveys show, for instance, that a solid majority of Americans (63 percent according to a CBS News poll) are more worried about reopening the country too fast and worsening the pandemic than opening it too slowly and worsening the economy. Yet a noisy minority of protesters is furious at government for trying to keep them healthy. They demand their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of acute respiratory distress.

Meantime, there’s Dr. Phil, opining on Fox “News” that “45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don’t shut the country down for that.” Turns out he’s off a smidge on the number of drownings, which is actually fewer than 4,000. And who knew swimming pools, car accidents and cigarettes were contagious?

Then you have governors like Brian Kemp of Georgia and Ron DeSantis of Florida rushing to reopen their states in defiance of medical advice. “COVID-19 is not here, bro,” one surfer assured a Jacksonville TV news crew. Doesn’t that take a load off your mind?

And let’s not forget Las Vegas, where Mayor Carolyn Goodman went on CNN to demand the reopening of casinos, suggesting her town could be a “control group” to find out if social distancing works — the gambling capital playing craps with the lives of its own people. Not that Goodman would wager her own life. Asked by Anderson Cooper if she would visit the reopened casinos, she demurred, saying she has to get home to her family.

But here’s the thing. There’s been a lot of talk over who has the power to reopen America’s economy. Well, it doesn’t belong to the president, nor to the governors. It doesn’t even belong to business owners. No, ultimately, it belongs to me. And to you. It belongs to us, as consumers.

After all, the president and the governors can issue all the orders they want, the owners can remove all the padlocks, but none of it matters if customers are too afraid to walk back through the doors. And I am. I have no idea how many consumers I represent, but I suspect it’s more than a few.

I get that businesses are suffering. But I refuse to eat in a crowded restaurant, sit in a packed movie house or fly on a full flight again until I feel I can do so safely. And I am emphatically not assured by TV carnival barkers, political halfwits and MAGA-hat-wearing geniuses.

No, I need to hear from serious, credible people. I need to know sufficient testing has been conducted and that they feel the virus is no longer a threat. If other people want to die of stupid, I can’t stop them. But if America wants its economy back — this part of its economy, at least — it better do whatever is necessary to persuade Dr. Anthony Fauci it’s time to give the all-clear.

Look for me two weeks after that.

Contact Pitts at The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172 or email him at lpitts@miamiherald.com