DANIEL VAUGHAN: COVID-19 brings out the exceptional courage of everyday Americans

There’s a moment in the Peter Jackson adaptation of The Hobbit where Gandalf the Grey, a powerful wizard, is asked why he chose a small hobbit to go on a dangerous journey. Gandalf answers, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

Watching the events unfold around the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve come to believe the same thing.

It’s not just the small actions of people deciding, on an individual basis, to stay home. It’s the brave actions of everyday people, doing jobs that we typically consider mundane or blue-collar, that are holding the world together.

It’s times like these, when governors and mayors start listing out jobs that are “essential” to the community, that we find out a great deal of the jobs people covet aren’t all that important.

We’ve been reminded this week that our entire supply chain in the United States is dependant on truckers. Last fall, the Wall Street Journal reported that trucking companies spent the three months heading into winter reducing payroll because demand had gone lax in the economy; nearly 10,000 jobs got cut. But now, the industry is scrambling to fulfill the surge in demand — and deal with hurdles getting thrown up by states and cities, as the Journal reports:

The American Trucking Associations industry group has asked the Trump administration to exempt truckers delivering essential goods from travel and other restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic.

In a letter Tuesday, the group also asked for rest stops to be kept open and for guidance on driver health, including possible testing for Covid-19. “Absent policies like these, it will be more difficult to ensure that the shelves are stocked and emergency supplies reach first responders and medical personnel,” ATA Chief Executive Chris Spear said in the letter.

From rest stops closing down to restaurants not letting trucks come through to get food, the obstacles for America’s supply chain have grown exponentially — not to mention the threat these drivers live through by traveling into states that are hot-zones for COVID-19.

After truckers, it’s the people working in your local grocery store. They have to take in all the supplies delivered and then get them out onto shelves for people to purchase. Contrary to popular belief among the democratic-socialists, this isn’t a failure of capitalism; as any of these impacted retailers will tell you: “This is a demand issue. Not a supply issue.”

American retailers have the supply. It’s just a matter of meeting a demand that has shot up 30% to 50% in some places.

And it’s not just products that are high in demand; retailers are also hiring hundreds of thousands of new employees. The New York Times reports:

On Thursday, Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, said it was looking to hire 150,000 additional employees in its stores and warehouses through the end of May. That represents a roughly 10 percent increase in its current work force. […]

The grocery chain Kroger is hiring 10,000 people across its stores and distribution centers. Regional supermarkets like H-E-B in Texas and Stop & Shop in New England and New York are hiring, too. Amazon is also planning to hire 100,000 additional people to keep up with the crush of online orders. Since making that announcement on Monday, the company said that it had seen a 150 percent increase in applications from the previous week.

What we’re witnessing is thousands of people moving in coordination to meet the demands of a country in crisis. And it’s not just any crisis, it’s a viral pandemic, where the health of these workers is at risk as they head out to drive trucks, stock shelves, and check people out in line.

This is America at its best. Far from being a heartless capitalist state, or a country that rations health care away from the oldest and sickest among us, we’re moving heaven and earth to help and protect the frailest in our society.

That’s not something you can say of every great power in world history; what is happening here is historic.

As columnist Jonah Goldberg pointed out in a recent newsletter, what is happening across America is “morally heroic.” They may be all small actions by individual people, but they are each brave and heroic in their own way. That deserves some level of celebration. As Goldberg says, “That is something that should be appreciated not just for the ‘We’re all in it together’ platitudes but as a rebuttal to the slanderous way many Americans describe this country.”

Truckers, grocery store workers, health care professionals — the list goes on of the people who make everyday life go on uninterrupted for the rest of us. And now they’re doing that same thing in the face of a pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives and continues to spread. That’s heroic, and they deserve our thanks.

We’re a far better country than the doomsday predictors tell us. We have our problems, for sure, but there’s also a lot of good being done to celebrate — in an appropriate socially distant way.

Here’s to you, America. In yet another crisis, you’re proving yourself to be remarkably exceptional.