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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Standing taller as a nation

The Javits Center in Manhattan as a mass

The Javits Center in Manhattan as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in January. Credit: Sputnik via AP

I got my second COVID-19 shot this week and didn’t cry at all. The whole thing went so smoothly you’d swear we’ve become good at this.

National Guard troops and health care workers marked the path to a private injection room. They may have said thank you along the way more often than I did, which was plenty. Imagine that.

I’m smitten with one young National Guard soldier from my first trip for the Pfizer vaccine. It was her job to allow entry to those in line after asking if they’d been out of state in the last 10 days. She must have seen me doing math in my head, because, ever so surreptitiously, she met my eyes with a look that insisted I had not. We’re all in this together.

It takes America a while to gear up in a crisis, but once we get humming, we’re quite an operation. It’s always been that way, not just when the "Sleeping Giant" is awakened, as in the two World Wars. We were nowhere with the HIV virus for what seemed like an eternity. Today, the U.S. is credited with saving 20 million lives and counting from the ravages of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa alone, by distributing life-saving medicines. Pretty extraordinary.

To the rest of the world, America can look fumbly at times, like at the beginning of this COVID-19 crisis. But once we get rolling — once the levers of power and production are aligned — there’s no nation on earth like ours. We are truly a powerhouse.

A year ago, the world felt outright sorry for us, and rightly so. COVID-19 rates here were catastrophic, and Americans appeared to be turning on themselves. But in laboratories and planning centers, not to mention hospitals and nursing homes, people were hard at work.

This country is now awash in vaccine. We are the envy of the world. If only we could convince more compatriots to take advantage of that blessing. (I promise it didn’t hurt.)

Other nations are not so lucky. India, one of the largest producers of COVID-19 vaccine, is having a terrible time distributing it. The World Health Organization chief calls the situation there "beyond heartbreaking." Brazil is a mess. So is Poland. Some Africans may not have access to a vaccine for years. Many will die waiting for it.

Americans will always squabble, but our true nature won’t be denied. As cable news show hosts continue to troll us into divisiveness, plans are being drawn up to come to the world’s rescue again — because we can. "What you do speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you're saying," is a passage attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. He must have been speaking of America.

There will be pushback from some. America first, they will say. But who among them doesn’t honor what we did for others at Normandy and Berlin during the airlift? Who doesn’t stand taller when U.S. rescue helicopters, laden with supplies, alight to disaster scenes across the globe?

A lot of Americans have been feeling badly about themselves of late. Strains of cynical political philosophy have got us down, told us to question our inherent goodness. Ignore them and listen to Emerson. Watch what we do in these months ahead. It will remind us who we are, and that should please us.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.

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