“My alma mater’s motto is Pro humanitate. Literally, for humanity. You know that phrase, too. You also graduated from Wake Forest. And yet your first impulse was to serve yourself.”
Dear Sen. Burr:
One refrain we keep hearing during these dark days has offered me some comfort. It’s this: We’re all in this together.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, people are scared and suffering to different degrees. But I don’t think anyone is immune from fear now. Hourly workers who were reluctantly let go by heartbroken business owners are the people I worry about the most.
They’re wondering how to pay next month’s rent and utilities even as they worry about their health. The co-owner of a popular restaurant group in Charlotte, where I live, recounted the angst and heartache inherent in being a restaurateur right now: Jamie Brown had to let 85 employees go recently.
I imagine many—maybe most—hourly workers are uninsured, so they’ll ignore that fever longer than those of us who are insured. (What’s it like to have insurance coverage provided by taxpayers?)
The thing is, we’re one big global village now. We’ve all lost money and a sense of security. And if we haven’t yet, in the weeks ahead we will surely lose family and friends to COVID-19.
Yes, we’re all in this together. With one notable exception, Sen. Burr: you.
Last week, ProPublica reported that you sold off up to $1.72 million of your stock holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions. The hotel stock you unloaded—which you knew would tank once travel restrictions were mandated—is especially galling.
Just a week after your wily move, the market started sinking. Ordinary people like me—those not privy to intelligence briefings—were too afraid to look at our own retirement accounts. I wonder how you felt then. Smart? Smug? A little guilty?
Yet you continued to reassure your constituents. On Feb. 7, you wrote on Facebook: “Congress built a strong emergency response framework, designed to be flexible and innovative, so we are not only ready to face the coronavirus today, but new public health threats in the future.” Your post also linked to an opinion piece in which you and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) emphasized the country’s readiness to handle the novel coronavirus.
As concerns about the outbreak were growing, you shared another post on Facebook days later about a Farmville post office being renamed in memory of a late congressman.
That same day, President Trump unveiled his new budget proposal,which included cutting funding for the World Health Organization by half. If only you’d used your social media platform to decry that instead of thanking yourself for introducing a bill to rename a post office.
On Feb. 27—two weeks after your own stock purge—you met with a few high rollers at a Tar Heel Circle luncheon, and offered them intel you didn’t share publicly. “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this,” you said. “It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
How many of them called their brokers? Or stockpiled toilet paper?
Tar Heel Circle membership, according to ProPublica, costs between $500 and $10,000, and gives members access to some of the most influential folks in this country, including lawmakers.
That information you shared was literally life-saving, and a lot of North Carolinians are hurt and angry that you chose to share it with people who paid for access to you. Indeed, lots of Americans share our outrage, including the Wyndham shareholder who’s filed a lawsuit against you.
On March 3, you shared another post on Facebook that aimed to be reassuring, though it was more measured than your earlier propaganda. By then, North Carolina had its first reported case of coronavirus, and you wrote, “The U.S. is in a better position than any other nation to handle a public health emergency like coronavirus.”
With a dearth of guidance from the federal government, some of America’s governors began trying to protect their state’s citizens as best they could. On March 10, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency, making it easier for the state to purchase needed medical supplies and protecting consumers from price gouging, among other benefits.
That same day, President Trump said, “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
A day before North Carolinians learned that you’d sold off your stocks to save your own fortune, you offered yet another inspiring, albeit empty, post on Facebook” “Stopping coronavirus isn’t just a job for public health officials – it’s a job for all of us.”
“All of us.” I love that. Were you thinking of “all of us” when you opposed the 2012 bill that barred lawmakers and their staff from using nonpublic information to assist in stock buying and selling? Despite your opposition, the STOCK Act became law.
All of us. It reminds me of my alma mater’s motto: Pro humanitate. Literally, for humanity. You know that phrase, too. You also graduated from Wake Forest.
I’ve been thinking lately of Mr. Rogers’s advice: “Look for the helpers.” And thank heavens I’m seeing them. Restaurants are discounting their prices and including a roll of TP with your takeout. Musicians are sharing songs on social media. People who have lost much of their savings (if they had any to begin with) are sharing their limited and dwindling resources.
Even county governments and utilities are erring on the side of kindness: Charlotte Water, for example, announced it will not disconnect water for nonpayment till further notice. Duke Energy has also suspended disconnection in North Carolina and five other states.
For so many of us—even those with little to share—the first impulse was to serve others. Yours, Sen. Burr, was to serve yourself.
I hope the next thing you serve is time. Please resign.
A heartbroken and angry constituent