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Attaching politics to COVID-19 has led to the politicization of possible life or death.
For years, politicians and media on the right have trafficked in xenophobia and misinformation. For many marginalized people who bear the brunt of conservative policies, the cynicism and hatred in right-wing politics have been a matter of life or death. Now more clearly than ever, the issues that plague our political ecosystem carry deadly consequences for everyone.
Throughout the pandemic, many Republicans have placed profit above people, prioritizing economic possibility above the millions of lives at stake. This has caused a pandemic that is continuing to slowly spiral out of control.
Similar malfeasance dominates Congress. What was the first thing that senators Richard Burr of North Carolina and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia did after hearing about the threat of coronavirus in classified briefings back in January? Not warn the American people and start preparations to stave off a deadly pandemic, but instead, dump millions of dollars of stock each to protect themselves against an economic downturn — all while assuring the American people COVID-19 posed no threat.
Not all Republicans have acted this way, of course. Governors Mike DeWine of Ohio and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, for example, have demonstrated admirable character during these harsh times. But the dominant messages coming from the conservative movement have undermined the response. In the context of a pandemic, an effective response requires nationwide coordination. Those who seek to act in the public interest are limited by their dependence on others who do not share their goals.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told Fox host Tucker Carlson that “there are lots of grandparents out there” who would be willing to sacrifice their lives to keep the economy afloat. In an interview with The Hill, CEO of Conservative publication TheBlaze Glenn Beck said, “Even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country.” When they say this, these figures are not really referring to their own willingness to die; they’re implying that everyone else ought to be as well, that economic potential justifies putting millions at greater risk.
While it is common for politicians to prioritize monetary interests in times of crisis, there needs to be a broader discussion on one very important element: improving the economy while curbing this pandemic are complementary goals. By painting human lives as more worthy of time and attention than the economy, there has been a currant of misinformation regarding the double benefits of focusing on both the economy and on human rights.
Most harmfully, the Trump administration’s xenophobia and lies have handicapped the country’s ability first to prepare, then to respond to the deadly virus. Despite receiving repeated intelligence briefings warning of the virus as it raged through countries around the world, the federal government did not adequately prepare for when it inevitably reached America.
It didn’t use the Defense Production Act to compel companies to augment the supply of needed medical equipment like N95 masks and ventilators ahead of time, creating a dire situation in hospitals where such supplies are now desperately needed. A paramedic in New York City called the situation “a war zone.”
While investigating the government’s initial response to this crisis, the New York Times found that “the result was a lost month when the world’s richest country — armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus’s spread.
Instead, Americans were left largely blind to the scale of a looming public health catastrophe.”
However, this plight of ignorance cannot be confused with apathy. The recent political climate has been ripe with voters following the perspectives of those they idolize, refusing any other views. Considering the dire circumstances of the pandemic, making societal issues, such as masking, into political issues, is childish. Without making a large generalization, it seems safe to say that a majority of Americans have been hit with a tidal wave of anxiety. This is evidenced through the increase in anxiety-filled dreams and through an increase in callers to national hotlines. However, much of this anxiety stems from causes that are very much preventable. The spread of misinformation (though sometimes unintentional) through the channels led by political officials is particularly harmful.
This “with or against me” narrative has affected how many Americans approach their day-to-day lives.
Although the Coronavirus was not preventable, the current crisis America is in was. The virus was containable. Utilize South Korea and Germany as examples. The federal government saw it coming and chose not to respond. Many states like Ohio, California and New York are doing all they can to stem the tide, but there is a limit on what they can do.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could not turn 400 ventilators into the 30,000 his state needs. Doctors and nurses cannot make their dwindling supplies last indefinitely. Their — and our — success relies on nationwide coordination of resources, on federal catalyzation of the private sector, on people’s collective action.
Utilizing political avenues and channels to encourage citizens to take action to preserve human dignity during a global pandemic doesn’t seem like a very hard act. However, when human lives become muddled with the internal caldron that has become American politics, well, then the difference between life and death is suddenly being gambled.