To paraphrase Mary Magdalene’s soul searching in Jesus Christ Superstar, “I never thought we’d come to this/What’s it all about?”
For decades, there have been divisions in this country about who deserves a social safety net, how much pollution is too much, whether trickle-down economics works, how to maximize educational opportunities, and such esoteric issues as whether or not Confederate flags should fly in Southern state capitals. Arguments have been vehement on both sides of all these questions and many others, some significantly more sensitive and polarizing. Often, advocates for one side or the other adhere to one political party or the other. In fact, with some exceptions, it’s generally fairly easy to predict how a person votes, according to which side he or she takes on a given question. That is to say, most of the critical issues of our society have become politicized over the last four decades or so. Most have acquired either a “liberal” or a “conservative” tag. It seems that the chasms between the sides are becoming ever deeper and wider, to the point at which they’re well-nigh unbridgeable. Very frequently, the search for common ground is abandoned. Our elected representatives are more interested in sowing dissent, and thereby solidifying partisanship, with a view to the next election. It’s almost as if compromise has become disloyal. And as the “leadership” (I use the term loosely) of this country goes, so goes the population, in general.
It was apparently inevitable that the COVID-19 pandemic would become as politicized as every other event or situation is these days. If a logical methodology had been adopted, scientists and doctors would have taken precedence, and entities such as the CDC and NIH would be in charge of public policy related to healthcare and weathering the outbreak. Their word would have been law when it came to supplies, equipment, testing, logistics, and quarantines. Objectively speaking, there’s no other effective way to deal with an epidemic; there just isn’t. Science should rule. Period.
Instead, logic and science have been thrown out the window in favor of optics. How leaders look is more important than facts on the ground. Perception has indeed become reality, in a horrific way. Never mind that incompetence is the order of the day, along with willful disregard for the welfare of our citizens. No, what’s important are those poll and approval numbers, projected into November. And again, as at the top, so at the bottom.
That’s why rabid, ill-informed protesters are demanding, sometimes at gunpoint, that quarantine restrictions be eliminated. It’s why the wearing of masks has turned into a flashpoint overnight. In my reading, I see that all over the country, those who wear masks are being insulted, intimidated, sometimes even threatened by those who refuse to wear face coverings. It seems to be a badge of honor to these “freedumb”-loving cranks to defiantly delight in exposing themselves, their families, and everyone else around them to contagion. It’s also a political statement: by and large, they are proudly rightwing in their beliefs. They hew to the same gut instincts of the person occupying the Oval Office, who notably is the only exception to the new mask rule in that enclave. These true believers are convinced that their leader is infallible, and if he says mask rules are an infringement on liberty, along with lockdown protocols, well, then, that must be the case. In other words, common sense has flown the coop.
In an online forum today, this observation appeared: “People who don’t wear masks don’t worry much if they get sick. It’s their choice to make. People who do wear masks not only care about getting sick, they care about protecting others – even strangers – from getting sick should they harbor the virus. And therein sums up the difference between today’s conservatives and liberals.”
I would agree that a dichotomy exists; it is stark and rigid. Possibly, in a majority of cases, it does turn out to be a matter of one’s position on the liberal/conservative spectrum. But I don’t think that distinction is absolute. Alternatively, I would say the two camps are those with compassion, who believe in science, versus those consumed only with selfishness, to whom science is irrelevant. There’s no crossover between those two groups, and unfortunately, the latter group seems to be growing as the years pass.
A number of pundits have likened the approaches to the pandemic to those relating to climate change. It’s a fair comparison, especially in terms of the weight given to science and logic. A frequent rhetorical question about climate change asks, even if one refuses to believe that global warming is overwhelmingly worsened by human activities, why would one still not support mitigating the effects as much as possible, in any feasible way? After all, it’s indisputable that the seas are rising, warm-climate species are moving northward (or southward, in the southern hemisphere), and weather events are scaling up. Critical actions are necessary, no matter the cause of these changes. If hundred-year floods are happening every year, who would oppose measures to stop them? The same is true of the pandemic: even if one believes the threat has been exaggerated by the elites or the liberals or the Democrats, why would one nevertheless not err on the side of caution to protect oneself and family? Why take the chance? How can people be so spiteful that they mock those who choose to protect themselves and others? How did we get to the place where ignorance is king and defiance for its own sake is more important than loved ones? It’s been a long, twisted road, and we won’t like where we are when we get to the end of it.