The Dangerous Politicizing of COVID-19

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As if armchair warriors were not already a problem before COVID-19, with seemingly all of the time in the world to sit at home and watch the news, the problem has gotten much worse. There is nothing that irritates me more than watching people lose their minds when they are in no place of relative qualification to have a more informed opinion than anyone else. You see this in debates about Israel and Palestine with people who have never even been to either country, you see this in debates about race relations with people who have had little interaction with people outside of their own race, and you are seeing it today with a pandemic that we still know very little about and for which the information has changed sporadically over the course of months.


Remember this: back in January, the WHO said that the coronavirus cannot be transmitted from person to person. This is an organization whose literal job it is to send out reliable information about the ongoing pandemic. Of course, all of us would laugh at such a statement today. And yet it was only a few months ago that such a ridiculous statement was put out into the ether.


We were told even before then by Dr. Fauci that the United States would likely not be threatened by COVID-19. Today, we hang onto every word that Dr. Fauci says. Meanwhile, our President gets more joy out of comparing statistical models to physical models he used to date while our country has racked up more COVID-19 related deaths than any other country on the planet.


My point here is that information has changed swiftly, oftentimes with current news being at odds with prior perceived statements of fact. Therefore, for anyone to authoritatively say from their armchair what is right and wrong right now based on whatever news source they consume regularly (which – let’s face it- are all completely biased with a one-sided agenda), is completely misguided.


You are not a moron if you strongly oppose re-opening the country.


You are not a moron if you strongly oppose keeping the country closed.


You are, however, closed-minded if you cast judgment upon others for not having the same opinion as you and for believing that somehow your opinion is mightier than anyone else’s when all we know right now is that we really don’t seem to know enough.


I would have believed in a perfect world that we would have left our politics behind and united as common human beings with a shared sense of humanity. Obviously, we do not live in a perfect world. The right wing lunatics and the left wing lunatics have only united in one thing: being lunatics and calling each other stupid, showing that, after all, maybe there is nothing that can possibly bring them together. Perhaps they care more about “being right” and less about “being understanding.”


Here are some examples.


Let’s say you are a right-winger listening to the Bernie people declaring how much this signifies our need for universal healthcare. Your response is that life under a pandemic is very different from our everyday life. Perhaps you believe that we should not live our lives as if we are going to go through the type of trauma we only seem to face every 100 years. That is a legitimate line of reasoning. However, when you start declaring that your rights are being taken away by not being able to go out and get a haircut, you become a hypocrite. You cannot in one breath say that certain inalienable rights are just “different during a pandemic,” except when it comes to your individual liberty to get a haircut – something vastly less serious and necessary than access to healthcare.


Let’s instead say you are a left-winger who says that states like Georgia are a bunch of redneck dolts for wanting to re-open, or that Bret Stephens has lost his mind for writing an article in the New York Times suggesting that people in Nashville should not be subjected to the same treatment as people in New York City. I will just say this because I have observed it amongst my own group of friends: I have yet to see anyone hold this position whose life and livelihood is actually endangered by COVID-19. Imagine that your job and livelihood has been stripped away from you, that you have mouths to feed at home, and that you think your family might all die because of your inability to keep a roof above your ahead. I know people who are personal trainers, restaurant workers, event organizers, etc. and I can promise you they are not regurgitating CNN headlines. It is easy to tell people how to live their lives if you do not have to live your life the same way.


As it pertains to Bret Stephens, I have a weird way of agreeing with the sentiment of what he writes but finding that he always goes a touch too far in making his points. Here is what I do agree with. As an objective fact, New York City is faring far worse than Nashville. It has very little to do with government leadership and everything to do with the density and makeup of the city, and also the fact that New York City became the first domestic epicenter of coronavirus. To me, it is entirely reasonable to posit that some lesser dense areas of our country (who have also had the benefit of more time to prepare) might be subjected to different rules at different times than the most dense city in the entire country.


This all-or-nothing thinking is tribal in that it comes from the news sources people regularly consume, and it accomplishes nothing. Telling someone that they are stupid never works. I have worked in sales for my entire career and I never – not one time – ever sold anything to anyone by telling them that they were dumb and that I was smarter than them. In fact, any time I have ever had so much as a smug attitude towards a customer, it only served to tear us apart.


Somehow, it seems we have lost our sense of humanity. We are more concerned with telling others how dumb they are or how they are infringing on our way of life, and less concerned with speaking in positive terms. “I want you to stay inside because I have compromised family” or “I want to go outside because I don’t know how I will survive” are vastly different statements than “You are an idiot for wanting to go outside and I bet you are going to drink some bleach next” or “You are taking my basic rights away and I need a haircut.”


When there is no nuance to the way people think and they blindly follow their own clan without truly thinking for themselves, there is bound to be endless hypocrisy.


You are a hypocrite, for example, if you spout endlessly about Donald Trump not taking this very seriously back in February, while saying nothing about Nancy Pelosi (or other Democrats for that matter) who talked about how we should all go to Chinatown at the same exact time.


You are a hypocrite as well if you say something like “Coronavirus isn’t actually very serious and is only affecting people with co-morbidities, namely obesity,” while believing for eight years that Michelle Obama’s campaign on nutrition was government overreach and needless spending.


You are a hypocrite if you use this moment to campaign for Bernie Sanders – who isn’t even running any more – while willfully ignoring the terrifying data in Italy, where free healthcare is readily available. And if you are one of these people, maybe you should take a moment to actually care about what is going on and your fellow man, and less time on “being right” about something that is kind of on the backburner at the moment (the election).


But while we are on the subject of data, you are also a hypocrite if you can possibly keep a straight face and support a person who talks about dead people on a cruise ship as if they are a nuisance to his re-election campaign.


My point here is not to point fingers or call anyone dumb. Actually, the opposite. I think the people who hold these opinions are generally very smart people, but also generally unwilling to detach from their factions and clans for the greater good. At the end of the day, there is some truth to what most people are saying. It is not utterly ridiculous to say that we need to play it safe about something for which the repercussions could be massive. It is also not ridiculous to posit that more people might suffer and/or die from doing so. What is ridiculous is to act like anyone is really an armchair expert on pandemics. No one reading my blog is an expert. The sooner we can come back to that reality, the sooner we can have an actual, civilized discussion with one another. After all, fear tends to give us tunnel vision, where we think about what is best for us and not necessarily what is best for everyone else.

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