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COVID-19 exposes much about us

COVID-19 exposes much about us
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COVID-19 has ripped away the veneer that masked American society. Many took refuge behind the glossy façade that all communities are well served by today’s economy, healthcare infrastructure, educational system and social services. But the virus’s tempestuous, tragic wrath exposed the truth. No longer can anyone hide behind the patina that colored everything rosy. 

Now, the jagged shards of our fractious society are in full view. Some people remain at the pinnacle, insulated from disaster, while most are at-risk of sliding down the brutal, bloody edges toward the abyss. Political divisions are revealed to be deeper issues of national identity that motivate zealots to reject science, facts and truth.

Economic inequities are ubiquitous. While many have little or no savings to weather the storm, and the working class feels impotent as 401ks plummet, millions of millionaires use the market volatility to bolster their portfolios. For the fortunate, staying-at-home means cocooning with comforts and lamenting the absence of fine dining, while for most it means fear of debilitating debt, bankruptcy and homelessness. 

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Many will feel the pain for a decade, others have already brushed it off, and the disparity is soul-wrenching. When battling to breathe, nurses are valued more than financiers. When unemployed and seeking checks, bureaucrats are valued more than tech CEOs. Since we all need to eat, truck drivers and grocery clerks are valued more than lawyers.

Health inequities are fueled by economic disparities. Inadequate access to health services, health insurance and healthy foods leave many — especially in communities of color and low-income brackets — with health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19’s most severe consequences. Many on the lower rungs of the economic ladder have jobs that expose them to the virus, e.g., cleaning staff, bus drivers, trash haulers, food processors, pharmacy clerks and first responders.

COVID-19 exposes our divided national identity. No matter what some politicians claim, only a collectivist, communal response will get us past a pandemic. Reversing its spread requires universal social distancing, hand washing, staying-at-home and wearing masks. In February, knowing of COVID-19’s lethality, Americans would have accepted the March public health protocols if our national government truthfully explained the urgency.

COVID-19 spread because the person atop our government failed to protect people. As an individualist who tells us he’s the only one who matters, he routinely prioritizes his needs above communal needs. In February, he refused to act for fear of disrupting the stock markets or the economy, which he views as barometers for his reelection. Amid his rosy forecasts, he halted some travel from China on Jan. 31. But that simply fit his well-documented intolerant mentality. 

If he took COVID-19 seriously back at the end of January, he would have instantly halted travel from many more countries and reestablished the Pandemic Response Team that he foolishly eliminated in 2018. He would have made social distancing a national priority and prohibited massive gatherings like Mardi Gras and spring break. He would have created a national pipeline for hospital supplies (tests, masks, PPE, ventilators) and invoked the Defense Production Act in early February. 

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What Americans most want and need from their government is the truth. Self-serving obfuscations and falsehoods from the president confuse people and dissuade them from acting. Since a communal response requires universal action, his falsehoods beget failure by signaling his followers to be dismissive. If he told the truth about the danger and the steps to stop the virus, his followers would comply. Instead, he pins the “ride it out” plan on subordinates despite it appearing to have been his preference. He diverts blame for his failures onto others, revealing his mantra by declaring, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

Divisions are transparent at protests in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and other states. Common sense dictates against inviting sickness and death upon oneself and loved ones. Yet that is what they’re doing. If stay-at-home orders were issued in February, before there were COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., protests might have been understandable. But after 40,000 — and now over 70,000 — deaths, the danger is known to protestors who stand side-by-side, shouting without masks. It’s highly likely that the virus infects some of them and that they take it home, spreading it within their communities.

The protestors rejected science, facts and truth. They barked for short-term relief, crumbling after one month at home, rather than persevering for long-term health and prosperity. They asserted their ideology — individualism without government restraint or intrusion — instead of their right to health and safety. They echoed falsehoods and mixed messages from the president who legitimizes their resentments and grievance mentality. They ignored his official directives. They twisted the non-political into entirely political. They prioritized money over life.

Most Americans adhere to the public health protocols willingly if not happily. We embrace the collective effort to save our parents and children, friends and neighbors from serious illness and death. It reminds us that, as a national community, we are all in this together. This communal ethic will outlive COVID-19, as policies are crafted to rectify endemic social inequities. It will also influence voting behavior in November.

Bradford Kane is the author of "Pitchfork Populism: Ten Political Forces That Shaped an Election and Continue to Change America." Kane has served as Counsel – developing policy, legislation, and speeches – in Congress, California State government, and the nonprofit & private sectors. You can follow him @CitizenKaneBrad.