My last blog post went in depth on political partisanship in the United States, with its split between the red zone and the blue zone. I wanted to add a brief note about how the Covid-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on that partisan divide. I’ve noted before how Covid-19 is also spotlighting the defiencies in our economic system. The pandemic is a major social stressor, and because we’re in a Crisis Era, it is starkly revealing long-standing problems that have been building up without any resolution for a generation or longer. It’s apocalyptic in the sense of the word’s Greek roots – it reveals what was previously hidden (or ignored).
As serious as the Covid-19 pandemic is, it is bizarre and disturbing to me that it has become a partisan issue. But it can’t be denied: which side you stand on in the partisan split does to some degree determine your beliefs about the nature of the disease and the appropriate response to it. It even determines what facts you believe, about the efficacy of measures such as wearing a face mask, or the accuracy of case counts and death counts.
Pro-Trump red staters generally believe that the threat is overblown, and are against lockdown measures, which are inherently anti-freedom and disrupt the business of doing business. Meanwhile, the anti-Trump blue wave resisters use the administration’s failure to respond cohesively to the pandemic as political ammunition. To this, red staters simply respond that Covid-19 is not as bad as the mainstream (read: anti-Trump) media makes it out to be, and that the cure should not be worse than the disease.
Since the President chose to hand the responsibility for the pandemic response to the state governors, their different responses also highlight the partisan split. Red zone governors like Ron DeSantis were Covid-denying, refusing to take any measures until absolutely forced to by the unfolding situation nationwide. Blue zone governors like Andew Cuomo, in the initial epicenters of the pandemic, were Covid-accepting, responding quickly and earning the enmity of Trump and his supporters as a result.
Despite all this, I do think that the compliance of the vast majority of the public with mask mandates (I base this assertion on my personal observation) shows that our society is ready and willing to follow restrictions for the sake of public safety. It’s like the “grey zone” as I’ve called them – the majority who are not particularly partisan – is out there, waiting for effective leadership. You could even argue that big business, the major retail corporations who have all readily gone along with social distancing and mask requirements, are taking over regulatory functions where the government has failed to act.
But unfortunately, extreme partisan conflict shuts down the moderate voice, and that’s where our politics are. It’s gotten so bad that, in one state, red state militias, goaded by words of the President, have terrorized and plotted insurrection against the blue zone governor. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine any kind of unified response to the pandemic in the near future. It will rage on in a society utterly ill equipped to manage it from the top down.
The 1918 influenza pandemic, regarded as the worst in modern history, caused 675,000 deaths in the United States over a two year period. That was 0.6% of the population. The equivalent in deaths today would be 2,165,000 – a number we’re unlikely to reach. But the death toll already is bad enough, with no end in sight. For the forseeable future, Covid-19 will remain in the background of these trying times, shining its bleak light on our failing state.