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  • Writer's pictureShanna Kelly

Opinion | Pandemic is political

Eli Rallo | Seven Mile Satellite


In 2020 America, everything we do, see and hear is linked to politics. In the sphere of daily American life, it’s impossible to be “apolitical” or to remove politics from nearly any situation.

Since the aftermath of the 2016 election, our conversations, choices, relationships and motivations sway toward our political affiliation, leaning or opinions — whether we do so consciously or subconsciously.

It’s no surprise then, that the coronavirus pandemic has dissolved from a united front of American citizens battling a “silent killer” to a divisive red versus blue tug of war. With a major election looming and the controversial optics of the Trump administration, the stakes of the political fury surrounding the pandemic are only heightened, leading to a more intensely polarized state.

I’m quarantined at my parent’s home in Rumson, New Jersey — a town that voted in favor of Donald Trump in 2016. I’m far — physically and mentally — from the comfortable, liberal bubble of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the college town where I’ve spent the last four years alongside like-minded, liberal peers. I can feel the frustrating heat of the many binary arguments that have diluted the combatting of the coronavirus. From the reopenings of businesses, to the wearing of masks, to the approval of the president’s reaction to the crisis, partisanship has begun to influence how citizens are reacting to the pandemic in its entirety.

Many Trump-supporting Republicans argue that schools should 100% reopen in the fall with little-to-no government interference. This references the impetuous concept that Democrats favor schools remaining online in order for the pandemic to reflect poorly on the Trump Administration.

The Democratic party is advocating for stricter rules regarding the protection of educational faculty, standards for testing and more rigid health codes prior to campuses reopening.

Democrats generally believe it’s of more importance to prioritize human interest, health and safety during the duration of the pandemic than economic gain or ‘normalcy’ as Trump’s Republican party has been pushing for.

The interests of the Democratic and Republican parties exist at opposite ends of the spectrum with Republican senators standing firm in their belief that schools will be fine to open, led by Republican senator Lamar Alexander, the chair of the chamber’s education committee. On the converse, Democratic senators are pushing the Senate conversation to the minority students who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and how these students will be prioritized in their health, safety and education.

President Trump has been criticized with reckless disregard and abandonment of marginalized communities suffering as collateral of the coronavirus outbreak. Likewise, he was quoted countering Dr. Fauci’s concern with the reopening of college campuses without viable vaccines.

Trump’s blatant lack of empathy has been paired to his steadfast desire to reopen the economy. According to The New York Times, of all 29 states that initially began the reopening process, 22 had Republican leadership.

Some have argued that Trump knows he’ll see his approval rating and odds for reelection improve if the economy is strong, which is why he has been advocating for the reopening of the country. That said, polls from FiveThirtyEight are suggesting that Republicans and Democrats are taking preventative measures at roughly equal numbers, though Democrats are much more likely to support said public measures. A Navigator Research poll found that 32% of Republicans wanted more relaxed measures in early May, when many states still had stay-at-home orders in place.

Democrats have been cited criticizing the Trump administration’s speed in handling the crisis, and the administration’s overall reaction to the pandemic. Five in three Americans claim that Trump was “not doing enough” to handle the pandemic, with 20% of Trump 2016 voters claiming the administration should be doing more to combat the virus. Despite the statistics, Trump’s loyal supporters are louder than ever. In May, 77% of Republican voters surveyed claim that Trump’s handling of the pandemic is ‘excellent’.

It’s difficult to say with confidence how much politics are swaying individual opinion on the handling of the pandemic and the pace in which states should reopen, but statistics seem to suggest that Trump’s supporters will side with his decisions, regardless of how rational or astute, and Democrats will fight to combat them.

Photo | Shanna Kelly

The wearing of masks — which has been urged by the CDC and is one of the simplest ways to productively combat the spread of the virus — has become a political statement in states around the country.

In Texas, specifically, the wearing of masks is recommended but not a mandate. The choice to wear a mask in the state has divulged partisan affiliation and led to protests and tension between health officials urging the use of masks to stop the spread of the virus and those who choose to forgo masks in public.

At a Trader Joe’s in North Hollywood, California, a woman who was confronted for not wearing a mask caused a public scene when she combated employees asking her to exit the grocery store if she didn’t have a mask to wear. Generally speaking, those who have chosen to go mask-less are conservative party members.

I wonder — beyond our political values and opinions — is the lives of our fellow Americans not more important than our desired political leader or candidate? Perhaps, as a liberal-minded American, my political affiliation informs my belief that we should be abiding by social distancing regulations, wearing masks and advocating for the aid of the government to help our disadvantaged community members during this difficult time.

That said, my current tendency to side with Democratic leaders who are in disagreement with the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic is less so about my personal politics and more so about advocating for what is best for the health and safety of community members, friends, family and fellow citizens — specifically those with preexisting health concerns and economic disadvantages.

There may be no way to make the pandemic apolitical or remove politics from the equation, specifically in light of such divisive American politics in the year of a major election. That said, there’s a way for Republicans and Democrats to prioritize the health and safety of all American people when thinking about reopening and preventative health measures.

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