COVID-19 doesn’t care about our political divide

By Daniel Darling, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters

Grieved over the more than 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States? Well, you must be a liberal. Grieved over bankrupt businesses and shattered livelihoods? You must be a right-wing hack. Wearing a mask to church? You’ve been duped! Nervous about COVID-19 spread during protests? You must not care about justice.

On and on it goes. We are living in one of the most strange and difficult years in American history and instead of stories to tell our children about how we all came together, we’ll have to recount how Americans argued with other Americans while a virus ravaged our cities and communities.

What’s interesting is that while all of us agree that the pandemic has been politicized, we all seem to point the finger at everyone else for doing the politicization. Conservatives accuse Democrats of over-reacting in an election year. Liberals accuse Republicans of valuing profits over lives. And many journalists are glad to exacerbate the red state vs. blue state COVID-19 comparisons.

But COVID-19 doesn’t care about our political divisions. The virus is relentless and refuses to play our partisan games.

The latest resurgence has seen spikes in the bluest of blue states: California, and the reddest of red states: Texas.

Even more mystifying, both states seem to track similarly, even though California shut down early and Texas shut down late.

Even the reopenings and the protests aren’t a great predictor, with some re-opened states seeing a spike and some not so much while some cities where there were mass protests seem to have avoided a surge while some are seeing an alarming number of new coronavirus cases.

We are learning more and more about the virus every day and our responses are getting smarter and more targeted. And our best and brightest minds are working feverishly to develop vaccines and treatments to hold back this deadly contagion that threatens our most vulnerable.

But we cannot succeed if we are divided. We need less finger-pointing and more cooperation. We need our institutions to display greater transparency. We need leaders with credibility in a time of cynicism.

It erodes public trust when public officials shame one kind of public gathering and encourage another. It’s not very thoughtful when others confuse wearing a mask with an infringement of liberty. And it fans the flame of division when media outlets let bias and sensationalism shape their coverage instead of informing the public and reporting the facts.

What we need are leaders willing to speak candidly and take measures, not guided by social media chatter or media pressure, but based on the data in front of them and informed by human dignity. We need hope and realism, faith and science, courage and civility.

All of us are tempted to politicize the pandemic, to read the daily stream of news through the lens of our own preconceptions. We desperately want the worst to be true about our ideological opponents because it fills us with a sense of the rightness of our own cause.

But this is counterproductive in a flourishing society. Instead, we should each commit to working harder to get all the facts, to avoid knee-jerk conclusions, and to resist passing along incomplete information. If we were honest, we might find that it is not always “those guys” politicizing the pandemic. It might be me. It might be you.

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