COVID-19 is our common enemy. Why the political left and right should unite to save lives

By Joan Blades and Ralph Benko, usatoday.com

The resurgence of the coronavirus has thrust the pandemic back to the fore of our national consciousness. Living vs. making a living? A false dichotomy. We don’t believe that these values to be mutually exclusive. Both are possible, both necessary. And we need each other to figure out how to make both happen.

Political heresy? No.

The pandemic represents what folklore holds as the Chinese character for crisis: a “dangerous opportunity.” As supply-side economist Paul Romer first observed, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” The surface tension between maintaining both physical and fiscal health points to a deeper underlying crisis. It offers a path out of both the surface and the deep crisis.

What deep crisis? Prof. Daniel Dellaposta observed recently in the American Sociological Review, “The structure of U.S. opinion has shifted in ways suggesting troubling implications for proponents of political and social pluralism.” Only a threat of the complexity and magnitude of the pandemic is powerful enough to bring hereditary enemies, like us, together. One of us is the cofounder of MoveOn.org, the other the co-founder of TheCapitalistLeague.com.

I, Ralph, the conservative Republican, recognize my adversary Joan’s authentic compassion in holding that without a coordinated response, including government action, to flatten the curve she would have reasonable grounds to fear waves of infections that could overwhelm our medical personnel and capacity, intensifying both loss of life and economic devastation. This is a counsel of practical compassion. Not tyranny.

I, Joan, the progressive Democrat, recognize my adversary Ralph’s heartfelt concern that an overbearing, “one-size-fits-all,” quarantine can produce an unacceptable level of economic agony, especially among members of the working class. Not everyone has sufficient resources, nor is the government capable of indefinitely funding an economy many times larger than the resources it can responsibly command. This is a counsel of practical compassion. Not callousness.

Let’s see each other as allies

Our survival appears at stake. Thus, to paraphrase a wise insight of second wave feminism: the political becomes personal. The political class now politically weaponizes everything. Democrats vilify Republicans as taking reckless life-and-death risks by premature openings. Republicans demonize Democrats for inflicting unwarranted and possibly catastrophic damage to our ability to subsist economically.

So let’s experiment with seeing one another as allies facing a mutual enemy, the novel coronavirus. Our respectively hated and feared political leaders really are not the primary enemy. (Yes, assuredly we will slug that out Nov.)

The primary enemy is the virus. It confronted (and confronts) our leaders, left and right, with huge unknowns. Of course, people are entitled to their political opinions. That said, common humanity calls for us to tone down the contempt. “Kill the ump” style heckling is better suited to baseball than it is to a truly mortal threat.

Physical and fiscal health are not antithetical. To get both will require greater trust and trustworthiness in government, in media, in our communities and in what Ben Franklin, during the Constitutional Convention, called “the virtue and spirit of the common people.” And, yes, trust in the good faith in our political opponents.

That the left and right disagree is neither novel nor interesting. The interesting thing is that we represent proof-of-concept that both sides can show respect for one another and are willing to work together against a common foe.

So, are we going to keep politically weaponizing the pandemic (as we have weaponized practically everything else)? We will remain passionate foes on many issues. The pandemic is fundamentally different. It is a common enemy and a mortal one.

There are judgment calls about priorities and what measures to take. That said, neither of us knows anyone who does not believe in the importance of protecting both lives and livelihoods. We must, and can, work together. American independence was predicated on the self-evident truth that foremost among our unalienable rights are both life and liberty. Governments are instituted to protect these rights. We demand both values be fully honored. This is not paradoxical.

We’ve gotten out of the habit of working together even where we agree. That is the deeper existential crisis the pandemic brings to light. That said, the pandemic is so epic that it compels cooperation. Knowing that we are on the “same team,” we can pull America out of the wreckage of lives and livelihood the pandemic has wrought.

Rediscovering that there are areas in which we can fruitfully cooperate, perhaps our cooperation in the face of the pandemic could transform the future of politics.

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