By Ray Hanania
The US is a divided country, and not just between those who hate former President Donald Trump and those who hate his successor, Joe Biden.
The coronavirus pandemic has not only turned US politics upside down and on its head, but also created a new political schism that is changing lifestyles in the country.
Failure to understand this new phenomenon in the American psyche can land you in political trouble, especially among foreign countries or foreign leaders seeking US support.
Not everyone in the US agrees that COVID-19 is a deadly disease. Well, they do not believe that the virus is deadly to everyone. They believe the virus is deadly only to those who have a wide range of health-related challenges, such as cancer, a heart condition or asthma. Therefore, they also believe that the pandemic threat is mainly to seniors above the age of 50 since most illnesses tend to worsen with age.
At the core of this rising debate is an argument over whether the government has the right to impose restrictions requiring people to be vaccinated, wear face masks or limit their social interactions.
Some believe that these precautions are more than just initiatives to limit serious health issues but are, instead, government efforts to curtail the freedoms that have been constitutionally guaranteed to all of the country’s 328 million citizens.
The virus has been deadly, however. No one seems to debate that. Almost 630,000 Americans have died as a result of the virus, which many suspect originated in a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan in December 2019. More than 37 million Americans have been infected.
Both the number of deaths and the number of those infected continue to rise.
The pandemic has found itself dovetailing neatly in the foundations of the two major political parties.
The Republicans, who are more “conservative,” believe individuals should be rewarded based on how much they work, and that no one should impose restrictions on what can be said or how they live their lives. People should work for a living and not be told who they should like or dislike.
The Democrats, who are more “liberal,” believe that the government should provide financial welfare and healthcare support to the poor, and that the financial costs should be covered by the rich and wealthy. Government, they believe, should provide healthcare to the needy, the elderly and especially to the poor.
It is not surprising that the demographics of both political parties reflect those generalized parameters. Republicans believe that the threat of the virus is being overblown and is being used by the Democrats to control the nation’s political system, thereby giving the party more powers and control. Democrats believe that Republicans are using the pandemic to expose Democratic constituents to challenges that will affect their ability to vote and engage in political activism, and so reduce voting numbers.
While Democratic state governments respond to the pandemic with regulations making face masks and vaccinations mandatory, Republican state authorities are fighting to block these requirements.
The president is limited by what he can enforce, requiring federal government employees to wear face masks at work and to get vaccinations in order to stay at their jobs.
But the exploitation by both parties of a national crisis or contentious political debate is far from a new phenomenon. It has been going on in the US for decades, even centuries. In the 18th century, slavery was used to separate people based on race. Restrictions were used to separate citizens based on gender, too. Blacks and women had no rights until changes resulting from a civil war over slavery in the 19th century and a campaign for women’s rights in the 20th century.
Today, two issues divide Americans as much as coronavirus: Abortion, which is embraced by the Democrats and opposed by Republicans, and gun control, which is embraced by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.
The polarized pandemic debate fits snugly between the two like a piece of a puzzle.
The political battlegrounds are clear: Should children be forced to wear face masks in school? Should everyone be forced to get vaccinated? Is COVID-19 a genuine health threat or is it being exaggerated by political profiteers?
These questions are being used in an emotional back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans to undermine individual rights, and bludgeon political rivals into silence and submission.
Worse, the data is being treated like all statistical tabulations, and is routinely manipulated to reflect a personal viewpoint or stand rather than as evidence of an across-the-board reality.
The internet is not helping, either. You can find as much data to defend the argument that COVID-19 is a threat only to those who have health issues as you can to claim that failing to get a vaccination or wear a face mask constitutes a national threat to the public’s well-being.
This polarization has made it all but impossible to defeat the virus since half the nation lives under mandatory restrictions and vaccinations that never seem to completely safeguard everybody, while the other half lives as if the threat is purely a question of individual choice.
Half of Americans believe that coronavirus is being used by the far left as a means of redirecting government resources from services to liberal causes, while the other half believes that the pandemic is so serious that government should embrace generous welfare programs to allow hundreds of millions of people to stay home rather than work.
Meanwhile, the makers of the three major COVID-19 vaccinations have been lying low, enjoying astronomical profits from their serums. Pfizer announced last week that its vaccine generated more than $3.5 billion in profits during the first three months of 2021 alone. The two other pharmaceutical companies that developed vaccines, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are expected to report similar financial gains, too.
The scale of the profits also has fueled public suspicions that the pandemic is being exploited by pharmaceutical giants, and reinforced conspiracy theories and fears about whether the vaccinations will have long-term, unknown consequences.
In the end, the political debate is hindering the campaign to defeat the virus, with some believing the divisions are weakening the nation’s resolve.