How the virus became political - Keith Roulston editorial
When a hurricane, flood or some other natural disaster hits a country, people may complain that their government didn’t respond to help victims quickly enough, but they generally don’t question if the emergency happened at all. But when the natural disaster of COVID-19 struck, some people conveniently believe that the danger doesn’t really exist.
The most obvious example of the school of thought is south of the border, where many feel that, because the energy is invisible, it is overblown or non-existent. However, we’ve had our own demonstrations against pandemic restrictions across Canada. Most European countries have also witnessed anti-restriction protests as well.
Libertarian demonstrators complain governments are using the fear of the virus to take away the rights of citizens – making them wear masks and preventing them from partying with their friends at home, in bars or restaurants, and hurting churches by forbidding large indoor gatherings.
I’m sure there’s not one premier or prime minister who wouldn’t gladly have given up this “power grab” to have seen their citizens continue in pandemic-free serenity. Good leaders have been pressed beyond their comfort zones in order to help protect their citizens from the terrible consequences of COVID-19’s spread. Politicians who normally would like to see the word “deficit” erased from the dictionary, found themselves borrowing money to help hospitals deal with a flood of patients or prevent the disease from sneaking back into long-term care homes and killing vulnerable residents.
Most of our leaders have demonstrated concern and empathy for the victims of the pandemic, both the victims and those who were hurt when their businesses were shuttered by regulations designed to curb the disease’s spread.
After nine months of high-pressure decision-making, these leaders must be exhausted. Yet they must be careful about getting the rest they deserve for fear of providing ammunition for critics on social media and opposition politicians who will jump on any sign of “slacking”.
But the real politicization of the pandemic comes from the right of the political spectrum. One of U.S. President Donald Trump’s most unforgivable tactics is that he managed to turn a harmless square of material that covers the mouth and nose into a political symbol. Those who wear a mask – even if they’re Fox News reporters covering his maskless rallies – are mocked. He ridiculed Joe Biden, his Democratic Party opponent, as somehow weak because Biden wore a mask. He discourages the use of a key life-saving tool.
Trump’s minimizing of the seriousness of the pandemic is perhaps unsurprising when you remember his obsession with a strong economy. For years, he saw his ticket to re-election being tied to good jobs and low taxes. Suddenly, it’s 2020, election year, and the pandemic sends the economy into a recession. No wonder he wants to pretend it isn’t happening. (The irony, of course, is that if he had shown the strong leadership in tackling the pandemic that other countries’ leaders did, he would likely have seen his popularity soar.)
But Trump can only get away with his alternative universe because so many people want to believe what he says. When he claimed last week that the reason the U.S. death toll from the virus was so high was because doctors somehow get paid more if a patient dies from COVID-19 than from some other disease, you could almost see his believers itching to Tweet the news to their friends.
Trump believers (and all those who are anti-mask and anti-restrictions) are unreachable by those who would hope to expose them to the truth. Instead they cling to the “alternative facts” they get from the Twitterverse or right-wing news channels and websites. Trump has long since indoctrinated his followers that they can’t trust anything spread by the “fake news” newspapers, radio and mainstream television.
Meanwhile, other reliable sources were undermined. The President preferred the uninformed opinions of Dr. Scott Atlas, who has no expertise on the epidemic but supported the President’s view that the pandemic isn’t that big a deal. Ignored were his top scientists, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Co-ordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force. They stopped going to meetings of the Task Force when they realized the President wasn’t listening to them.
Years after COVID-19 is conquered, the continued fascination for researchers will be how a substantial portion of the population could convince themselves that truth wasn’t true and that it wasn’t worth wearing a mask to fight off this terrible killer.