American polarization has reared its ugly head during the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of vulnerable people are fearing for their lives, while millions are also losing their jobs amidst various forms of lockdown. Some tyrannical mayors and governors have far overstepped their bounds, treading on civil liberties in the name of protecting people from the virus.
Rather than striving for mutual understanding, Americans are quick to point the finger. Trump asks a question about a recent coronavirus study, and suddenly liberals are accusing him of telling people to inject Lysol into their veins. Some have warned that reopening America too quickly can undo the good work of lockdowns to stop the spread, and some conservatives refuse to listen to these warnings.
There is still much to learn about the virus, and a vaccine remains elusive. Americans need to be cautious about reopening. At the same time, the lockdowns have arguably restrained too much in the way of businesses and employment — especially in areas where coronavirus cases are sparse.
Rather than listening to one another’s concerns, Americans are quick to point the finger. Liberals have accused conservatives who want to reopen the economy of wishing death on children — and in some terrifying cases, they are not off the mark.
WARNING: Pushing Mass Civil Disobiedience & “Let people & kids die to reopen” philosophy has exploded over the last 72 hours on proTrump media. It’s a “too bad, so sad” depraved calculation that can kill your family members. They. Don’t. Care. #TrumpMustResign https://t.co/cUo7WwXRDW
— Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) April 17, 2020
On the flip side, conservatives rightly point out that there is some amount of danger that we gladly accept in daily life. As PJ Media’s Raymond Ibrahim pointed out, about 480,000 Americans die from smoking, 300,000 die from obesity, and 88,000 die from alcohol, every single year.
Americans protest that the lockdowns are an overbroad response to a disease that may kill as many as 250,000 Americans. Critics are too quick to silence them by insisting that “lives matter” and “you want people to die.” Economic dislocation also costs lives and livelihoods. American society accepts a degree of freedom that allows hundreds of thousands of Americans to die from preventable causes each year. If “lives matter” is the appropriate response across the board, why doesn’t the federal government ban cigarettes, unhealthy food, or alcohol?
Oh wait, didn’t we try that? Prohibition failed spectacularly — America’s drinking culture is still recovering (don’t get me started on that one) — and unleashed a whole host of unintended consequences (E.G. Al Capone).
So we don’t ban cigarettes, unhealthy food, and alcohol because of unintended consequences? You don’t say! What about the unintended consequences of prolonged lockdowns? The federal government has already decided to spend roughly THREE TRILLION DOLLARS to cope with those unintended consequences.
There are no easy answers to this crisis. Lockdowns clearly make a great deal of sense in the New York City area, for instance, and supporters are right to point out that if Americans return to work too quickly and without the proper precautions, they may undo all the positive effect of the lockdowns America has already suffered through. On the other hand, some freedom and some commerce must be re-established. Both arguments are true and must be wrestled with.
One thing is certain: Americans need to learn how to discuss these issues without demonizing one another, and we need to learn to listen to the other side of the argument. Both lives and the economy depend on getting the answer right, and we won’t get the answer right if we’re tuning out one half of the debate.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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