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The pandemic should not be political

| Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Washington State on Jan. 21, the virus has become less of a global health issue and more of a topic for political debate. Variations in policies of whether to keep businesses and offices open differed across state lines, the effectiveness of masks was and continues to be challenged and debates about the severity of the virus as a whole has been a conversation encouraged throughout the past half year. No matter what your opinion is about the pandemic, there are two facts we have to acknowledge: people have died from this disease, and both the constituents of the United States and elected officials have turned a global pandemic into an issue that can be debated upon instead of putting all their efforts into helping the people of this country and others around the world. 

To show exactly just how different the reaction from our government today has been from previous outbreaks of viruses, I ventured back to the Obama administration and how the US was able to handle the Ebola virus. Granted, this situation is much different, as Ebola was not easily transmitted through the air like COVID-19 and thus less contagious. However, there was a much more unified and organized effort at the national level on how to not only help citizens of the United States, but how to help other parts of the world who were much more impacted from this virus. Obama sent troops to Africa to help the disease and set up treatment centers in those countries most impacted. He acted as a unifying voice, saying, “We have to work together at every level –– federal, state, and local.” 

This is a stark contrast to the response from Trump, as he claimed on Feb. 28 that the Coronavirus was “The Democrats’ new hoax,” and threatening to withhold aid from states like Michigan in the height of the pandemic over disagreements about mail-in voting. From the beginning, as Trump dumped efforts on states to control the pandemic on their own. I can’t help but wonder how different the past six months would have been if our president had been providing us with facts and information and aiding states in their reopening processes, instead of shouting false claims about hydroxychloroquine and failing to recognize the severity of the virus until it was much too late. 

It has been evident that Trump’s false claims about aspects of the pandemic have caused polarization and political divide in a time that the U.S. should be working together the most. For instance, according to a Gallup poll, only 24% of Republicans claim they always wear a mask when outside the home, compared to 61% of Democrats and 41% of Independents. These numbers are astonishing, considering that it is a recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control that masks should be worn to limit the spread of the virus. This divide for party differences is at least in part a result of Trump’s failure to wear a mask in public until July, claiming until then: “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators … I just don’t see it.” 

Although it is true that aspects of the political world tend to be heightened during an election season, it is dangerous to see just how much influence politics have over things that should not be controversial. This is a result of growing political polarization and how quickly party alignment can impact the livelihood of our nation.  

As much as I love to talk about politics, this pandemic should not be political. This is a reminder to you and to myself that as the general election draws closer, our elected officials still need to be held accountable for the actions their words promote. As much as all of us are ready for life to return to normal, our wants do not eradicate the coronavirus and the continued politicization of the pandemic will only hurt us in the long run.

Rachel Stockford is the director of operations for BridgeND, a non-partisan political education and discussion group that seeks to bridge the political divide and raise the standard for political discourse at Notre Dame. You can contact the club at [email protected] or learn more at bit.ly/bridgendsignup

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

Contact Bridge