Welcome to the second half of the most chaotic year of the new millennium. I've been thinking a lot about what it might look like in retrospect. I know one thing for sure: when people think of 2020, they’ll think of COVID-19 first.
People will know the coronavirus was a turning point in American history. It could’ve been the Trump administration’s first and only uncontested success. The U.S could have flattened the curve alongside New Zealand and South Korea in taking the necessary precautions to successfully minimize the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, as observed in such publications as Vox and the New York Times, the executive response to COVID-19 in the U.S. has all but amounted to a series of missteps leading towards the mouth of a very steep canyon. We know the details of what exactly went wrong, but why? How did we come to make these mistakes in the first place?
It boils down to partisan politics.
Right now, the ideological gap between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. is wider than it’s ever been and still growing, as indicated by the controversial election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the ensuing national fallout.
This is known as political polarization, a common nemesis to the modern democratic system, in which opposing political parties become increasingly motivated to antagonize the other whenever possible and therefore less willing to set aside partisan differences in order to resolve shared issues.
Though it’s unclear as to why Donald Trump initially chose to ignore the pandemic, a dedicated faction of far-right supporters have since been inspired to dismiss the coronavirus, claiming that the public outcry against Trump’s insufficient reaction to the virus is a result of a liberal hoax. The president himself has yet to be seen wearing a mask in public, along with key White House staffers and a host of other Republican officials.
COVID-19 hit an already-divided America and divided it even further. Disagreements on how to deal with the pandemic in America set the stage for a showdown between citizens and elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum, disjointing the response efforts and ultimately leading to a failure to recover.
What we lack — unlike those in countries who’ve managed to flatten the curve — is unity. There is no such thing as the united American front.
This should have been an opportunity for a nation torn by partisan strife to finally reconcile against a bigger threat. Imagine if we’d actually pulled together to form a comprehensive national response to the outbreak in February or March, all the time we lost to ignoring the seriousness of the virus and later denying the burden of responsibility for the consequences when they inevitably came.
If we’d started testing for the virus earlier, or if the federal government had issued mandates, rather than suggestions, on social distancing measures such as the use of personal protective equipment in public, if we’d treated it from the start as a humanitarian issue rather than a partisan one — maybe 130,000 people wouldn’t have died in five months.
I write this knowing it’s too late to go back. We’d have to rewind decades to try and get it right; years have been leading up to this. It is the amalgamation of all of America’s shortcomings.
If going back can’t be the goal, how about moving forward instead? Dropping the “if,” the “should've”, the “could've” and the “would've” and finally learning from our mistakes. Being united. This pandemic isn’t just something we’re being subjected to now — it’s how we’ll be remembered by generations yet to come.
Looking back on certain moments in history, you tend to wonder if the people at the time understood the magnitude of what they were a part of. I hope we all understand now. I think I do.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.