The very worst possible time for a Chinese-born virus to infect America and kill 200,000 people is during a presidential election. This should have been like a war, or a terrorist attack, something that makes us all pull together.
For a few weeks in March, it was. New York and California governors Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom were thanking President Trump. Trump was returning the “we are all in this together” vibe. That didn’t last long.
Democrats quickly realized that demonizing the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 was political gold. They still, to this day, cannot point to a substantive thing they would have done differently. After all, even Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx still say Trump accepted everything they advised, some of which turned out to be hogwash, but that doesn’t matter. There was political opportunity. So coming together as a nation be damned, because that might help Trump.
I found myself in the critical Commonwealth of Pennsylvania this week. It was a futile effort to kick the tea leaves. They didn’t move much. There are few if any Americans whose votes will not be affected by the virus, the crisis, the lockdown, the frustrated kids remote-learning nothing. The pause that is not a pause, but a surrender.
To say that Wilkes-Barre, Penn. (pronounced like Berry) still feels significantly locked down is an understatement. Empty office buildings lead to empty restaurants at lunchtime, and just an empty feeling to the small city. The schools have teetered between being open and closed, and there was a sense of frustration from those I spoke with about when this might end. But that frustration can cut both ways.
Dismay at the lockdown pushes some voters into Trump’s camp, since he is the candidate most focused on reopening. If a voter feels that the restrictions have gone too far, are too punishing, that helps the president. On the other hand, voters who blame Trump’s response for the situation, who agree with the attack line that this all could have all been avoided had a Democrat been in control, go toward Joe Biden.
But what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016 and we lived in the version of the world we all expected back then when the plague from China hit? Would she have shut down travel from China in January, back when The New York Times was saying we were very well prepared for a virus to come? And given Biden not only called it xenophobic, but fear-mongering? It’s kind of amazing, Biden thinks Trump was mongering fear while he was also dangerously downplaying the virus, but let’s set that to one side.
Right now, with the election is looming like a slow sun setting behind the mountains of our hopes and fears, what do we think of the virus? What do we think of the lockdown? What do we think of the mask as the new ultimate act of allyship? Do we want to exist in fear? Letting emergency measures erode our rights any time the state declares a “public health crisis?” Denver, Baltimore, and the states of Michigan and Wisconsin have all now declared racism a public health crisis. What authority to take away rights does such a decision entail?
This is an election that will bend on how terrified you are. The virus creeps around every corner. Each breath you take could kill. Your body is a weapon and you don’t even know it. Biden will protect us from each other, he claims. If that means more lockdowns, so be it. Joe will listen to science. Okay. I have armed myself against science, to paraphrase Rimbaud. There is more to life than safety.
I hold no animosity towards the scolds who proclaim perfect safety must be our foremost goal. I disagree with them, but I will not gnash my terrible teeth and tear my clothes if Biden becomes president. Are you terrified? I guess I get it, but you shouldn’t be.
Jack Kerouac said he wrote “On The Road” because we’re all gonna die. That’s right. It’s coming. How free do you want to be before that cloak that covers all our clever demonstrations of standing on the spinning planet of strange, bizarre human beings who can think free thoughts graces your demise?
You can vote for fear on Tuesday, but I hope you don’t. I hope you vote for hope and life.