Moving Forward After COVID-19
By Eli Haynal
The CDC recently stated that fully vaccinated individuals are safe to return to personal lives close to pre-pandemic standards, and the U.S. breathed a collective sigh of relief, a sigh made somewhat easier by the loosening of mask requirements across the country. This breather is a chance to look back on how the pandemic affected millions of lives and to prepare for how it will affect the future.
With life returning closer and closer to normal, the question on many minds is, “Is it really over?” The answer is both yes and no. From the standpoint of public health, the CDC’s recent recommendations make it clear that the vaccines are effective and the end of the pandemic is now no longer a question of “if,” but “when.”
However, the increasing freedom from the health concerns of the pandemic brings with it the necessity of considering its social ramifications. In the post-pandemic world, these considerations will supplant previous health concerns as major guiding factors in U.S. society.
COVID-19 first entered a divided America. The nation was divided over politics, class, race, and truth. This is not a judgement on right or wrong. Regardless of an individual’s opinion on a political party or a conspiracy theory they can agree that these issues divide America, and the vast majority will agree that this division is undesirable—even dangerous.
As COVID-19 patients leave hospitals for the final time, space opens for a new patient on the table. This patient is American society, its disease is partisanship, and it needs to be stitched back together. But what is the path forward for a fractured America?
First, we must realize that politics is too important to be left to politicians. Policy should be defined by ideas and directed towards ideals, but modern America has defined politics in terms of people, which directs it towards power. Today’s political parties display loyalty to one or a few people and attempt to keep them in power. American political parties have become groups that support a similar set of powerful individuals.
Instead, a political party should be a group that supports a similar set of ideals and chooses leaders based on those ideals, rather than choosing ideals based on their leaders. Again, this is not an accusation against a particular party. Both groups need to move towards the center of the spectrum where ideas can be debated civilly.
The opposite form of partisanship is the second issue: the vilification of those who disagree. Political decisions are human decisions. The most important thing to remember is that political decisions affect millions, billions of human beings every day. When the party in power is vilified and dehumanized by their opponents, it is easy to treat them in an inhuman fashion when the balance of power changes, which reverses the roles and continues the cycle when power shifts again.
The post-pandemic world must fight this issue through compassion, empathy, and humanity. These qualities can even be extended another step. Politicians themselves are human beings, and each day they make hard decisions and listen to people complain about those decisions. Perhaps empathy towards and the humanization of those in power is a first step towards political unity while parties base their identities on their leaders.
The third way forward is a return to the truth. This is perhaps one of the most important changes, because how can people make informed decisions about anything if they do not recognize the truth?
The pandemic was a time characterized by lies. Some Democrats told themselves the lie that all their problems would be solved by replacing a Republican administration with a Democratic one. It is already obvious that this did not succeed; problems still run rampant in America, but many continue to blind themselves with this lie and have become politically complacent.
On the other side, radical Republicans told themselves lies about the pandemic, its spread, the necessity of masks, the government response, and the efficacy of vaccines. These ideas were disproven over time, and the cost of this lesson was very high. Yet some continue to cling to these beliefs for partisan reasons, lengthening the tail of the pandemic via unsafe practices.
These are the ways in which partisanship has reared its ugly head in recent years. Admittedly, its allure is understandable. A common enemy brings people together. But when has designating common enemies led to happiness and peace over the course of history? Partisanship, hatred, and fearmongering lead to conflict, suffering, and death.
However, this problem can be turned to its own solution. A common enemy brings people together, and the American people need to be brought together, so give them a common enemy. Make that enemy division, falsehood, and cruelty.
The new patient, America, lies open on the table, waiting for stitches. Perhaps good will yet come of these events; perhaps the tearing apart of American society will force a look inside, an examination of its flaws before it is stitched back together. Perhaps this procedure is an exploratory surgery, perhaps it is a failure, perhaps a cure. It all hangs on the efforts of the American people.
Hello! The name at the top of this page might say “Elijah Haynal,” but if you ever meet me please call me Eli. I am a freshman at WWU this year majoring in Biology, Math, and Pre-Med, and in my free time I enjoy reading, thinking, and going places (although I sadly haven’t been able to do the last of these much this year). I hope you enjoy my articles and if you ever see me around campus I hope you’ll say hello!