Despite warnings, government officials from cities across the nation to Capitol Hill have essentially washed their hands of the COVID-19 crisis. Rather than confront things head-on, the government seems to have attempted to force normalcy roundly into a square peg. The comfortable positions of shifting blame and crying to “do something” and “do nothing” are shouted back and forth, creating an unfortunate amount of death and tragedy in this country.
The attempt to spin this crisis as fake has not helped and has led to brief sparks of fame for conservative politicians eager to see all things through either a profit-motivated lens or anarchistic appeal to the defiant individualist. Tootie Smith, the incoming Clackamas County Chair, recently compared public health efforts to slavery, despite this rising tide of death and defiance. Although Clackamas County is not covered by Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s stricter four-week closure imposed on Multnomah County, it is still seeing a rapid rise in cases. Death knows no county border.
Brown has also been sitting in a political quagmire. Her attempts to have it both ways, appealing to her most vocal critics while announcing the importance of measures she is not mandating for political third rails such as churches, is a symptom of enormous negligence by politicians in this state. What does it serve to give churches far more leeway in exposing their congregations to COVID-19, aside from trying, and ultimately failing, to avoid legal opposition? Those churches who demanded zero restrictions on their ability to hold services will still fight any effort and will get assistance in their efforts from right-wing state lawmakers and businesses who have repeatedly attempted to force a complete reopening of the state and a reversal of mask mandates.
Politicians are not acting in good faith when it comes to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, all efforts seemingly cross-checked against politically correct responses, according to their constituencies.
This is not to say it’s simply local and state politicians that are failing—our federal representatives are failing as well. The stock response from Congress seems to be saying “do something” and appealing to political power—power they themselves wield. When a member of congress relates some sad story about a constituent’s death but adheres all-too-conveniently to congressional norms, they are complicit in that person’s death. Even in the complex tangle of laws and policy on Capitol Hill, there is still room for action. For example, there are deliberate efforts to stall and undo the work of the governing party until they release their hold on the legislative calendar to allow for votes on COVID-19 relief. Democrats in the Senate have not taken advantage of their various procedural tools and they do not seem ready to do so.
“We simply can’t act” is not an excuse.
There isn’t much to change that can’t already be utilized to force through COVID-19 relief, but one of those things that needs reconstruction is, unfortunately, the politicians themselves. Their reliance on simple oppositional politics devoid of ethical or moral bearing beyond recognizing only the bad in their opponents is leading to a fight against COVID-19 conducted entirely on Twitter and via soundbites to the media. Without some radical rebuild of our body politic, there will only be more death.