Saturday, January 2, 2021

If We Are All in This Together, Why Can’t We Get Along?

 I’m honored to serve on the board of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications at Shepherd University, a terrific small public liberal arts institution in lovely Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Located in the state’s panhandle, it is about a 90 minute drive from my new home in northern Virginia. 

Last May, while we were in the throes of a pandemic and shutdowns across much of the nation, I was asked to submit a 500-word essay to explain, from a conservative perspective, on why we were so divided if we were “all in this together.” A fellow board member wrote a liberal perspective, although I have never seen it. 

Re-reading it, it seems to have aged really well. This, despite the fact that the Chinese-caused pandemic contributed to Donald Trump’s defeat more than any other issue (aside from his combative personality, which clearly drove suburban voters - women, in particular - to vote for Joe Biden). 

Partisans and pundits continue to blame Donald Trump for his “mismanagement” of the COVID response. I find that not only delusional, but an injustice. These are the same people who said the Administration could not deliver a vaccine by year’s end (2020), said they wouldn’t trust it, and now are blaming them for its slower-than-promised distribution (some 12 million doses have been delivered to states and localities, but only 2 million administered). The same people who said Trump didn’t listen to “the experts” when he clearly did, and as Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly testified to Congress, under oath.

Maybe that was the problem.

Regardless, read this for yourself and determine whether it has stood the test of time. I think it has.

“If We Are All in This Together, Why Can’t We Get Along?”

By Kelly D. Johnston

Are we really “all in this together?”

COVID_19 disproportionately affects people over 70 years of age. This insidious disease has dramatically affected age groups and genders differently.

The prevalence of COVID infections correlates with population density. The greater New York City area, including parts of three states, tragically comprise about half of our nation’s infections and deaths from COVID.

The disagreements emerge when someone says that the virus originated in Wuhan, China. There is ample evidence that China acted malignly as the virus spread. 

But discussion deteriorates when the “blame gaming” begins. US Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), said on national television that Donald Trump, not China, was to blame for the coronavirus epidemic. 

No question that the federal government fumbled its early reaction. From the beginning, President Trump relied heavily on experts, including Drs. Anthony Fauci (National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases) and Robert Redfield (Centers for Disease Control), both long-time civil servants. The World Health Organization misled Fauci, who, in January and even February, repeatedly said Americans were at “low risk” for the disease. Democratic leaders accused President Trump of racism and xenophobia for his January 31st China travel ban, which Fauci credits for saving lives.

Dr. Helen Chu, a Washington State infectious disease expert and her colleagues are credited with developing the first effective US test for Coronavirus. The CDC dismissed it. Meanwhile, the CDC frittered away nearly six weeks before rolling out a botched test. They finally unleashed private laboratories in a race to catch up. That lost time is why we were so behind on testing and contributed to decisions to shutdown our economy.

Our hospitals, thankfully, were never overwhelmed. COVID deaths and hospitalizations are on a downward slope. When, and how, should we reopen the economy?

Sadly, the debate quickly devolves into the accusation that “you want people to die.” The question is a horrific logical fallacy. We must protect the vulnerable while allowing healthy people at low risk for hospitalization, with precautions, to begin returning to normal life.

How did we get here? 

First, the outbreak was immediately politicized by partisans who wanted to make America’s “failure to respond” all about President Trump. Not everything is “political.”

Second, identity politics has infected our national discussion. It began innocently when “diversity” came on stage as a national movement. While admirable and well-intended, it has sadly transmogrified into tribalism, division, and victimhood. 

Third, social media – or, as Purdue University President Mitch Daniels calls it, the “antisocial media” – makes it far too easy for malcontents to hide behind their keyboards to demean people. And the shutdown, where we must “socially distance,” has probably made things worse. 

Crises bring out the best and worse in us. 

My advice: First, embrace a culture of humility; consider others no less worthy of respect than yourself. We can learn something from everyone. Humility is not weakness; it reflects maturity and wisdom. 

Second, be skeptical. Look less for confirmation of your own biases and focus on the best information to make an informed decision. 

Third, reject intersectionality, victimhood, and tribalism. If we’re “all in this together,” let’s act like it. 

Finally, reject alarmism, fear-mongering, and an “all things are political” approach. Remember these words inscribed on the late author Alex Haley’s tombstone: “Find the good and praise it.” 

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