Over the past few weeks it has become evident that covid-19 does not abide by national boundaries, political structures nor social values. Yet, each of the 177 nations impacted seems to have their own political agenda with every public health decision made. An outbreak of this caliber reveals the values and priorities of each society, with the divisive politics of the United States coming under scrutiny. While the pandemic calls for national unity, the response has been one of discordance, in part due to the partisanship of the American government.
A Pew Research Center study released on March 18 found varying beliefs between Democrats and Republicans, with 59% of Democrats - and 33% of Republics - deeming the virus to be a major threat to U.S. citizens. These views oppose those of epidemiologists who have warned that the pandemic could impact millions, regardless of political party or geolocation. This disparity of concern is translated into varying responses from blue cities and states, who are moving more aggressively, while more conservative communities deem this to be a foreign problem. There is evidently a meaningful gap between Democrats and Republicans, being reinforced by the direct response of the United States President.
The current federal response threatens President Trump with the same outcome which undermined predecessors such as George Bush post-Hurricane Katrina or Jimmy Carter with the Iranian hostage crisis: an American realization that cultural and ideological affinity simply is no longer sufficient for a successful presidency. Once again, the Trump administration has taken a minimization approach, one in significant contrast to that of China and Italy. Restrictions are only recently being placed, with partisan beliefs delaying timely and adequate responses. The administration has also used this pandemic to advocate for tighter border control and nationalist policies. In deeming Chinese measures to be “draconian and aggressive”, conservatives are reinforcing an ideological divide on a global scale.
Nevertheless, it is imperative to understand that the balance between individual rights and public safety is an ever-changing equation. Public health methods are universal and regardless of political, economic or cultural structure they hold one purpose: human welfare. The challenge now remains on President Trump to convince the public that his administration is making equitable and just decisions in the short term while preserving economic and medical interests in the long term. Nations must realise that now is time to place politics behind public health, to strengthen economic relations between nations and to provide the right medicine not only for people but the global economy.