My mom goes into work everyday at an overflowing hospital ward, and cares for patients who have tested positive for Covid-19. Often, she doesn’t have the proper protective equipment. I’m terrified that one day she might start coughing, or get a fever. I’m terrified that one day she might stop breathing.
I’m also angry. Angry at the virus for taking so many human lives. Angry at the Trump administration for seeing intelligence reports about the virus months before it came to my mom’s hospital, but deciding not to raise the alarm. Angry at the president for sidelining, contradicting, and firing medical experts he disagrees with. Angry at the federal government for being either unwilling or unable to provide states with the ventilators, gowns, and masks they need. Angry at governors who have lifted quarantines because of some twisted prioritization of the economy over life. Angry at every political leader who has downplayed, distorted, or denied this crisis.
It’s a new experience for me to have a life so close to mine at risk because of political decisions. But it is anything but a new phenomenon for our country. American lives have always been threatened by political decisions, or the lack thereof. When people die because they can’t afford their healthcare, they die because of political decisions. When our country goes to war, people die because of political decisions. African Americans who have died from police brutality, the KKK, Jim Crow, and slavery have died because of political decisions. Gay people who fell victim to the AIDS epidemic died because of political decisions. Native Americans suffered, and continue to suffer, genocide because of political decisions.
I believe politics is, and always has been, a matter of life or death. I also believe we must admit this if we hope to make our country a better place.
‘Radicalism’ is often decried in our public discourse. The ‘politicization of tragedy’ is often decried in our public discourse. But recognizing the magnitude of the obstacles we face does not detract from our ability to overcome them. To the contrary, admitting the urgency of the task before us is the only way we can ever muster the energy to successfully complete it.
The big improvements that have been made in our country, the New Deal, Civil Rights, the Great Society, didn’t come about on their own. They came about because our country was facing a crisis, and people were honest about it. We must remember these historical precedents if we hope to solve the crises our country faces today.
In a few months, I hope I will no longer have to worry if my mom will come home with a cough. In a few months, maybe there will be a treatment or even a vaccine. In a few months, maybe our political leaders will have implemented widespread testing and regulations to manage the spread of the Coronavirus. In a few months, politics may no longer be a matter of life or death for me or my family. But I will still vote as if my life depended on it. I will still volunteer, and donate, as if my life depended on it. Because the lives of so many of my fellow Americans do.