The pandemic gave many on the far right exactly what they wanted. Now they have buyer’s remorse.
I n ways large and small, the coronavirus has done what suburban subdivisions, restrictive covenants, homeowners’ associations, private religious schools, charter schools, and voucher programs have been unable to do. The coronavirus has created the America many have longed for — strict separation and social distance, closed public schools, nontraditional educational offerings, a disparate and less severe economic and lifestyle impact on affluent and White Americans, and severely lower levels of immigration and foreign travel. This has long been the dream of the far right — indeed it is the unabridged version of Make America Great Again — only the unintended consequences of the desired outcome have been more painful than many anticipated.
Across the country, governors and mayors have instituted strict separation and social distance policies to varying degrees. From stay-at-home orders to curfews to the forced shuttering of the entertainment industry, government policies have separated American workers, diners, mall-shoppers and movie goers. Despite the intent of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the current reality is that the typical White American lives in a neighborhood that is 75% White and only 8% Black. White people overwhelmingly engage, interact or socialize with non-White people somewhere other than their homes and neighborhoods. By shutting down restaurants, bars, movie theatres, vacation destinations and shopping malls, pandemic-prompted, public health policies have all but ensured that White and non-White people will see a lot less of each other which is what many have desired since the end of blatant, government-mandated segregation laws.
Beyond the closing of the entertainment and retail portions of American society, the pandemic has mandated the closure of nearly all schools and colleges. Despite demands from the federal government and some state legislatures, the coronavirus has stubbornly refused to allow colleges and public K-12 school systems to reopen their doors and welcome the Fall 2020 students back to in-person learning. Schools that have tried to open in Georgia and North Carolina have quickly reclosed. In Michigan and New York, officials pushed back their own reopening dates after seeing the quickly-spreading outbreaks in other states.
Very few public school districts across the US have returned to traditional, in-person learning which is a boon for pro-separation Americans everywhere. Public schools and colleges are the last and greatest bastion of diverse people, experiences and thought that America has to offer. Despite the overwhelming re-segregation of public K-12 school systems, schools and colleges are still the most fundamental institutions in American life wherein children and young adults meet people who come from different homelives, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, sexual orientations, countries and faith traditions. Beyond that, teachers, coaches and counselors who come from those different worldviews try to push, pull, prod and pry open young minds to the wonders of the wider world.
It is no secret that this dynamic causes some parents a good deal of angst. The establishment and expansion of private schools in the US — particularly, but not solely in the American South — track neatly alongside the prohibition of segregation in graduate schools, undergraduate programs, and K-12 systems. As SCOTUS decisions consistently outlawed segregation in American colleges and schools, many White parents scrambled to find new ways to educate their children in all-White, homogeneous learning environments.
In addition to race separation, some parents have long sought to separate their children from the pro-LGBTQ agenda as well as students and staff who identify as members of the LGBTQ community. Across the US, numerous private religious schools restrict the enrollment of LGBTQ students — and students with LGBTQ parents — and the employment of LGBTQ staff.
Other parents prefer homeschooling in order to more tightly control students’ access to minorities and LGBTQ propaganda. The rates of homeschooling have skyrocketed over the past two decades. More than 2 million 5–17 year olds are homeschooled each year in the US, nearly two-thirds of them White. A common refrain in the far right community is, “they’ve taken prayer out of schools and put everything else in!” Now their kids are learning at home — “prayer” is in; “everything else” is out.
Keeping students out of traditional public schools is an effective way to reduce their contact with people who are different than them. The coronavirus has provided a great assist to parents in this area. While traditional public school doors remained padlocked, parents have turned to nontraditional means including virtual or online learning environments to educate their children. One only has to spend a few minutes on Facebook or Craigslist to find parents seeking teachers and tutors for “neighborhood” learning pods with 3–4 families pooling their resources to pay for educational support for their students. This educational set up requires money — and as neighborhoods are severely segregated, so shall the learning pods be.
Despite the coronavirus being tagged as “novel” — having been previously unidentified — its impact on America is anything but. The coronavirus, like almost everything else under the sun, hits the poor, the Black, and the brown harder than anyone else. There are numerous reasons for this and this list is by no means exhaustive. Minorities are:
- more likely to have preexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to death and severe infection,
- treated differently — and treated differently — in healthcare settings,
- less likely to be insured,
- more likely to be front-line workers, unable to telework, and unable to practice social distance measures on the job,
- more likely to live in multi-generational homes and come into close contact with immediate and extended family members,
- less likely to receive reliable and timely public health information,
- more likely to be poor.
There is not a state in this union wherein the percent of Whites with the coronavirus exceeds the percent of Whites in the population. In virtually every state, the percent of Black coronavirus cases exceeds the percent of Blacks in that state — and not by a little. Blacks contract the virus at higher rates. When they contract it, they are more likely to be sicker and more likely to die.
There is no suggestion from this quarter that White Americans want or take pleasure in the coronavirus more harshly impacting minorities. To be certain though, in the early days of the pandemic there was mass fear and hysteria until local governments began to report the demographics of the victims. And so, the (White) world breathed a sigh of relief.
Oh! It’s a minority disease? Why didn’t you say so? You had me for a minute there! I was going to go along with the shut down, wear my mask, practice social distance. But now I find out there’s absolutely no reason to! It’s not my problem!
No side effect of the pandemic has hewed to far right hopes and dreams more than that of immigration and foreign travel. The coronavirus was actually able to BUILD THE WALL AND MAKE MEXICO PAY FOR IT! And Canada. And the UK. And Italy. And Israel. And Japan. And South Africa. And America. Each nation on the globe has walled off its borders, making real-time decisions about who can come, who can go, who must stay away. Traffic has slowed considerably on our southern border — northern border too. For years, Americans have intimated (or stated explicitly!) that foreigners are dirty. They bring diseases. They don’t have up-to-date vaccinations. They are going to make us all sick.
Honestly, it stings to now hear other nations say that about us. It stings to be the dreaded foreigner coming from a nation where an infectious disease is running rampant and to have other countries believe that our presence would be more liability than benefit to the health and welfare of their citizens. It stings, but it is not inaccurate and it is not unsurprising. The US is a sovereign nation; other nations are sovereign too. They have every right to say to us what we have said to and about so many nations before. Stay home.
Not only are we unwelcome in many countries, in many cases they are now unwilling to come here as well. Massive hotels stand empty. Airlines are so desperate for full planes that they have stopped extorting us for changes of plans.
Walt Disney World is waiting. The Statue of Liberty is lonely. Las Vegas is languishing. The Big Apple is abandoned.
The coronavirus has given those on the far right everything they ever wanted and yet, they are as angry and aggressive and aggrieved as ever. Why? For the same reason many of us desperately wish and hope for something for a very long time, only to finally get it and realize it was not at all like we imagined.
Like the kid who gets that long begged for puppy at Christmas and by MLK Day is so over the 5:00 am bathroom runs outside in the freezing cold that he’s looking for a way out. I could just pretend he got lost…..
Or a family that meticulously saves its money for a backyard pool. The sounds of screaming and splashing and swimming quickly give way to moans and groans as the parents become experts in filtration, circulation, chlorination and chemistry. Forget long life or a comfortable retirement — the only life goal becomes a pool with the ph and alkaline levels in the safe range and no algae on top.
And so it is with many on the right. They got what they wanted — almost to the tee. They got separation — but separation from “the other” also means separation from our own family, friends, co-workers, church members and social circle. It means loneliness and depression.
They rescued their kids from the negative influences of dangerous minorities and the liberal gay agenda. But kids are people too — and many parents are finding themselves wholly unprepared and ill-equipped to provide the educational, social, emotional, even spiritual support that their children need. There was a structure already in place for that. It is imperfect, to be sure. But many parents are now finding out that that imperfect but already established support system is hard to replicate on the fly.
They have been largely unscathed from the health impacts of the coronavirus, compared to the poor and minority communities. But this nation and this world are interconnected — there is nothing that can harm one group without harming the whole. Slowly, that realization is becoming painfully clear. The stock market is thriving; the job market has stalled. The real estate sector is booming; eviction notices are blanketing the country. The really rich are getting really richer; the regular people are feeling the squeeze.
They got fewer foreigners crossing the borders — legally or illegally. But that lack of international traffic has left the tourism and entertainment industries in tatters. An entire economy feels that. An entire nation feels that. And it doesn’t feel good.
More than anything, the Covid-19 pandemic should be a lesson to each and every American about how much we need each other, how interconnected our very existence is, and how when one part of the body is hurt or broken, the whole body is hurt or broken. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” More than 1,000 Americans “perish” from the coronavirus each day in this country, our economy is in free fall, our colleges and schools are shuttered, our emotional health is badly strained. Some of the blame belongs to the “fools” who would rather burn the whole thing down, than learn to build together and live together with those who are different.
They have gotten what they wanted. It is not at all what they hoped it would be.