The Coronavirus Doesn’t Know Politics


Under the category of “Trump Ruins Everything” – in the sense that you can’t have a reasonable political debate without either screaming about the president’s more polarizing ideas or dismissing your foe as deluded – add the protests in Orthodox Brooklyn over the city’s and state’s Covid-19 restrictions.

The facts show that the Orthodox leadership has been lax in enforcing restrictions that are good not only for the health of their followers but the city at large. At the same time, many think that Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo have stumbled in gaining the communities’ trust, either through a lack of communication or heavy-handed enforcement efforts that seemed to single out the Orthodox.

How much of this actually owes to partisan politics is not apparent, although a number of people have sought to politicize the crisis. In the most violent of the protests in Borough Park – led by Heshy Tischler, a local activist now facing charges of incitement – the black-hatted demonstrators waved Trump flags and chanted pro-Trump slogans while demanding their freedom to kill each other worship as they wish. Trump weighed in with a tweet comparing the NYPD’s efforts to control the crowds of unmasked marchers in Brooklyn with the Nazis’ roundup of Jews (an odd position for the law-and-order president, who tends to take the side of police when it comes to out-of-control street protests).

The politicization of public health has been one of the most disheartening aspects of the Covid crisis.

The examples are legion: disgraced Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo accusing career government scientists of “sedition” and demanding to review the CDC’s weekly scientific reports on the pandemic; Scott Atlas, a top medical adviser to Trump, arguing that the science of masks is unclear and that children can’t spread the virus; or the president’s defiance of his own agencies’ guidelines about wearing a mask. The president consistently downplays the pandemic, as when he told a rally, just days before he revealed his own positive test, that the virus “affects virtually nobody.”

As Politico put it, “It’s one thing to spin things during an election year. It’s another to push demonstrably false information that impacts the response to a once-in-a-generation pandemic.”

I don’t know anybody who wants to shut down the economy for ideological reasons.

From the beginning, politicians – starting with the president – insisted on the false choice between taking precautions and opening up the economy, when the two actually went hand in hand: Wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing were always about containing the disease so that the economy could slowly reopen. I don’t know anybody who wants to shut down the economy for ideological reasons, but I have heard from plenty of people who think even something as simple as wearing a mask is a surrender of their rights.

Besides, as Dr. Anthoiny Fauci told an interviewer, the coronavirus “doesn’t know politics.”

“The common enemy is the virus. So, it really doesn’t make any sense if you have a political divide about whether you should be wearing a mask or not,” America’s top infectious disease expert told The World. “People do not like to be told what to do, but sometimes just common sense of looking at what’s going on around you when you see upsurges of infections should be enough to get people to realize. Things that are not that difficult to do and shouldn’t be steeped in politics or ideological divide really need to be done. It’s not that much of a big deal to do these public health measures.”

You can argue that Trump is not to blame for the scope of the pandemic or the economic collapse, or that a different president would not have taken the steps necessary to suppress the virus and control the pandemic. I am not convinced. But Trump absolutely owns the idea that there is a Republican, or at least Trumpian, way to fight this pandemic and a Democratic way. And according to the confounding identity politics of the day, Trump’s followers immediately embrace his rhetoric as a battle cry.

That’s a tragic political and public health failing. A president should be insisting that the only way to fight a national threat is the American way – a common cause that demands sacrifices and compromise on all sides.

Andrew Silow-Carroll (@SilowCarroll) is the editor in chief of The Jewish Week.