How the Left and the Right View COVID-19
by Caleb Backholm 5/16/2020
Can a virus be political? Recent research suggests many people are viewing the Coronavirus crisis through an ideological lens. Here are a few reasons why politics are affecting how people approach the coronavirus disease.
1. COVID-19 only attacks Democrats.
OK, this answer is a bit tongue in cheek, yet there is also some truth in it. Look at the areas most afflicted by the virus — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Orleans, Detroit, Seattle — all these areas are heavily Democratic.
It’s pretty unlikely the virus is looking at past voting trends before choosing its victims, but a plausible explanation could be that COVID-19 spreads fastest in high-population density areas, which also happen to vote Democrat. Whatever the reason, it would seem that those with personal experience of the virus are more often Democrats. For many in Republican areas, on the other hand, the negative effect they’ve experienced is that of losing income, or sometimes even a job or business. Perhaps that personal experience is affecting how people see the threat of the virus.
Though plausible, I think there are even more significant explanations for this political divide. Worldview differences are even greater factors.
Capitalists believe that shuttering businesses was bad from the start and is getting worse every day. When people can’t serve each other everything stops working. The big worry here is that the “cure could be worse than the disease.” Those on the right highly value our capitalist system of work and earning, and become very alarmed when something interrupts it.
But not so for some on the far political left, who view capitalism with a very skeptical eye. From their viewpoint, businesses are guilty of exploiting workers, concentrating wealth in the hands of a few, and ushering in the dangers of global warming, so seeing that influence wane for a while is quite acceptable, if not outright desirable. If “stay home, stay safe” helps stop the spread of the virus, heals the planet, and sticks it to the 1 percent for a while, those on the left say let it ride a little longer.
3. View of government
Where many on the right believe business is the most essential part of a nation, those on the left generally see government as the primary engine. From that viewpoint, as business shuts down, the government can pick up the slack and meet the needs of the people. And though there was bipartisan support for the CARES Act last month, the vision is much more long-term on the left.
A case in point, Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and others recently proposed legislation that would give $2,000 per person per month to most families in the country, up to $10,000 per month for a family of five. This monthly deposit would continue until the Coronavirus crisis is over, plus three months. The function of providing income to families is normally the job of businesses, but in this proposal, the government will be taking on that responsibility while businesses can’t.
Obviously, the Democrat senators believe this is a workable proposal or they wouldn’t have proposed it. In their view, if people can stay safe at home, and still have the money to provide their needs, this buys us time and reduces the rush to get the private sector back to full strength.
From the viewpoint on the right, this proposal is pure folly. The government doesn’t have the money to send out. All three options to obtain the money (raising taxes, selling bonds, or printing cash) will further damage the economy and, even then, are likely to come up short. The government simply is incapable of making up for the lost production that a healthy economy produces. In fact, the government can’t produce any money at all, it can only redistribute it. Therefore, we need to end the shutdown as quickly as possible.
These two views are very different and inherently political.
This is not the only difference in the area of government. Conservatives tend to oppose expanding government and adding more power to an executive, while progressives believe such rules often help the government fight for the underserved and marginalized. Though likely temporary, there is no doubt we have seen a massive extension in government dictates, mandates, and prohibitions in recent weeks. There’s no way around it; this is going to bother conservatives a lot sooner than it will secular progressives.
4. Religious freedom
On that topic, one of the hot points since the very beginning of the crisis is around the ability of churches to lawfully meet. While nearly all churches suspended Sunday services, some states required them to do so, while others did not. There are churchgoers of all political persuasions, but atheists and those who never go to church tend to be on the political left.
As governments gave out exceptions for “essential” businesses, in the states where churches were not deemed essential, and then forbidden from meeting, this stuck in the craw of many people. Even when they didn’t want to meet, the fact that the state was making it against the law felt like a violation of religious liberty that so many hold very dear.
Add in the fact that abortions were still allowed in some places, while church services were not, and you can see how this easily became a point of significant disagreement. It was impossible for COVID-19 to not go political at that point.
After looking at it this way, it’s no wonder that conservatives and liberals see the COVID-19 crisis differently. We’re all in this together as they say, but we’re not all experiencing it the same, nor do we see the risks the same. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we bring our worldview and preconceptions with us.
Even in situations like a world pandemic, reasonable people will see things differently and be led by their prior beliefs. Whether politically right or left, we can still be wrong, especially in areas where the facts seem to change daily. What a reminder this is of how important it is to have the mind of Christ in us (1 Cor 2:16) so that His Spirit can guide us.