GUEST COLUMN: Pandemic in an election year: A perfect storm

GUEST COLUMN: Pandemic in an election year: A perfect storm

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Steve Bakke new

Steve Bakke

We’re in the middle of a highly charged 2020 presidential campaign and along comes the coronavirus health crisis. The idea of a “perfect storm” conveys a confluence of events that combine to become a powerful and dangerous situation.

Our politics and the coronavirus threat are combining into a real societal perfect storm.

It started Dec. 31. The world was alerted to the pneumonia-like COVID-19, but too much was going on for us to take much notice. In early January the CDC issued a travel notice for Wuhan, China, and Jan. 31 President Trump declared a public health emergency and banned travel to and from China. The intrepid campaigner Joe Biden wasted no time before calling the president’s response “hysterical xenophobia,” and “fear-mongering.” This early political maneuvering added an early layer of energy to the developing “perfect storm.”

The impeachment proceedings left no room in newsrooms, nor in our collective consciousness, to be on top of Trump’s dealings on the health-care front. And Congress was too taken up with the impeachment proceedings to really be diligent about what was going on in China. Trump was acquitted Feb. 5 and gradually we let ourselves become aware of something dangerous happening, as the storm quietly gained momentum.

During February, Democrats accelerated charging Trump with racism, xenophobia, fumbling the virus situation, and failing as president. In March, the economic shutdown and the ensuing tanking of the stock market really got our attention. A few days ago, we were close to bipartisan agreement on financial relief legislation when Democratic leadership shouted “stop!” We began to understand partisan politics ruled the day when House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told Democrats: “This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

You could feel the growing intensity of the gathering storm. Thankfully, historic financial relief legislation will finally approved.

Elements adding to this storm continue to pile on. Consider the following:

  • Border control, a political hot potato, is important for stopping the spreading virus.
  • After using the “China virus” tag for weeks, the mainstream press decided to stop and accuse Trump of racism for doing the same thing.
  • Federal and state governments jockeyed for position on advancing a solution and are blaming one another for advancing the problem.
  • We’re becoming aware of our country’s alarming reliance on China for pharmaceuticals.
  • It’s becoming apparent that the push during recent decades for high density housing and mass transportation increases the contagion of viruses.
  • ACLU is pushing for mass release of prisoners, for their own protection.
  • Hatred of Trump by his opposition does battle with his outrageous and hyperbolic style.

These elements build and feed on each other, and we all react in different, sometimes unusual ways. While paging through a newspaper, I came across an ominous photo coming out of Afghanistan. There was a picture of two masked men, one standing rigidly as the other held a gun to the obviously nervous fellow’s head. I got a sinking feeling when I saw this obvious Islamist execution. Then I read the caption. It was an Afghan health official taking a citizen’s temperature. The “gun” was a temperature scanner device. We see things through our own filters, and things aren’t necessarily as they first appear.

For many of us, this crisis brings us face to face with our mortality, and we’re learning how much we hold life near and dear. People do unexpected things to provide comfort and safety for themselves and loved ones. You’ve certainly heard the term, “grasping for straws.” That’s what people are doing. In this case it’s toilet paper and hand sanitizer, not straws.

I think I’m finally understanding this human reflex. Comfort is found in unexpected places. Humans want to have some sense of control, and to feel like they are contributing to their own safety and comfort.

I’ll quote from an editorial letter in the March 24 Courier: “To those who are filled with hate, please isolate yourselves so you don’t infect others. Find the cure and join the rest in love and hope!”

Steve Bakke is a Courier subscriber living in Fort Myers, Fla. He is a retired CPA and commercial finance executive.

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