Let’s think out loud for a second about coronavirus and what it exposes. If ever there was a doubt that information could become politicized, that doubt should be gone by now. Of course, historians already know history is written by the victors and deconstructionists know that that history glosses over, if not completely ignores, atrocities, and paints events more favorably for the victors. Erasure is a popular word these days. My hope is that more lay people now realize how true both of these facts are—but I admit my hope is not a strong one. Unless you’re willing to dip your toes in the opposite ideological pond, you, the well-meaning, casual reader of news—which is to say, ill-informed—are at the mercy of search engine algorithms and surface level analysis. You’re aware of current events to a certain useful level, but your understanding and empathy extend only to the extent that you can dutifully recite the day’s headlines and commentary from the comfort of your tepid pond.
Coronavirus exposes the distrust that has become all too common in American society. On the Left, the argument goes that if you’re not wearing a mask, you’re willingly risking the lives of the immunocompromised. This assumes, of course, that you are an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. This further assumes that, save extreme measures that prove your status as healthy and clean, you are not healthy and clean. The irony here is that, while Liberals decry the FDA’s ban on homosexuals from donating blood simply because they’re gay, Liberals themselves assume you to be diseased based on how you look. It’s better to be safe than sorry, a Liberal might say—but they wouldn’t stand for the FDA ban. We should presume that people are innocent.
On the Right, meanwhile, the argument goes that scientists have gotten so much wrong about this epidemic, and the media is so controlled by the Liberal Left, that we can’t trust the information they’ve given us because the information they’ve given us has been so wrong in the past. The problem here is one of overemphasis and hyperbole—the failure to provide completely correct information 100% of the time does not invalidate the veracity of all information. We should presume that the country’s top experts have our, and the world’s, best interests in mind. We should presume the intentions and advice of medical experts to be innocent.
We should hold a presumption of innocence. This was a radical idea during this country’s founding and it continues to be a radical idea today. Our natural inclination has time and again proven that we would much rather damn the accused than offer an impartial hearing. It’s so much easier. We have to constantly remind ourselves that, no, we should observe the facts available, evaluate them, present them to a jury untainted by the opinions and viewpoints of others, so that we might provide the fairest hearing possible. I admit to giving into this temptation during Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Without re-establishing the presumption of innocence, this country will not be able to move forward in a productive way. The “healing” so often mentioned as necessary cannot happen without trust.
Mistrust will outlive COVID-19. Mistrust will keep COVID alive longer than it needs to be. Think about it: America is no closer to eradicating this virus, let alone allowing establishments to open in a limited manner. At this point, the best we can hope for is that a vaccine is created as soon as possible, but even then, don’t you think there will be significant pockets of holdouts? If the anti-vaxxers have taught us anything, it’s that the mistrust of medical advice extends to the mistrust over vaccines. With measles making a return—and with widespread COVID conspiracy theories that equate an injection to mind-control or tracking technology—there is no good reason to believe that the requisite number of people will line up to receive their shot.
If you’re Hispanic, you’ve probably already been sent no less than three links about how COVID is a plot by Satanic forces to inject you with the sign of the Devil. If you’re a conservative, you’ve probably shared no less than three links about how COVID is a means for population control, or how it was purposefully unleashed by Bill Gates. If you’re Liberal, you’ve probably liked no less than three links that show people’s anxieties played out in real time, all the while you laugh at them. There’s tension over masks. The N-95 mask was considered the best in protective face gear. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been making do with bandanas. The federal response hasn’t exactly considered N-95 masks a priority, either. Neither have state governments. Perhaps I’m displaying my own ignorance now, or maybe I’m imagining a romanticized version of federal power, but I envisioned a free grab bag of cardboard masks, hand sanitizer, and rubber gloves. In theory, we should be able to eradicate this thing in more or less two weeks, right? That’s how long the virus survives in the body? We can’t even withhold mistrust for two weeks—a month at most? Oh yeah, we’re in trouble.