Crisis brings out the best in us. Or at least we like to think so. Reports of individual generosity, kindness and above all the bravery and commitment of medical professionals shows the best of humanity as the global pandemic grows. If only everyone was dealing with Covid-19 so big-heartedly.
If we thought we’d called a truce in the never-ending Culture War so we could fight the worldwide scourge, we were miserably mistaken. Almost as soon as the disease hit the headlines, the usual suspects saw it as a new weapon to use against their political enemies.
Conservative provocateurs in the U.S. and hardline Brexiteers in the U.K. derided the virus as a hoax and mocked the idea that it was anything to worry about. It was just another way to undermine Donald Trump or the latest liberal fear campaign. This position was re-enforced by the (in)actions of the British and American governments. The right-wing press roared approval of ‘herd immunity’ and ‘common sense’.
That narrative proved as durable as a glass hammer. You can deny the realities of the economy, you can lie and propagandise about non-existent trade negotiations, you can make up news stories that support your agenda, but it turns out you can’t fudge a pandemic when thousands of people have died.
President Trump seemed – dare we even think it – chastened by reality. The British government, though still resisting many measures taken elsewhere, is moving in the right direction. Did this elevate the conversation away from petty grievances? Hardly.
Now comes the racism. A very deliberate choice has been made in right-wing circles to call Covid-19 ‘the China Virus’ or ‘the Wuhan Virus’ or even more egregious terms not worth reprinting. It didn’t take long for Trump to pick up this racially charged nonsense term and start giving it a global audience.
On Thursday, his re-election campaign sent an email claiming ‘America is under attack – not just by an invisible virus, but by the Chinese.’ The same alarmist missive claimed former Vice President Joe Biden was ‘siding with the Chinese.’ Clearly his response has been insufficiently racialised.
The ‘Yellow Peril’ narrative is just one of the disgusting Culture War-adjacent themes over the past few days. Media commentators over 40 have aimed their invective at people under 30 for not taking the virus seriously.
Yes, the viral video of Spring Breakers is numbingly infuriating, but on the very same day the Trump campaign took aim at China, a Fox News contributor who happens to be a doctor linked the virus’ spread to young people and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting a willingness to protest made Millennials uniquely irresponsible.
Similar youth-bashing sentiments have found their way into the pages of prestige news sources on this side of the Atlantic. As reductive and fact-free as these condescending finger-wagging exercises are, there’s still one hot take that’s even worse.
First prize for rallying the Culture Warriors at the most inappropriate possible time must go to the Brexiteers. And Nigel Farage leads the pack. Let’s leave aside the usual ahistorical nonsense about the Blitz Spirit and concentrate instead on Farage’s bizarre claim that Covid-19 will make a Brexit trade deal easier and will lead to the death of ‘globalism.’ No words of comfort for victims and potential victims from Mr. Brexit. He could never let an opportunity to ‘own the Libs’ slip past him.
Coronavirus is not a Culture War issue. It’s not the fault of racially different people, it’s not a result of Communism. Younger people aren’t too weak or irresponsible en masse to cope with the crisis. And yes, several high-profile conservative leaders mishandled this at the start and are making mistakes right now.
This crisis may show us the limits of Lib-baiting rhetoric and deliberate hyper-partisanship. Many of the old tactics are falling flat and there’s palpable desperation in propaganda media to spin this successfully.
As the Trump administration has learned, it’s just not possible to fight the political and cultural battles in the same way and deal with the crisis. If they try to win the Culture War now, it’s likely they’ll fail.
We shouldn’t just be hopeful that they’ll fail. We should act to make sure they fail by refusing to get down in the dirt with them, by treating the crisis as a non-political issue and by assiduously sharing only verifiable information. And what we should do above everything else is seek to be kind, try to be generous and see those affected as people first and everything else a distant second.