In this week’s news are reports that Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, has been hospitalised with Covid-19. Comments about this in my news feed are, as usual, rife with schadenfreude and hopes that he should die in one of his underfunded hospitals.
There’s nothing surprising about this, but it saddens me. Don’t get me wrong – I have no respect for BoJo; I despise his policies, and his cuts to the National Health Service. His party and fellow ideologues are responsible for the UK health system being unprepared for this global pandemic. I sympathise with those who are outraged by these cuts, and fully understand the schadenfreude. But this is no time to be wishing harm to anyone.
While speaking to a loved one in the US this morning, I was explaining that, unlike most contagious diseases, this time the hotspots are concentrated among the wealthy, when she replied “Good, maybe it will kill some of the millionaires and billionaires.” Again, I totally get the sentiment, but cannot share it.
No doubt, the system which has generated gross inequality in wealth is responsible for untold suffering; and I sincerely hope that as we recover from this pandemic, when the lockdowns are over, and we begin rebuilding our economies, that we will work towards a fairer, more equitable society. But I do not wish harm on anyone.
We might welcome this moment as an invitation to an awakening – for the wealthy and privileged to recognize that we are all in this together – not just this pandemic, but this world. While closing our borders and locking down our communities is necessary for fighting this pandemic, history has shown again and again that building walls and gated communities cannot protect the privileged from the suffering in the world.
There is no shortage of anecdotes of people learning that their privileges not only do not protect them from this pandemic. An Australian passenger on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean being refused harbourage in Italy, voiced his outrage that he was being treated like this, demanding that the Australian government act immediately to ensure his release from confinement. He clearly believed that the measures seen as necessary around the world to stop the spread of the coronavirus do not apply to him.
In another case, we learned that “patient zero” in one of Australia’s hotspots was a medical doctor who, having returned from overseas, ignored instructions to self-isolate. Instead, he attended a 21st birthday party – one of the most important rites of passage in Australia – and spread the infection through one of the wealthier areas in the country.
I saw a post in which someone reported that, figuring with everyone in lockdown, it would be a good time to head to Costco for some supplies. Surprised to discover that Costco was almost as busy as ever, our correspondent proceeded to lambast all the “idiots” crowding the aisles, who were ignoring the advice to just stay home. I couldn’t help but think of pots, kettles, and black. Apparently, it’s not only the wealthy and privileged who believe the general rules do not apply to them.
Fortunately, our news feeds are also full of beautiful stories of social solidarity in this time of physical distancing. To cite just one example: in a suburban street somewhere in England, the neighbourhood turned out in their front gardens to applaud a paramedic as she set out from home for another shift on the front lines. She was brought to tears. My eyes got a bit leaky, too.
There are countless stories like this circulating. If you can’t find any, please let me know, and I’ll forward some to you!
But right now, I want to turn to the deep-seated antipathy between warring political tribes that has been plaguing our societies for decades.
My last two posts – On Trump and On Obama – were a response to an American who asked why my Australian friends hate Trump and love Obama. I tried to explain that these sentiments are not partisan, but based on observations of their respective behaviours, policies and positions. Among other things, I acknowledged that Obama was hardly perfect; and that I could happily discuss criticisms of his policies without becoming defensive.
Similarly, I have a large circle of dear friends – none of whom are perfect. Alas, I may be guilty of being overly critical of them – but it doesn’t tarnish my love for them, or my deep appreciation and gratitude for their friendship.
Some of my loved ones, as should be clear by now, are Trump supporters; something I cannot begin to understand. But I love them anyway. And am loathe to denigrate them, berate them, or treat them as ignorant because we disagree. Alas, I have probably done all those things; but I’ve learned that it is to no avail – achieving nothing except creating tension.
So, the main point of this post is to commit to doing things differently, and to invite you to join me.
I will continue to smack my head when I see reports of congregations flocking into services in contravention of all the evidence that physical distancing is essential to stemming the spread of this virus, in the belief that their religious beliefs will protect them. I will continue to be gobsmacked by people burning 5G transmission towers in the belief that the telecommunications network is spreading covid-19.
I will continue to loathe the policies of the US Republicans, as well as the Australian Liberals, and the UK Conservatives for as long as they continue their so-called “small government” ideology, handing out tax-payer money to wealthy individuals and undermining services for the majority of the population. And I will continue to call-out hypocrisy and bullshit where I see it.
But I see nothing to be gained by name calling and denigrating their supporters.
If these schisms were not so deep, I might be able to laugh at the post I saw the other day, with a photo of a “good ole boy” in his overalls and trucker’s cap, which stated: “Arguing with a Democrat is like wiping your ass before you shit – it just don’t make no sense.” But I can’t. It saddens me. Not because I’m a Democrat, but because it speaks to a schism in society so deep that it appears to be irreconcilable. Democracy is dependent upon people of conflicting views and values being able to respectfully speak across their differences, to compromise and find solutions to social issues.
We will not resolve anything if we treat family, neighbours and political opponents as uneducated, ignorant, selfish, venal or stupid. If our political differences are in fact irreconcilable, the only way forward is for one side to govern, oppressing the other.
I don’t want to live in that world. I started this blog with a conversation with someone who hoped maybe the virus would kill some of the uber-wealthy. I share her desire for them to be disempowered, displaced from the halls of government, and for their wealth to be redistributed to the “ordinary” people. But the history of political revolutions has shown us that “off with their heads” has never had the desired effect.
So, I hope Boris Johnson recovers, and that this experience leads him to reconsider his position of public services, like the health care system. I hope something prompts Donald Trump to learn to respect democratic institutions of government, to recognize that the President’s job is to look after all the American people, not just the wealthy few; to be inclusive rather than divisive. I hope the millionaires and billionaires affected by this virus see fit to invest their wealth in collective well-being rather than self-enrichment.
With love, I wish you well, and hope that we can discuss the kind of world we will build out of the wreckage of this pandemic with mutual respect.