When schools were getting shut down last year due to COVID-19, an argument for keeping them open was that they are the last, best resource for a lot of kids. Schools were the only option for consistent meals or a haven from bad home environments, so shutting them down meant really and truly abandoning these children.
Upon realizing the severity of our situation, the federal government took swift action to make sweeping changes. Over the following months, both the previous and current administrations worked tirelessly to create national programs protecting children. The educational system was no longer the sole systemic guarantor of survival for America’s youth. Parents across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief, foreseeable future disasters were prevented, and children were finally proven to be the priority both political parties had always claimed them to be.
Nobody did a goddamn thing, and now the country faces the same exact problems it did a year ago. Well, not exactly the same. Despite a year’s worth of experience, a new administration and a vaccine, things are far worse.
According to the CDC, infection rates are now five times higher nationally than what they were last September. Here in Maine they’re 14 times higher, and as a Black person in this state I am currently more than twice as likely as a white person to be infected. As I write this, the average COVID death rate in the country is over 2,000 people a day. That means the U.S. is on track to lose roughly the population of Portland every month.
It’s hard to believe just how little we’ve done to stop the pandemic. It’s even harder to believe how little we’re still doing. I know, I know — it’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But hang on just a minute.
Do you remember way back when masks were first suggested as a means to stop the spread? Remember the weird conspiracy theorists and fake science protests? So many disingenuous fools were talking about how masks would actually make the coronavirus stronger or lower your oxygen levels or whatever. Of course, these people somehow missed the very long history of medical professionals and construction workers and painters and countless others kept safe and healthy by masks.
After the arguments of fake science fell flat, it became a matter offending their understanding of freedom. Personally, that one is the most frustrating. My face gets hot when I think about how many people in this country hold so deeply in their core such an inverse understanding of freedom. These people who are already so free aren’t actually capable of understanding what freedom even means. Imagine a child who hasn’t been potty-trained or taught language because the parents thought it would impinge the child’s freedom. Now imagine what those children would be like to deal with as adults and you’ll have some idea how this entire situation feels to me.
Of course, some anti-maskers knew exactly what they were doing. As a Black person who publicly talks about race, I see where this goes. You need to explain a point that you feel is being misunderstood, because if others understood the point, then they’d be on your side and you could all confront the problem together, right? But then they start moving the goalposts. The further you aim, the further the goalposts get. Hopefully, you eventually realize they’re not interested in achieving the goal at all and the more time you spend arguing with them, the less time you can spend attempting to solve the problem, which is all you were trying to do to begin with. Ugh.
But please consider just for a moment that some of the people on your side also aren’t interested in achieving the goal. Some may be playing an entirely different game.
Honestly ask yourself this question: If you were in charge, would you expect the people who completely disengaged with reality over masks to completely reengage when offered a government vaccine? Obviously, if you could count on anything at all, it would be that they’d rather die. So, that’s what they’re doing. Meanwhile, breakthrough cases predictably pile up, more and more variants appear, vaccines lose strength, and eventually whoever’s left is back at the beginning.
Oh, and one more thing. We’ve known since July that vaccines don’t stop the spread of COVID. A shutdown would, but, you know, the economy.
The real problem is that our political system currently depends on a culture of destructive misunderstanding. One party must be seen fighting for that culture while the other party must be seen fighting against it. Neither side can ever win.
Which is not to say there are no winners. COVID’s out here killin’ it.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at email@example.com.