COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, was (and still is) a virus that has taken the lives of over four million people in the last three years. The virus spreads through the air, most commonly from one person’s breath to another. Many people with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms, but are still able to spread the disease, leading to mass continuation of the virus. It was first discovered in December 2019. Then, over the next few months, it was declared a public health emergency, then a world-wide pandemic, then an American state of emergency by the CDC.
But really the bigger political issue is the massive increase of misinformation. It has become so much so, that if one person believes something and someone else believes another, each thinks the other is a fool, and they no longer have any common ground. It is more likely they no longer have any common sense.
In a time of so much knowledge, people have become complacent and willing to believe almost anything they read on the internet, especially when backed by politics. Once one’s party has chosen a side and deemed it ‘correct’ the members of said party follow suit, believing only what they are told and mocking others who do not.
Anyone can write anything on the internet, and someone is bound to believe it. With freedom of speech comes the right to express yourself, but that doesn’t mean you are always right. Most of today’s youth get their information from online sources like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. There, anyone can claim they are a nurse or doctor seeing patients with COVID-19, or a researcher looking into the numerous vaccines. With few regulations and restrictions, people are free to post whatever they want and make it seem true, even if it isn’t, in order to push a narrative.
People need to do more research into what media they are consuming, especially if it is important information or news. Source and fact checking are total game-changers, if you actually do it. However, how are you supposed to fact-check something that we know relatively little about?
That was the issue with COVID-19. When news of the virus first came out, people did not know much, so they filled in the gaps with what made sense at the time. By the time the government was up to speed and tried to correct the narrative, it was too late. People (and political parties) had already chosen sides.
The spread of misinformation, not COVID-19, led the pandemic to become partisan. Usually, when any type of national disaster or emergency happens (think: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc.), the country comes together to support one another. After 9/11, people started hanging American flags on their business doors, cars, and in their windows. We stood together as a country, setting politics aside to help one another. Over 3 million Americans from around the country helped after Hurricane Katrina hit. Of course, some people helped the United States during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but plenty hurt it too.
Not unlike a virus, misinformation spread rapidly throughout the country, taking over its host: social media. Rumors about where the virus came from, what was in and the effectiveness of the vaccine, and the best way to combat the disease spread from platform to platform, infecting people of all ages with skepticism.
We have become okay with believing lies. We believe the other side is being lied to and needs to ‘wake up’ and see the truth. The United States is an extremely partisan place right now and misinformation is only making things worse. The propaganda that was spread during the beginning and height of the pandemic has allowed people to distrust each other completely.
However, it is a double-edged sword, because people can also write anything they don’t like off as misinformation. Some people are much more hesitant to trust the government now. Skepticism is not a bad thing, but when people are questioning if the government has their best interests at heart, democracy backslides. Either way, it has become extremely clear that “the coronavirus pandemic [has]… dramatically exposed partisan… fault lines” and “partisan differences have shaped Americans’ response to the pandemic” (Farrell 2).
Mutual toleration has practically disappeared from politics. If people cannot trust that the government is at least trying to help them, then democracy is lost. Just because the government is controlled by the other party, does not mean that they have bad intentions. Rather, people need to believe that everyone has good intentions, though they may not go about them in the best way.
In order to be considered a bipartisan democratic country, the citizens of the United States need to be able to accept their opponents as legitimate. Noting your opponents as valid is necessary to keeping a country away from polarization. Political polarization is one of the “four conditions that pose threats to the sustainability and survival of democracy” and COVID-19 has proven that it has infected every aspect of our lives (Farrell 2).
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