A Pandemic of Populism

A Pandemic of Populism

In his third corona series, Jeff Siger ponders on populist choices and consequences when politics trumps science. One of the lessons in June has been how the power of one event can have an impact on global businesses and popular culture. “When faced with a pandemic disease of the human body or of the body politic, it is only the elected and their electors who can change things for the better…or leave us to the worse,” he concludes.

This is the third of my monthly chronicles on living through pandemic times, as told from the perspective of an American mystery writer who has called Greece home for 35 years. My wife and I are back in lockdown mode at our rural New Jersey farm, having just returned from two weeks in Manhattan, a worldwide coronavirus epicenter.  New York has beaten down the first wave, and is into its re-opening phases, while keeping a sharp eye out for a pandemic that thrives on complacency.

While in NYC, I thought of the bear that ranges across my farm.  Next time I see him I’ll have to mention I saw Manhattan streets where he could wander more undisturbed than he does through my pasture.  As long as he wears a mask.

New York City ©Pixabay

The City has a decidedly different vibe from any I’ve sensed in my fifty years living there. People move with decided purpose, keeping strictly to themselves, and virtually all in masks.  Even many homeless are masked. We’re in a thirty-story building, with all but a third of its residents having escaped to places outside the City. A third of the building’s workforce has been struck down by the virus, some for weeks, some for months. One young doorman told me how he’d spent weeks battling the virus alone in his upper-Manhattan apartment, terrorized as he listened to 24/7 wailings of ambulances carrying critically ill to hospitals, wondering whether he’d be next. I see it as a city on the verge of pandemic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

New Jersey©Pixabay

In the introduction to my second column my editor wrote, “The emotions that run through this column starkly contrast with the hope he expresses in his first corona chronicle.”

I wonder what the lead will be this time?

In April I wrote how nations found new heroes in public health professionals leading non-partisan efforts.  In May I warned of political leaders pandering to impatient to reopen constituents through partisan attacks discrediting those same heroes.

I pondered what would happen should politics trump science. I need ponder no longer

In Brazil, which has the second highest number of coronavirus deaths after the US, its President attempted to end coronavirus reporting, as if hoping to hide the consequences of his administration’s blasé attitude toward the pandemic.

In the US, the government first abandoned its nationwide public health briefings, relegating US public health officials to soundbite moments on news networks, but now limits even that. Bizarrely, whether to wear or not to wear a mask has morphed into a battleground symbol of which Presidential candidate you support.  Even testing faces that same fate. As for the pandemic, it grinds on inexorably, exacting an ever-increasing toll when prudence preached by public health officials is ignored.

Athens airport after it reopened international flights on June 15

It seems much of the world is living in Alice in Wonderland times, where up is down and down is up.

Aside from wearing a mask and washing your hands, social distancing is a key preventative.  The amount of time you spend in close proximity to another directly influences your risk of infection. Being packed together multiplies your risk, especially when without masks. No (sane) person seems to question those principles.

The question those principles beg is, under what circumstances do the perceived benefits of being part of a large gathering outweigh the potential consequences to you and those you later might infect?

Greece is about to face that question in a head-on test of its commitment to continued strict enforcement of strong public health policies, even if enforcement costs the nation desperately needed tourist cash.  Tourists descending upon the country expecting to experience the same good times as in the past, will find very different rules in place. Stay tuned for next month’s take on how that’s playing out.

Black Lives Matter protest ©Pixabay

As for the rest of our Alice in Wonderland world, much of it will undoubtedly remain fixated on the coronavirus until a vaccine or remedy is available.

And upon something else.

Since my last column, a second event of worldwide historic implications has spread around the globe.  The name George Floyd is now known throughout the world, as demonstrators put aside their social distancing concerns in pursuit of social justice.

Both events are of unique historic significance, taking quick root in popular culture as evidenced by how many global businesses are taking heed. Art, literature, film, fashion, and style are already boring down on the implications of it all…and how the power of one event will affect the impact of the other.

It’s too soon to tell how each will play out, for there are far too many rapidly moving parts, but I do see one overriding common principle. Whether facing down a pandemic disease of the human body or of the body politic, it is only the elected and their electors who can change things for the better…or leave us to the worse.

I think I’ll go look for the bear.  He’s more predictable these days than the rest of our world.

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