The Politicization of Epidemics

My grandsons came for a visit. We have not seen them in six too long months. Not since Christmas. Not since the worldwide pandemic took over our lives.

My daughter called before arriving: “Should we wear masks?”

“Yes,” I said without any hesitation whatsoever.

Her husband works in a hospital. While we have been in a tight bubble, there are no assurances. I don’t want to put my daughter and her family at risk and she doesn’t want to put her dad or I at risk.

So we mask up.

Last week when Governor Jay Inslee instituted a statewide mask order for all folks in Washington whenever they are in public, I sent a note to my brother and sister, both of whom live in Washington State: I wish every governor would follow your governor’s orders.

Neither my brother or sister responded to my text.

When my husband visited his mom recently, he wore a mask. His mother put on her mask, although, she probably would not have if my husband hadn’t worn his.

Lead by example.

We never used to do all this and we’ve had pandemics before, someone remarked to me recently.

Yeah, well, when you know better, you do better, I replied.

Or so one could hope.

News reports reveal the US is leading the world in outbreaks, cases, and deaths by Covid, Most of that could be avoided if people would follow some pretty simple rules: Socially Distance and Mask up.

Yet, few governors have the gumption Inslee possesses to protect the populous of their states.

And when you have a president who has discredited every new agency that doesn’t kiss his shiny hiney, you can expect that those who regale him as the Second Coming will just not believe the news reports.

This is all a bunch of hooey, someone else remarked. This is no worse than the flu.

Which I suppose is true if you happen to get a mild or asymptomatic case of Covid. However, if you are one of the 125,000 and counting dead over the last 3 months, I suppose you might think it a tad more troublesome than the flu.

To put it in perspective, we went to war in Vietnam in 1955. My friend Hank Cramer lost his dad in 1957. Captain Cramer Jr, a West Point grad, was KIA near Nha Trang.  The war continued on until May 15, 1975, when 18 US servicemen – 14 Marines, 2 Navy corpsman, and 2 Air Force crewmen – were KIA. Their’s are the last names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in D.C. My own father’s name in on panel 9E Line 71. There is currently a total of 58,307 names etched into that black granite.

In the course of just THREE months, we have lost double the number of men and women killed in Vietnam during a TWENTY year period.

We pretty much all agree that those lost in Vietnam didn’t have to die. That it was a misguided war. That we should never have been there fighting that war. That it happened because of politicians seeking their own selfish ambitions. If I had a nickle for every time someone told me my father’s death in Vietnam was in vain, I’d be a wealthy woman.  History has not been kind to those who led this nation into the American War in Vietnam.

And history will not be kind to those who are complicit in the deaths of Americans due to pandemic that Trump and his administration and the Republican-led Congress refuse to mitigate for fear it will hurt Trump’s re-election.

It is entirely feasible that by September, the virus will triple the deaths of Americans killed in Vietnam. And if Trump remains in office, and the GOP-led Senate continues to refuse to lead, the number of deaths will continue to double and triple over the next year.

And just like with Vietnam, that does not at all address the thousands upon thousands who don’t die from their injuries, but rather have to figure out how to carve out a new life as a disabled American citizen.

Media and others continue to insist that this is the first time that a pandemic has been politicized like this, where the wearing of a mask is perceived as a political statement rather than as a protection for the good of all.

Those making such statements must have missed that whole AIDS crisis.

I remember it vividly.

Everything about AIDS was politicized, and most of that politicization started within the church, specifically, within Dr. James Dobson’s wildly popular talk show, Focus on the Family.

I remember when Ryan White was ostracized by his middle school because he had contracted AIDS.  Ryan not only had to deal with the devastating illness that was AIDS; he had to wage a legal battle for the right to attend school.

And you know who presented the biggest challenge to a dying kid’s wish to return to the classroom?

Right-wing Evangelicals, who maintained that he must have been gay or engaged in some unsavory activity for God to punish him by infecting him with AIDS. He was a kid. He got it from a Blood Transfusion.

And yes, many in the church maintained that AIDS was a curse on this land from God for gays. Sigh.

If I believed that sort of theology, which I most assuredly do not, I would say that God sent Covid to punish Americans for electing Trump. As if a worldwide pandemic is the thing we need to keep Trump from getting re-elected. Why doesn’t God just turn him into a pillar of salt or strike him dead and save us all the trouble?

To my knowledge those who led the Right-Wing Evangelical Movement against AIDS patients, those who fueled the bigotry that left so many young men to die isolated, cut off from loved ones and family, never apologized for their wrongdoing.

In fact, if anything, they seem to have drilled down on their use of fear as the great motivator.

They totally politicized the AIDS epidemic and made the end of life an unnecessary cruelty for thousands of AIDS sufferers.

Sound familiar?


Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide ‘Cause I need More Room for My Plasma TV. (Zondervan).


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

1 Comment

AF Roger

about 3 years ago

Familiar? All too. In re-reading past work of Black American writers and leaders (Baldwin, King, W.E.B. DuBois), I can only conclude this: the enslavement and racism against of millions of human beings points to one thing. So does the genocide of all the peoples of the New World. So does the death of six million Jews and another five million other "undesirables" by the Nazis. They all point to either the near-complete acquiescence of the church or else the wholehearted embrace of the church. My seminary education required the reading of Cuban-American scholar Justo Gonzalez' two volume work The Story of Christianity. It is about the bloodiest book I have ever read. It is not fiction. It is not a diatribe but an honest, scholarly attempt at history. It is who we are, and we refuse to see. Other slogans have been used elsewhere, but for us on this continent "manifest destiny", "the white man's burden" and the Monroe Doctrine have been our slogans, right up there with the current "economic growth", "law 'n order" and MAGA. All are idolatries. One thing has made it possible for me to accept the vows of ordination: the Kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed and lived it. Many of the current iterations of the church bear little resemblance to that. And that's on us. Sound familiar?


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