We Don’t Have to Politicize Every Aspect of the Pandemic

As the United States sees its politics and economic systems become increasingly nationalized, pundits and professors have a tendency to highlight our different regions—and the unique histories and subcultures that are inherent to them—to explain our differences in terms besides “red vs. blue” or “right vs. left.” While it’s worth celebrating our rich localized heritages, the fact is that regional differences in political culture and behaviors, along with communal outlook and social relationships, do not hold up to empirical scrutinydifferences are wildly overstated.  

It is regrettable in my view, then, that the New York Times just ran a well-circulated piece about the country’s response to COVID-19, one that argued that New England and the Northeastern part of the United States more generally is culturally different—and in this case, superior—due to its past. The piece argues that “the crisis has drawn out key regional differences,” and quotes an Ivy League professor who states that, “In New England and the Northeast, it is easier to say, ‘Let’s put on a mask and lock down, we’re all in this together, we know each other.’” Such a sentiment presupposes a unique set of civic virtues and social norms in New England lacking elsewhere. 

Statements of New England elitism are not in any way helpful as the country works to protect itself during this pandemic, and what’s worse is that these ideas are simply not substantiated by data as AEI’s new survey on COVID-19 and American Life makes quite clear. It’s dangerous to let a false narrative take hold, especially during a pandemic.

As an example, the AEI survey asks respondents how well their neighbors and community members are maintaining social distance from each other. Looking at the two positive categories, very well or somewhat well, the national average is 81 percent. Breaking down the responses regionally, minor regional variations emerge with New England being almost exactly at the national average. Most other regions are within a handful of points of the average with the Mid-Atlantic region—which features New York and the coronavirus epicenter—sitting on the high end with 86 percent holding that communities are social distancing. The low point is the East South Central region, which includes Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, at 74 percent but large majorities in all regions are all social distancing.

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  • I don’t get it. The article says New England is no different and then cited data that says New England is quite different. Then there’s this:

    “Finally, when asked about particular activities that are known to be dangerous to a degree in terms of spreading the COVID-19 virus, there are some activities where New Englanders are more cautious such as having friends or relatives over to one’s home or eating a meal at a restaurant.”

    This is exactly what makes New England different.

    This is starting from a premise and then cramming the data into it with a narrative.

  • Here's what I think is a good example of the politicization of the pandemic. It's from today's NYT daily briefing:

    "Why is the U.S. enduring a far more severe virus outbreak than any other rich country?

    "There are multiple causes, but one of them is the size and strength of right-wing media organizations that frequently broadcast falsehoods. The result is confusion among many Americans about scientific facts that are widely accepted, across the political spectrum, in other countries."

  • https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/24/europe-warns-of-need-for-vigilance-as-covid-19-cases-rise-sharply
    It loos like even some of the countries in Europe are currently dealing with a bit of a spike.

    I live in a state (Oregon) that has had low numbers, has a statewide indoor mask policy that seems very well-followed and yet... we are currently experiencing a surge. We have had the most people die in one day since the beginning of the pandemic in the last 24 hours. The governor has changed the rules for returning to school just today, so it looks like few kids on the more populous west side of the state will be returning in person this fall.

    This after all a virus and its waves of transmission are affected by many factors. Some of which are not completely under our control. Until a vaccine is available, all we can do is consistently wear a mask, wash your hands, and as I saw on a sign outside a business "keep one elk apart."

  • This article doesn’t address our biggest cultural divide, which is metropolitan vs. low density counties. Although New England is relatively homogenized, most other regions of the country are definitely not. We’re islands of liberalism floating in a sea of reaction. We really are committed to distinct sets of values. Our responses to Covid are going to show up on the map differently, as the NYTimes found on their road trip. I can report that in my community in the Deep South folks didn’t generally wear masks until the governor recently ordered them to do so.

  • It seems from the responses that it is fully politicized. Not sure this can be fixed.

  • As usual, I read the original article in the New York Times referred to. And here is what I found to be interesting. Abrams, the author of the piece, quotes an "Ivy League professor" saying "Let’s put on a mask and lock down, we’re all in this together, we know each other.’” The implication, of course, is that the Ivy League professor is engaging in cultural elitism and claiming her regions has a community spirit that other regions do not have.

    But this is not what she is claiming. In the comments that sandwich the quote Abrams uses, the professor makes it clear that it is the attitude towards government that is different. The Northeast, she claims, "has been less affected by decades of antigovernment rhetoric" and has a "reservoir of belief that the government exists to be good.” And it is this belief that makes people more willing to follow government edicts. So her claim isn't about greater sociability or community generosity, and all the evidence that Abrams presents in these areas is besides the point. It is about trust in government.

    So why doesn't Abrams directly address this point? Could it be that he is a libertarian writing for a libertarian think tank? Is he unwilling to look at the possibility that there are times where strong government action is necessary and that decades of undermining people's trust in government can have an adverse effect?

    1. Ayn Rand has died about 160,000 times so far in this crisis... If there ever was a repudiation of the philosophy of, "eff you I'm in it for #1", this is it...

      1. Hah.

  • One thing that they do better in New England is put trust in science. Not as many religious whackos up there.

    1. Yes, you're right, people in New England are rather gullible. ;-)

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