Staff Columnist

Political tribalism is immune to the coronavirus

Republicans and Democrats don't just disagree about the pandemic - many hate the other side.

People with weapons march across a street in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, May 1, 2020. About a dozen demonstrators marched Fri
People with weapons march across a street in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, May 1, 2020. About a dozen demonstrators marched Friday afternoon around the area of the Old Capitol, Legislative Building and Executive Mansion. Several had visible firearms. It was not immediately clear what specific issues they were protesting, as none carried signs. A Facebook post calling for a rally on Friday morning had said it was to promote Constitutional free speech and gun rights. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

In a world where it seems like everything has changed, the one constant is bitter political tribalism.

Last month, groups of protesters started gathering near state houses and in other public spaces to call for an end to the government-imposed coronavirus lockdowns. We quickly learned the protests weren’t just about the overbearing stay-at-home orders, but a laundry list of right-wing grievances. These issues are so important, apparently, that conservative demonstrators forgot that they hate it when demonstrators block traffic.

Many protesters waved campaign signs for President Donald Trump. Evidence emerged that the movement was organized in part by conservative advocacy groups, termed AstroTurf by critics. A “Reopen Iowa” petition website, for example, is hosted by Iowa Gun Owners.

The Trumpian anti-shutdown protests are one example of the way Americans’ reaction to the pandemic has been overrun with red-team-versus-blue-team politicking.

Democrats, for their part, are undertaking an ambitious cognitive dissonance campaign, aimed at lavishing undue praise on their team’s governors.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has become a media and political darling for his coronavirus response. He is “coronavirus’ golden governor,” Politico reported in a recent headline.

This is the same governor who encouraged his people to ignore the virus shortly after his state’s first case was reported. The same governor who forbade local governments from issuing stricter orders, and who waited until 15,000 citizens had confirmed cases before enforcing a stay-at-home order. The same governor who boasted about using prison labor to secure hand sanitizer.

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Yes, Cuomo is the same governor who now presides over a state where more than 120 of every 100,000 people have died from COVID-19 as of last week, nearly twice the rate in the next-highest state, neighboring New Jersey. It’s good enough to make him a top contender for future presidential contests, according to some.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis started easing his coronavirus restrictions almost a week ago out of concern for the economy and in sync with several Republican governors, yet he managed to escape the harsh anti-reopening rhetoric aimed at his GOP colleagues. The trio of Democratic governors neighboring Iowa — Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin — get positive reviews for their aggressive responses, even as their COVID-19 death reports track or exceed Iowa’s.

At the national level, the partisan reactions are stark. More than 80 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners supported Trump’s response, compared to fewer than 20 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners, according to Pew Research Center data released in early April.

The one thing politicians from both parties seem to agree on is that “we’re all in this together.” It’s a common refrain from government officials these days. But I don’t feel very “together” in all of this.

It’s not just that people have different values and beliefs pouring over into every imaginable political or social issue. Many partisans literally hate the other side. Among both Republicans and Democrats, almost a quarter believe members of the opposing party are “evil,” according to a 2018 Axios poll. About half see the other as “ignorant” and “spiteful.

If it’s “back to normal” you want, just fire up the Twitter machine anytime the president or a governor is holding a coronavirus news conference. You’ll be greeted with all the same partisan vitriol as the old days, but now with a public health veneer.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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