COVID-19 Is Exposing Ugly Truths

Clete Wetli | April 30, 2020 | Opinion Article

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the United States, it has exposed a myriad of grim political, cultural, social, and economic realities that many Americans have either long ignored or deliberately chosen to accept because they personally benefit from systemic inequity and inequality. Yet, these ugly truths have become self-evident. The sheer volume of infections, deaths, and related statistics associated with this crisis are nightmarish and unfathomable. What’s worse is that it’s highly likely that much has gone unreported and uncounted.

Prior to the pandemic, America’s political divide was stark, but now the ugly truth has emerged- it’s literally toxic. Trump ignored the warnings, downplayed an imminent threat as a “Democratic hoax”, and now bears responsibility for single-handedly causing even more preventable deaths by spewing quackery from his bully pulpit. Trump lies about the availability of testing and his administration’s glaring failures because his only focus is re-election and soothing his fragile ego. 

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His cultish followers, like Mobile, Alabama’s Mayor Sandy Stimpson are putting economic interests over American lives. Currently, Mobile is witnessing a huge increase in infections and deaths. Yet, Stimpson has decided that immediately reopening businesses like hair salons and gyms is a brilliant idea. In fact, he won’t mandate social distancing or mask-wearing because “I don’t think it’s enforceable. My hope is that through peer pressure and the belief that we all have a social responsibility in the presence of society that people will wear it.”

Why have laws or leaders when peer pressure is so much more effective? It makes you wonder if Stimpson took Trump’s advice and had a few shots of Windex before making those absurd remarks.

In North Alabama, Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks has taken to Twitter to voice a far more extreme position and thinks that just about everything ought to be open because “the nanny state” is taking away his “FREEDOM.” Brooks thinks that a person’s right to be an asymptomatic carrier who hasn’t been tested to freely congregate and unwittingly infect others is inalienable. He went on to say, “Restaurants should have the FREEDOM to decide how to best protect customers & customers should have the freedom to choose.” So, suddenly, Mo Brooks is pro-choice now?

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These bizarre and unhinged comments only serve to expose another ugly truth. It’s the fact that conservatives have spent decades rigging the system to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. A great example is what’s happening to minimum wage restaurant workers (also, known now as “essential workers”) who were laid off or furloughed. In states like Alabama, unemployment benefits have been historically and horrifically low, but with the addition of federal dollars during the pandemic, many laid off employees are earning more on unemployment than they would if they were still working. In the meantime, furloughed employees are getting the shaft. As many communities rush recklessly to reopen without adequate testing, furloughed employees have to choose between returning to work or not being eligible for unemployment benefits because they “refused” due to obvious safety concerns.

Another ugly truth is that the virus is disproportionately infecting and killing more African-Americans and Latinos than Whites. That ugly truth is a deep Pandora’s box that exposes America’s inequality in healthcare, wages, and a host of other social/ cultural issues. Because our immigration system is a hot mess, undocumented workers can’t afford testing or care and they’re not even trying to get it for fear of being deported. Black communities have long been underserved and this pandemic only exacerbates the pre-existing conditions of racial disparities that have long been evident and poorly addressed.

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COVID-19 surprised us all and, to be candid, it shouldn’t have. It’s shown us that America needs to take a hard, sober look at itself as it grapples with this pandemic. If we rush to get things “back to normal”, we’ll be dealing with the old normal that couldn’t competently deal with a crisis. Sadly, we struggled or failed to fix systemic problems before this calamity affected our country. 

At the most basic level, we need a President who talks in complete sentences and whose every utterance isn’t a lie or juvenile word-salad of self-flattery. Leadership matters and Trump and his cohorts continue to fail us. COVID-19 has exposed Trump for the fraud that he has always been.

 It’s time to deal with the ugly truths. Indeed, they are self-evident.

Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.

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