With shouting from the fringes of both major political parties, two prominent Texans are pleading for political civility during the coronavirus pandemic, and their messages, which are being drowned out by partisan bickering, are voices of reason and hope for our great nation.
Last week, former President George W. Bush issued a video statement urging Americans to unite and be fearless but cautious while mitigating the spread of COVID-19, the diseases caused by the virus.
“We are not partisan combatants. We are human beings equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together and we are determined to rise,” Bush said in his address.
This week, our 43rd president was joined in his message by Longview native and Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey who released a separate video and appeared on Fox News in an attempt to spread civility.
“This created a false divide, sort of two wars in America. An us vs. them war and an us vs. the virus war. If we try to fight both those wars, we’re going to lose both of them,” McConaughey said of the pandemic. “If we try to fight the one we should be fighting, which is the one against the virus, we’re going to beat it.”
It is our sincerest hope that Americans listen to these two Texans, who couldn’t come from more different backgrounds. Bush, as we all know, was a longtime Republican politician, having served as governor. McConaughey mostly keeps his political views to himself but has been one of Hollywood’s moderate voices for bipartisanship since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016.
“All of the sudden, the narrative became, if you want to go to work, you’re on the far right. If you don’t go to work, you want to stay home, you’re on the far left,” McConaughey said. “And now even the mask wearing is getting politicized, where if you want to wear a mask, you wear a mask, you’re a liberal. And if you don’t, you’re conservative. And that’s just not true.”
To go further, we believe that one needs not be a Democrat to disagree with some of the choices made by the federal government in response to the pandemic, nor does one need to be a Republican to agree with Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased reopening of Texas.
The actor and our former president are right in their assessments.
As Bush put it: “The larger challenge that we share is to confront an outbreak of fear and loneliness, and it is frustrating that many of the normal tools of compassion, a hug, a touch, can bring the opposite of the good we intend.”
Fear and loneliness, like the coronavirus, are invisible and dangerous enemies, and political extremism relies on them.
Tragedies that cause fear and feeling of isolation are rife with extreme conspiracy theories. People want complicated answers for complex situations where simple truths seem so underwhelming. This has been true through the ages, though these ideas get lost to history as facts eventually rise to the surface.
Take the 9/11 terrorist attacks for example. It’s much easier to believe that a shadowy cabal of government officials killed thousands of people so they could launch a war for oil in the Middle East than it is to accept that a handful of men could hijack a few planes and change the course of world history.
The same type of nonsense is true with the coronavirus and our government’s response. We understand that Americans, especially Texans, don’t like being told what to do. But the liberty to catch an illness that can cause respiratory failure isn’t the kind of freedom anyone actually wants.
Those who push to open the economy don’t want fellow Americans to die, and those who want to to wait a while longer and have better safety measures to prevent fatalities don’t want the economy to fail.
The hard truth about quarantines, lockdowns and stay-home orders is that they primarily are not designed to keep people from getting sick or even dying. Nor are they designed to strip Americans of their rights. These restrictions are meant to keep every American from falling ill at the same time and overwhelming our hospital systems. Slowing the spread of the illness and rates of new daily infections is key to this. That’s why Abbott regularly talks about hospital bed capacity when he discusses reopening.
We’ve heard all sorts of outlandish explanations for the origin of the virus, including that it was unleashed specifically by China to harm Trump’s reelection bid. That’s tantamount to insisting the Spanish Flu was merely a diversion somehow concocted by Russian communists to hurt Democrats in the 1920 election. Had the internet existed a century ago, we’re all but certain such a theory would have spread just as fast as the flu.
Speaking of flu, we’re tired of hearing comparisons between the coronavirus and that seasonal illness in terms of mortality rates. About a billion people worldwide get the flu every year — partly because we are all lax at hand washing during flu season. Around 4.2 million, a much smaller number, around the globe have contracted coronavirus — thanks in part to ramped up social distancing efforts.
This year’s flu infected somewhere between 39 and 56 million Americans. It killed about 62,000. COVID-19 has only infected about 1.3 million Americans — again thanks to better hygiene and social distancing — and has killed more than 82,000 Americans so far.
“This is not the flu; it is worse than the flu,” Dr. Stephanie Jackson told the Daily Independent in Arizona last week. “People who are constantly comparing it to the flu are really underestimating the virus. If we had as many people get COVID-19 as got the flu we would have many, many more deaths — some people believe it could be as much as 10 times more.”
No one has immunity to the coronavirus and no vaccine exists. People have developed immunity to flu from past outbreaks, and vaccines are readily available. These figures and facts are not meant to induce fear, but to suggest that the virus should be taken seriously by all, be they Democrats, Republicans or independents.
As McConaughey said of the virus, “It doesn’t care who you voted for.”
The actor also encouraged anyone going out in public to wear a face mask to help prevent the spread of the virus. One of the responses on his video Wednesday morning read “I don’t listen to Hollywood liberals” in reference to the face mask suggestion. This person obviously didn’t listen to the message or to Abbott’s advice about masks. If they did, they are so brainwashed by misinformation that anyone spouting truth and advice becomes a liar.
When it comes to masks, there’s no solid science that say cloth facial coverings can prevent transmission of the virus. We prefer to err on the side of caution. We urge our readers to as well.
Most of all, listen to the voices that seek to unite us, not those that constantly divide and incite hatred. We are all in the crisis together, and how we chose to weather this storm says a lot about who we are as Americans.