The Difference Between Exploitation and Politics

The vogue phrase to use about the coronavirus or mass shootings, especially by conservatives, is—let’s not politicize this. If you check a thesaurus a few of the words that substitute for politicizing are—debate, discuss and raise awareness of.  Maybe I am so isolated from reality that I have missed something important. I am not sure where we turn if we do not rely on the competence of politicians to make decisions for us. I cannot call my neighbor and have him contact Dr. Anthony Fauci or anyone at the CDC. The grocer or the guy that fills your car with gasoline cannot order more testing kits.  I imagine I could stand on a street corner and deliver a daily briefing, but I fear the media coverage would get less attention than that of our fair-haired Vice President.

By nature—natural disasters, epidemics, pandemics, and war are all political. I think where the confusion lay is in defining politicization from exploitation for personal gain.  When President Trump, at the outset of the virus spread said in February, “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do — you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases — 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.  None of that statement was based on fact, although facts are only a phone call away for Mr. Trump, instead he chose his own political self-preservation by downplaying the impending crisis.  

Also in the thesaurus, another synonym for politicizing is to lobby. We are not powerless to the whim and incompetence of leadership; our biggest weapons are maximum pressure directed at politicians.  Just after 9/11, former President George W. Bush told us all to shop and go on as normal, he wanted to convey normality amidst the fear. Subsequently,  we found out that warnings of an imminent terror attack had been ignored.  Mr. Bush took a national tragedy, filtered it through a  political lens and exploited the public’s ignorance of what he knew as opposed to what we did not.

Similarly, we have a situation with a health pandemic that Mr. Trump was warned about in January according to an NPR interview. Politico reporter Dan Diamond said in response to a question from host Terry Gross:

GROSS: You know,you’ve written that the biggest mistake so far the Trump administration has made with the coronavirus is not having test kits and testing sooner. What went wrong?

DIAMOND: As one official has said, Terry, the question might not be what went wrong; it’s what went right? The Trump administration and health officials knew back in January that this coronavirus was going to be a major threat. They knew that tests needed to be distributed across he country to understand where there might be outbreaks. But across the month of February, as my colleague David Lim at Politico first reported, the tests that they sent out to labs across the country simply did not work. They were coming back with errors.

The personal genesis culminating in a lack of response from Mr. Trump can be summed up in a Raw Story article by David Badash, recounting the Diamond interview, “Trump “did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear – the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall,” said Diamond.

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