The conversation with a progressive politico friend of mine took place in a Walgreens parking lot on April 15—two men standing six feet apart, swapping tales of quarantine woe.
His wife sensed a furlough is near; his clients are drying up. Still, they made too much money to qualify for federal stimulus checks. His sister-in-law, a nurse in Boston, had tested positive for COVID-19. Fortunately, she appeared to be recovering.
“This President, the way he’s botched the COVID response, it’s literally criminal,” was how he put it. “He’s dead at the polls in November. Or he’s dead if we’re not all dead before then.”
An hour later, a buddy called from Florida. The proud owner of at least one red Make America Great Again ball cap and a selfie of him and Donald Trump, my friend sounded buoyant.
“Looks like we’re past the worst of all this,” he said. “They’re saying maybe the economy opens back up like May 1. That sounds about right.”
Welcome to the Twilight Zone: COVID-19 pandemic edition.
I’ve written before about how we’ve never been more partisan, never more disagreeable than at present.
Explaining that yawning divide, I’ve always held out hope that in a crisis we might overlook our disagreements and come together as both the United States and as united states.
Judging by recent polling and by personal anecdotes like the above, I get the sense that 9/11-style unity won’t return anytime soon.
We appear to be living through multiple pandemics right now: one through the eyes of America’s registered Democrats and another as witnessed by Republicans.
Then there’s the rest of us, independents and the apolitical, who have yet another story to tell.
Consider the April 10-12 Gallup poll of 3,365 random American adults.
Asked to assess the coronavirus situation, the responses couldn’t have been more different depending on political affiliation: 69% of Democrats said the pandemic was getting either a little or a lot worse. Meanwhile, 63% of Republicans said it was getting either a little or a lot better.
Asked how long COVID-19 disruption would last, 32% of Democrats said the rest of this year, 52% said a few more months and 9% said a few more weeks. The GOP numbers were flipped around entirely: 52% said a few more weeks, 39% a few more months and 5% said the rest of the year.
It’s not just Gallup showing this divide either.
A Global Strategy Group survey last week had 87% of Republicans approving of the President’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Democrats, by contrast, registered an 83% disapproval rate.
Stuck in the middle? Independents, who disapproved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic by a 49-37 margin.
According to a YouGov poll taken at the same time, we can’t even agree on how fearful to be of becoming infected with the virus.
For Dems, 82% are very or somewhat worried. For independents, that number is 62%. For Republicans, 59% are very or somewhat worried.
As for yours truly, I tend to take an approach best described by that old “X-Files” tagline: “The truth is out there.”
When politicians, government officials and reporters speak, I take their pronouncements with an Everest-sized grain of salt. Facts require sources and sources require vetting.
I try to invest my belief in opinions the way I do my retirement funds: carefully and while always being open to new and better information.
When my friends call, I try to do more listening and comforting than challenging. Because if there’s one thing I know about America in 2020, it’s that conflict is a lot like COVID-19.
It spreads like wildfire if you’re not abundantly careful.