Victim-Blaming During a Pandemic Doesn’t Make People Safer
I don’t remember what grade I was in—maybe late 10th or early 11th?—but I can recall with photorealistic clarity the time my Dad came into my bedroom (a rare enough occurrence) to listen to me bitch and moan about having persistent enough acne that I was desperate to try a frightfully powerful skin-sucking drug called Accutane.
“Well,” he said, shaking his head with a sympathetic but judgmental wince. “You really gotta lay off those chocolates.”
Research into the folkloric zit/candy connection was as inconclusive in the mid-1980s as it is in 2020. But the most relevant contemporaneous detail was that I didn’t freaking eat chocolates, aside from the odd In-N-Out milkshake. Bad enough that a parent doesn’t know his kid’s preferences; considerably worse to affix blame for an all-too-common teenage malady on the presumedly subpar behaviors by said pizza-face.
I can’t stop thinking about that scene (and the slow-burning resentment it provoked), when observing the way that so many people continue to respond to positive cases of COVID-19.
“Letlow’s death is tragic,” Vox journalist Aaron Rupar tweeted late Tuesday, in response to the news that Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R–La.) had perished at age 41 after contracting COVID-19. “It was also avoidable. It shouldn’t take tragedies for policymakers to treat the coronavirus pandemic with the seriousness it deserves.”
The evidence Rupar provided for Letlow’s alleged unseriousness was his October comment that “while we’ve been cautious and I think both the state and federal level have taken numerous precautions for COVID-19, we’re now at a place if we do not open our economy we’re in real danger.” Follow-up sleuthing produced pictures of the politician interacting with human beings without wearing a mask. Look, sometimes the skirt is too short, mmkay?
As National Review‘s Kyle Smith pointed out, “In no other health circumstance would such brutality toward the afflicted be tolerated. We do not deem individuals who become sick by engaging in known ‘risky behaviors’—unsafe sex, abuse of alcohol, drug use, poor diet, smoking, dangerous driving—as deserving of pain and misery….[M]ocking and haranguing those who become sick or die due to COVID-19, a novel virus from which we cannot possibly shield ourselves entirely, is unconscionable.”
There is an all-too-familiar gracelessness in politicized conversations about the coronavirus. It’s not enough to merely disagree with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approach to COVID; you have to accuse him of “putting politics in front of lives.” (For an eye-opening comparison between the disparate media treatment of DeSantis and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, check out this Twitter thread.) In the other direction, some anti-lockdown politicians and commentators routinely accuse Democratic mayors and governors of consciously preferencing “power and control” over public safety.
As with far too many public policy disputes (over climate change, criminal justice, health care, etc.), it is not enough to merely observe that the opposing team has different ideas about how best to address a problem. No, the bad guys are either intentionally trying to make things worse or just too blinkered to admit there’s
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