Editorial: Divisiveness is an overlooked symptom of this virus we are fighting

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

We all are becoming familiar with the list of symptoms associated with the COVID-19 disease. There’s the fever, the loss of smell and taste, the cough, the loss of energy, the feeling that an anvil is sitting upon your chest and several more.

One that hasn’t gotten as much attention: a sense of clarity. Perhaps it doesn’t hit those who are in the throes of the disease, but surely it is coming over the rest of us. This virus has provided a greater sense of clarity over how divided this country has become.

It is striking because this has been the type of event that historically has created some unity. Wars and terrorists attacks that have killed far fewer have created a rallying of patriotism and national purpose. This virus has created armed rallies of people mad at their governors. Face masks are now political symbols and litmus tests.

The virus has accentuated a divide that has been manifesting itself for years: a divide between urban and rural places. The differences are stark and dangerous. More attention must be paid to this divide because America is becoming two separate Americas more and more each day. Both groups need to live in the other’s world for awhile.

This virus is particularly good at dividing because it forces upon America an uncomfortable fact: Not everyone is treated equally. Much of American society and governance is geared toward delivering equality. The virus doesn’t afflict everybody the same. As a result, some states, cities and businesses will be ready to reopen before others. In some settings, it’s important to wear a mask; in others, less so.

Yes, it is important that we have sound policies and practices in place. They are a key weapon in fighting the virus, but we have to figure out how to develop and communicate those policies and practices in ways that are less divisive. Otherwise, we will fail.

Maybe America is not as divided as it appears on the surface. There have been polls, for instance, showing large majorities believe some politicians are pushing too hard and too fast to reopen. Those are encouraging signs that unity still has a chance to take root. Perhaps, our divisions are inaccurately portrayed by media — both the traditional and social media variety — that are instinctively drawn to conflict.

But still, it seems like we are at a very dangerous time. Election season soon will hit a new gear. In election season, division spreads like the cold at a kindergarten birthday party. America cannot afford to let it happen this time. One contagion at a time is plenty.

The good news is we don’t have to wait for a vaccine to be developed to combat divisiveness. We already have the tools. One is likely in your hand every day: a television remote control. Whenever a political commercial comes on your TV, mute the sound or change the channel. Political advertisements are not meant to inform you. They are meant to persuade you. Be your own person rather than someone led around by advertising executives and influencers.

Speaking of influencers, it is critical in today’s world that our vigilance remains high online and through social media. It would be a welcome development if people would start treating their Facebook accounts like a proper Thanksgiving table. Use it as an opportunity to catch up with friends and family, but hold to a hard rule to keep politics out of the conversation. We all are having to do much differently these days. Why not extend the idea to our social media? Vow to not post, like or share any political message this election season.

Because of the lockdown, we probably have more time than ever to research and learn about candidates and issues. Everyone will have to figure out what sources of information they are most comfortable with, but Step No. 1 is for all of us to be more critical of what we consume.

It is important for us to turn off the cruise control and become more engaged in our responsibilities as citizens. Hopefully that is a piece of clarity this virus has created. Just like it is vitally important for scientists to find a way for us to overcome this disease, it is vital that the rest of us find a way to overcome this divisiveness.

Unless we combat both, America won’t truly be healthy.

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