COVID-19 and Its Lasting Effects on American Politics

By: Andrew Maglio

In a world currently defined by COVID-19, a host of new phrases have gained traction. With surgical masks and remote-learning commonplace across the United States, we’ve all begun to settle into what’s being dubbed “the new normal.” As many of us know, this “new normal” extends far beyond the barren aisles of convenience stores or the ubiquitous use of hand-sanitizer. As we in Connecticut ride out the possibly first of several waves, we’re beginning to see some of the longer-term implications of the pandemic permeate into post-pandemic daily life. Professors at some of our country's leading universities believe that COVID-19 may radically alter political culture in the United States: what patriotism looks like, the role of the individual, and possibly a reversal in the 50-year trend of escalating partisan polarization.

Mark Lawrence Schrad, an associate professor of political science at Villanova University writes: “America has long equated patriotism with the armed forces. But you can’t shoot a virus.” He explains, unlike war, “Those on the frontlines against coronavirus aren’t conscripts, mercenaries or enlisted men; they are our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, caregivers, store clerks, utility workers, small-business owners and employees.” Schrad makes an interesting point. To a country that has long looked to our Armed Forces as a reflection of our paramount strength and boasted ourselves as “back-to-back” World War champions, this unique global challenge may finally shift our measure of strength and place some of the same reverence to which we regard our military men and women on domestic essential workers. Our success in this virus will not rest on the shoulders of our military as so many of our other victories have, but will be reliant upon the compassion of our neighbors and the selflessness of those who continue going to work to protect us despite these turbulent times. For many at the epicenter of this challenge like nursing home staff and grocery store clerks, this- raising their risk of catching a virus everyday they leave their house for work- was not in their job description. Schrad ends with a simple message: “Maybe the demilitarization of American patriotism and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this whole awful mess.”

Peter T. Coleman, a professor of psychology at Columbia University argues that we may see other benefits post-pandemic present in American political culture. He argues that the emphasis this pandemic has put on a “common-enemy” (COVID-19) may drastically reduce heightening partisan tensions. He further cites “a study of 850 enduring inter-state conflicts that occurred between 1816 to 1992 [which] found that more than 75 percent of them ended within 10 years of a major destabilizing shock.” “Given our current levels of tension,” he writes “this scenario suggests that now is the time to begin to promote more constructive patterns in our cultural and political discourse.” Perhaps this trend will continue, and from an immense challenge like this global pandemic, our country may come closer together.

Regardless of which of these possibilities manifests post-COVID-19, it is clear that the country and the world will be changed. The silver lining to this situation may be that after the coronavirus has passed, our nation may have a stronger civil discourse and a greater sense of patriotism built on the little interactions that are getting us out of this period.

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