Covid has made America more divided than ever

Covid has made America more divided than ever. By Kate Andrews.

Americans are ‘furious’, ‘divided’, we’re told, and the ‘two sides’ are completely incapable of engaging in civil discourse with each other and have been for quite some time.

I’d been reading about America’s woes constantly and had heard so many first-hand accounts from friends, family and old colleagues about the abject misery that characterises politics right now. But you have to be in America to really feel it. I was blown away by the extent to which discourse has become polarised. It’s not just rage that seems to permeate throughout the country: it’s a sense of hopelessness too.

Driving from Newark airport in New Jersey through New York and into Connecticut, the scenery made me feel that, since 2020, America had gotten stuck in time. The Trump-Pence posters never came down. If anything, more had popped up. I’m from Connecticut, and left-wing states like mine still boast comfortable Democrat voting majorities, but the dissenters seem far less inhibited about speaking up.

Turn on the news and the anger from the Trump era still blasts from the screen. But now, in early 2022, it’s had time to simmer. Americans still dislike their president, but he’s got a different name now and it’s a different party in charge. The great promise of Joe Biden to offer a reset in American politics — a promise I voted for — has not been made good. Tension hasn’t diffused. It’s simply been tugged into new battles: the focus of America’s rage is now on the Democrat party’s attempt to grow the size of government, instead of the Republicans’ efforts in the four years previous.

[In] America’s pandemic discourse, …the middle ground has simply vanished.

Nuance has never been the forte of America’s biggest broadcasters but watching the networks over the Christmas period gave me the strong impression it’s now being purposely avoided. On the political right, vaccine hesitancy and big-government scepticism (fundamentally different things) are frequently morphed into one position. It’s difficult to tell if it’s simply laziness or a deliberate attempt to grow a coalition against ‘the other side’, but the result is the same: Covid has been thrown into the great culture war sorting hat. You have to be on one side — anti-vax, anti-government — or the other. …

The polarity of the discourse makes it much harder to have a rational debate about the huge benefit that the vaccines bring. America has always had a vigorous faction of vaccine-scepticism. But the politicised resistance to getting the Covid jab (nearly 30 per cent of Trump voters still say they won’t take it) means that vaccinated but less ideological Americans feel increasingly hopeless that the ‘old normal’ will ever return.

This in turn obstructs the crucial debates that should be had over the civil liberty implications of vaccine passports, say, or the moves to kick unvaccinated people out of federal jobs. These debates can be acrimonious in Britain, but they are conducted with a degree of good faith. That’s not so true in the land of the free.

Too much political correctness and bureaucratic diktat will do that to a nation.

Flashback, to an early debate in 2016: This is the moment I first really sat up and noticed Donald Trump, when he said “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” Big applause.