As regular readers of this site know, I’ve diverted from our normal political and historical content of late to focus most of my time on #COVID19. For many of us, our perspectives have changed during this pandemic. The absence of American global leadership, and the unwillingness of many of our elected and appointed leaders to be pragmatic, has doomed our efforts to beat back this virus. While every other major industrialized nation can see the light at the end of the Coronavirus pandemic tunnel, the US and Florida specifically are heading in the opposite direction like a runaway train.
This week, Florida’s official death toll passed that of the 1918 Influenza pandemic in the state. Of course Florida was a lot smaller place then, but we have unfortunately, a long way to go in this crisis. For much of the last two weeks, the positive text percent has exceeded 15% statewide, an unacceptable number. While the excuse of testing more has been given, the reality is among tests administered the percentage of positive tests are FAR higher than they were in early June when the first ominous signs of a record uptick statewide appeared.
Listen: Florida History Podcast on the 1918 Influenza in Florida
Since the start of the pandemic, I have often thought about President George W. Bush and his leadership in fighting the AIDS pandemic in Africa. For Bush, little to no political upside existed in leading the international efforts, but it was something American Presidents did, and what made this country so revered around the globe. But now we’ve retrenched from global leadership and cannot even get our house in proper working order – instead of being the envy of the world, we’re embarrassing ourselves.
Unfortunately, as many people’s fears about the virus grew, denial about its potency became a political weapon on the right. On the left, playing on those fears has become common as well. In my opinion, equating the two is a false equivalency but that also does not mean Democrats should be exempt from blame for politicizing things. Even if the ratio is 80/20 in favor of MAGA-types being more irresponsible, the tone of many people’s voices and timing of their commentary isn’t helpful to solving what is a national crises unlike any other we’ve faced in our lives.
Both pragmatism and non-partisanship is in short order these days. I’ve always called myself a liberal or progressive, but in the last two years, I’ve been told I am too pragmatic or too willing to give conservatives the benefit of the doubt to be on the left. While that sort of attitude was annoying in the past, the Coronavirus pandemic has made me realize it is flat out dangerous. Our unwillingness to listen to one another has had deadly consequences. Self-sacrifice is in short order and the idea that wearing a mask could somehow become an ideological or partisan issue is the type of thing that typically happens in developing countries or tin-pot dictatorships, not the United States of America.
We’ve previously discussed the cognitive dissonance that MAGA-backers show (again for posterity, I do not consider President Trump a conservative by any traditional definition, and will not use that label to describe him or his supporters) and that they tend to follow his example on just about everything of importance – making the politics of personality as strong as it has ever been in this country.
Governor DeSantis’ incoherent approach
Governor Ron DeSantis, I was convinced until this week has wanted to do the right thing, but kept getting push back internally from MAGA Republicans. DeSantis’ mistakes seemed to me, more related to the drift of his party than personal conviction. Much like his fellow Florida GOPers, Lenny Curry and Carlos Gimenez, early Coronavirus awareness (or vigilance in Curry’s case) gave way by mid-May to a certain degree of public recklessness as rebooting our economy became paramount.
However, this week it became clear to me, the Governor has rejected his own initial data-driven approach and has put the state’s long term public AND economic health in serious jeopardy, potentially leaving us with YEARS of damage. He has now crossed into MAGA territory, using qualifying words and bizarrely inconsistent justifications to minimize the importance of the very types of data he once took far more seriously. DeSantis has become no different than the people I complained about four weeks ago on these pages – those whose cognitive dissonance leads them to constantly move the goalposts when discussing COVID-19.
The Democrats while better than the GOP have also played politics
Meanwhile, Florida’s Democrats are all over the place. Some reengaged in the COVID discussion in recent weeks once it appeared politically advantageous. Many of those who have power at the local levels have been more reactive than proactive, and some even privately reached out to me in early June telling me my desire to constantly discuss Coronavirus was going to lead to people blaming Black Lives Matters protesters for the spread. So yes, the Democrats while less myopic than MAGA-types have been politicking a little too much considering we are in the middle of a Pandemic.
All too many MAGA activists after early May chose to view COVID-19 either as a media hoax or something that was akin to the common cold. Wearing a mask was an invasion of “personal liberty,” and a fascist measure. For many on the left, Black Lives Matter and the need to protest took precedence. I was told privately by more than one prominent activist on the left, that my raising COVID-19 alarms would lead to protesters being blamed. The politics demanded I stop the “hysteria,” during the first two weeks of June. Eventually all these narratives ceased because we were overcome once again by Coronavirus in Florida.
Too often some local Democrats have made combating COVID an issue only when it suits them. Too many Florida Democrats spent February engaged in the party primaries and chasing impeachment, while Coronavirus was rapidly spreading from China to Iran, to Italy, to the United Kingdom and therefore inevitably to the eastern United States (keep in mind that some service and professional elements of the local economy in South Florida are linked heavily to Northern Italy which by February 20th was the emerging global epicenter of the Coronavirus Pandemic). Once COVID-19 began to rage it became very easy for some Democrats to start taking shots at Governor DeSantis and President Trump.
But the attacks by Democrats at many times have seemed all too political and opportunist. As Florida’s cases began to surge in early June, many Florida Democrats were absent in discussing the situation and some with power were even pushing their localities to expedite re-openings.
Schools reopening – let’s have a mature discussion please
Against this backdrop, last week the biggest shoe to drop came down. Florida schools would reopen in the Fall. Quickly, this became a politically partisan issue and Governor DeSantis somehow felt he could compare public schools where children and staff spend 5-7 hours a day, to Home Depot or Walmart. For someone so bright, this was arguably his dimmest moment – a sign that DeSantis had been overcome by events and had lost his ability properly reason and guide Floridians through this crisis without buffoonery.
Schools reopening for the new academic year can be done safely in some areas and in other parts of the state will almost undoubtedly lead to even further community spreads of a deadly virus. The President and his Administration have shown time and again the last several weeks that Coronavirus is now an issue to minimize or ignore, and are now using schools as way of forcing some sense of “normalcy” on a panicky public.
Unfortunately, this week more politicization followed the schools announcement. While no doubt Trump & DeSantis are wrong on this inherently making any opposition morally correct, the Democrats all too often seem incapable of ever discussing education without echoing teacher’s unions talking points or simply deferring to that union to represent their point of view. This was no different. Thankfully we have education professionals and school administrators out there to provide nuance and practicality.
Erin Gaetz, who is the daughter of former Senate President & Okaloosa Schools Superintendent Don Gaetz had the most nuanced and thoughtful suggestions I’ve seen on this topic from someone in our state. These are the sorts of discussions we need to be having, not the hysterical, YES WE MUST OPEN, NO WE CANNOT OPEN, conversations of this past week. I really like this thinking even if we can quibble about one or two of the points (by the way she’s one of the best Twitter follows in the state).
On Gaetz’s suggestions, not only do I like the discussion points, but I like her tone. Our conversations whether on Zoom or behind a keyboard on social media need to be calmer and more civil. We’re in BIG trouble right now and drowning out voices or information you don’t agree with for political reasons or out of fear is not responsible.
Leadership styles need to change
My point in all this is that we need calmer, more thoughtful voices. The majority of Republican elected officials have gone off the deep end during this crisis, but many Democrats have not shown the ability to lead, either being reactive or simply taking the opposite point-of-view of Republicans. We need thoughtful solutions that are pragmatic, flexible and involves one side talking to the other like noted above.
This is a pandemic, not some sort of political football. But all too often people who live in a political bubble (I know this because I was once just bad as anyone with this) too often make critical decisions based on polling, electoral calculations or political retribution.
Leadership isn’t about winning over one constituency or another or pleasing one special interest or another. It is about bringing people together in a crisis, being flexible and pragmatic while keeping some degree of guiding principles. What COVID-19 has exposed is that too many of elected and appointed leaders have fallen short of the mark in being true leaders.
Not your best effort, Kartik.
Despite your protestations, both-sidesism (false equivalency) are present throughout this post. Four paragraphs of blaming the Democrats, yet the only example you gave was Black Lives Matter protests. That’s weak, at best. I’ve only heard Republicans politicize the protests as a cause of the spikes but have not seen any reporting with evidence of it. The real culprit in the spread of the virus was the reckless GOP and their calls to “liberate” Florida without strong and unambiguous safety guidelines. Every city and county has had to basically make it up as they go because the Republicans, who are in charge of the state, have provided NO LEADERSHIP.
You seem to single out Democrats for ignoring the virus in February. Gee, could that be because the federal government was missing in action? Who exactly are those Florida Democrats who should have done more? And you thought DeSantis was doing well until four weeks ago, despite the fact that we’ve known since early May that he and his administration were lying about the data??
And I really don’t understand your nasty comment about the teachers’ union and then your praise of Erin Gaetz. You don’t even mention that the Republican Legislature should be ponying up the money to pay for the safety precautions needed to get the schools open again. Erin Gaetz, seriously? Because her father was a school superintendent her tone is right? Maybe you should talk to a few parents with kids in public schools and see what their tone is.
Please give this post some thought and maybe after a reality check you will update it.
I agree and disagree even when we disagree!
I think Democrats have been far better than Republicans for the most part but have in many local municipalities been slow or reactive to make decisions. They’re often at the municipal and county levels influenced by the same interests as Republicans.
Where I would strongly disagree with you is on the month of February. The virus wasn’t a secret and we didn’t need the Trump administration to tell us it was a problem. It was ravaging first Wuhan, then much of China, then Iran, then Northern Italy. It also had hit Seattle and California by that point. Some people were paying attention. One was Joe Biden, and thankfully he was nominated for President. Who wasn’t paying attention? Democrats in Congress and most of the “front-runners” at the time for the White House. Keep in mind Biden wasn’t a front-runner then and was “on the clock” to drop out. But he raised alarms BEFORE THE IOWA CAUCUS about it. But the Democrats in Congress and so many state and local officials outside of Jay Inslee and Jenny Durkin didn’t pay attention. Blaming Trump for the Democrats not paying attention to international news and even some of their own Presidential candidates is just wrong.
I think one thing we can be thankful for in hindsight is that Biden is the nominee. He gets it. He understands foreign affairs and pays attention to geopolitics. After this disaster we need someone who is going to put it right. I voted for Elizabeth Warren and hope she plays a role in the future but in hindsight am beyond relieved the Democrats nominated one of the few adults in the room – a room that is largely made up of children.
So I think we have only minor disagreements on the rest. On BLM, I am specifically citing pushback I was getting as I was promoting that we were the next COVID hotspot in early June, when admittedly people thought I was crazy. On schools, I’d like the Dems to think independently. Teacher’s Union has an important role to play but so do parents and administrators. I think too often the Dems give one preference over the other two, but ALL are preferable to whomever DeVos and DeSantis have been talking to.
Oh and also for all those people who claim Biden has some cognitive disability, the fact that he was the first prominent national figure politically in the US to nail the COVID potential because he understands China, geopolitics, and mulitlaterlism should put the conspiracy theories of MAGA folks (and some on the left including people both you and I know!) to bed. He was on top of this when Trump, Pelosi, Schumer, DeSantis, Cuomo, Pence, etc, etc were not.
You afraid to say the name Dean Trantalis? Jerry Demings?
Time and again it’s obvious to whom you refer.
Good piece but start naming names of those business-centric local Dems that screw us all.