COVID-19 has no social conscience, but our leaders must

See Disclaimer.

Crowds greatly increase the odds of COVID-19 spreading at higher rates. None of the factors affecting the spreading efficiency is the social reasoning that brought people together. Voters, supporters of Black Lives Matter, supporters of the president, beach or farmer’s market goers—they all look the same to the virus. They are simply vehicles of transmission.

For the virus, what matters are factors such as where the crowd gathers, how many people there are and how many were sick beforehand, how much ‘social distancing’ (yes, masks included) people practice, and how long they stay together. Factors that often are handled poorly, as crowds respond to the stimuli of the moment.

Questions such as whether a crowd should come together for a socially valid reason, don’t have easy—or even unique—answers.

For instance, peaceful protesters against racism may choose, in an informed manner, to assess the risk of contracting and helping spread the disease as less than the danger of staying silent in the face of injustice. Others who share their views, may instead see the risk of prolonging and aggravating the pandemic as too much to bear, either personally or for their communities—and may thus choose to not join protests, rather speaking out in different ways.

It is debatable who is right, or even whether there is a ’right.’ But it is clear who is inexcusably wrong. It is leaders who put political gain ahead of public safety—whether by exacerbating social turmoil, or by encouraging crowds that will inevitably spread infection.

Through (and beyond) his upcoming Tulsa campaign rally, Mr. Trump is an obvious example. His original choice of date and location (see Note, at bottom) for the predictably large rally appears a barely veiled invitation to civil unrest, as have been his inflammatory tweets criticizing protests against racism and police brutality. Moreover, Mr. Trump’s adamant opposition to wearing a mask will encourage many of his supporters to join the rally without practicing proper self-distancing—in a bravado that will likely cost lives.

Mr. Trump certainly understands, or should understand, the risks he is exposing people to. Otherwise, why would his campaign request that attendees agree not to sue, if they contract COVID-19? Mr. Trump also understands, or should understand, that racial and social tensions are at a peak, and might explode out of control given the opportunity. Still, he initially picked a date and place for his rally that were at best insensitive and at worse inflammatory of tensions between his supporters and protesters.

Why? How is this possible, from a US president?

Whether we support or oppose his policies, we all should recognize that Mr. Tump has no social conscience. Although such deficiency is unavoidable in a virus, it can certainly be avoided in a presidency. It all comes down to voting.

This November, please vote for Joe Biden. Vote for him because of his legislative and executive experience, and his ability to unite and build consensus. But vote for him also because he is a decent human being with social conscience, who—unlike Mr. Trump—understands that the US presidency is meant as service, not for self-glorification.

— Antonio Baptista

Note: Mr. Trump ultimately bowed to political pressure, and delayed the Tulsa rally by a day. That way, the rally will no longer take place simultaneously on the day honoring the end of slavery in the United States, and at the site where (in 1921) white mobs attacked black citizens and businesses with guns and explosives dropped from airplanes. I count this as a positive development. But re-election calculations driving decisions and policy, seemingly an engrained pattern with Mr. Trump, do not qualify as social conscience.


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