By guest author Max Strasser International Editor, Opinion from New York Times
Amid the terrifying events of March, as the coronavirus spread around the world and I watched as states, cities and countries shut down one by one, I thought maybe I could glimpse just the hint of a silver lining.
If it could hit wealthy areas like northern Italy and poorer ones like central Iran, if it could spread at Alpine ski lodges and in the New York City subway, if Tom Hanks — even Tom Hanks! — could get the coronavirus, anyone could. And that meant that all of us were in this thing together.
Maybe this unity-in-fear could inspire solidarity. My colleague Charlie Warzel wrote about the mutual aid groups that were blooming across an eerie, quiet America. Jan-Werner Müller, a scholar of political theory, wrote an Op-Ed about the new institutions of collective purpose that emerged out of past crises. And the writer Rebecca Solnit described how disasters shake loose the old order, allowing something better to emerge.
It is a bit harder to think that way these days.
And pandemic politics look a lot like pre-pandemic politics. It turns out that even public health can become a culture war issue. Broadly, conservatives have pushed for economic reopening, while progressives have been more concerned about flattening the curve. In America, face masks have been treated as a political statement. (Seriously, just wear your mask.) Rather than coming together to fight the virus, countries have pursued their own interests: America has bought up nearly the whole world’s supply of the antiviral drug remdesivir. But I was thinking about those early days and that tentative hopeful feeling while reading today’s Op-Ed from David Miliband, the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, and Robert E. Rubin, a former secretary of the Treasury. The authors argue that America and other rich countries need to do more to help poorer countries like India, Mexico and Nigeria. They appeal not just to Americans’ sense of morality, but also to their self-interest: Economic chaos in the developing world will disrupt economies in the rich world, too. In some countries, the pandemic could create even more dangerous instability. “The cost in aid, loans and security support down the road could far outstrip the costs of tackling the disease now,” they write. Neither our health nor our economies will be safe as long as some in the world are still vulnerable. The truth is, we really are all in this thing together.