The stakes for all of us are high.
With the coronavirus entering what some scientists say could be its deadliest wave yet, all of our social institutions are buckling under the stress. This pandemic did not only unleash a nimble biological threat to public health, it also politicized common-sense public health measures.
We do not have the testing strategy that every reputable scientist tells us we will need to return to merely normal political sectarianism. The right lost faith in science when science resisted racist declarations. The left lost faith in scientists when the right turned them into political pawns. We cannot even trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose missteps in providing good guidance to the public reinforced conspiracy theories and eased the way for its delegitimization by this administration.
The Trump administration carried out that delegitimization primarily as a shield for the president’s outright corruption and Republican opportunity hoarding. Not only have the courts been stacked, but trust in the very idea that democratic governance is possible has been undermined.
In the wake, white racist violence has been mainstreamed. Organized and ad hoc white identitarian groups have killed college students, run over peaceful protesters, executed churchgoers, and performed rituals of public intimidation. Meanwhile, the F.B.I. warns that white nationalist loyalists and sympathizers have infiltrated all levels of law enforcement.
As often as we frame the decisions of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters as “identity politics,” white identity politics of the type that motivated some to vote for Mr. Trump this week deserves just as much attention. While partisanship has increased across the board, white Republicans who support Mr. Trump are more motivated by hatred of others than they are by affinity for other Republicans. This brand of identity politics has flourished in the shadows of distrust, economic precarity and vulnerability that Mr. Trump fomented and the pandemic worsens.
This new extremism is anything but benign. The consolidation of Republican identitarianism has also coarsened the texture of American public life, conjuring up the specter of violence. The trucks “coal rolling” through protesters join the armed teenager in fatigues who seeks to “police” the streets. Customers scream at the very frontline grocery workers we thank in big spectacles because they are required to wear masks. This coarsening extended to the presidential contest, encouraged by President Trump and mainstream Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio.
With no one able to trust the experts or willing to trust her own eyes, the pandemic rages on and no one is now working to cushion the country from the economic fallout that will surely last longer than the health crisis. Women have been pushed out of the formal labor force. Minority workers are overrepresented in the jobs that are not only the least secure but are suddenly now the most dangerous. White men, by and large, are just as anxious but not as vulnerable.