Fear And Loathing In The Time Of Contagion
It is, of course, inevitable that governments' stay-at-home orders and other emergency measures to contain the novel coronavirus would generate differences of opinion.
And yet, even a few weeks ago, it was hard to imagine that it would take as ugly a turn as what's happening right now in the U.S. state of Michigan, where multiplying death threats against Governor Gretchen Whitmer forced authorities to close down the Capitol Building.
On various Facebook pages, people who planned to attend a far-right "Judgement Day" demonstration at the Capitol left comments this week calling for Whitmer "to be hanged, lynched, shot, beaten or beheaded," Newsweek reports. One internet-savvy thug suggested crowdfunding sources to hire a hitman.
That participants in previous protests against the governor's statewide shutdown order showed up in paramilitary-style garb and brandished assault weapons adds an obvious level of gravitas to the threats.
As an American, watching it unfold from my home in France, it's important to note that there's a political and cultural context to the standoff in Michigan that goes beyond the issue of COVID-19. And yes, it is distinctly American — particularly in the era of Trump, who describes the armed, star-spangled protestors as "very good people."
Still, facing the same global health crisis, the United States isn't alone clearly when it comes to public division and distrust: In South Korea, fears of a second wave of the coronavirus have intersected with an undercurrent of homophobia following reports linking a new outbreak of the disease to a gay nightclub, Seoul correspondent Morten Soendergaard Larsen wrote in Foreign Policy.
Elsewhere, the divisions are more subtle. Here in France, for example, French broadcaster France Bleu reported on a flurry of finger-pointing after the partial lifting this week of a two-month lockdown prompted mostly young people to pack the banks of the Saint-Martin canal in Paris for a long-awaited drink outside with friends.
That an evening apéro could be construed as a moral issue speaks volumes about the nature of this particular crisis. There are, of course, gestures here and there of solidarity. But in this bizarre context of contagion and forced confinement, more than good will, what really seems to be spreading is blame and suspicion of anyone who sees the pandemic differently than you.
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