Cecilia Manrique: Politics in the time of COVID-19

Cecilia Manrique: Politics in the time of COVID-19

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One of the best decisions Gabriel and I made last year was to retire in May.

Although I have taught online classes before, I cannot imagine conducting lectures purely on an online basis as some of my former colleagues and mentees at the university are facing right now.

But I would still love to be in the “classroom” in whatever format because of what the current pandemic provides as teachable moments in the various fields of Political Science: American Government, Women and Politics, Global Issues and Comparative Politics all of which I have had the privilege to cover during my more than 30 years in academia.

In American Government, we start the semester with the dilemma of the proper role of government in society.

According to many early philosophers, government was created by people in a social contract to maintain order, protect our freedoms and quite recently to bring about equality.

But like many institutions it gets into a quandary when too little government can lead to anarchy, too much can lead to tyranny. And then there is the constant struggle between those who believe that the national/federal government needs to have greater power especially during a time of crisis (call them Federalists if you wish) and those who contend that states rights need to be protected from the usurpation of power by the federal government (anti-Federalists).

During the time of COVID, the decisions being made to shelter in place, protect citizens, social distance and shut down the economy provide a scenario where both levels of government fight over whose policies should take precedence. Should the policy of the national government be followed or should state and local officials who know their states better be listened to?

In the meantime, real economic, social, political, psychological damage is being done to individuals, families and businesses alike.

And should there be any doubt that only order and freedom are at stake at this time, the many women and minorities who are in the frontlines of the pandemic as well as those who are losing their jobs as a result of it, shows that the value of equality should not be neglected.

Although a new concern for government during a crisis, equality has a tendency to be forgotten or put in the sideline. This is not the time to put women and minorities in the background.

Some would like to put the source of blame on the concept of globalization, a term used to describe the interconnectedness of the world due to advancements in communication and technology.

What seemed like a positive aspect of being part of the international community has now become the scapegoat for the quick spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

Some say if only we did not allow for too much exchange of goods, services and people on a vast scale, this pandemic would not have reached such devastating proportions. But that same concept through global cooperation could also spell the fast discovery and dissemination of a vaccine and cure for the virus. So it is indeed a dilemma.

The decision to reopen economies is a struggle for every business, every city, every state, and even every country. Its impact does not only touch a generation in its lifecycle (youth, adults, aged). COVID’s period effect has an impact on every generation in every part of the lifecycle one is in.

As such we will all remember this no matter who where are and where we are. We will remember the struggle of states that want to reopen early and have done so like Georgia, Texas, Indiana and Florida and the dilemma of states that have extended their lockdowns like Michigan and Illinois.

Just as people do a shoutout of lights, whistles, vuvuzelas and banging pots and pans (like in the Philippines to get rid of a dictator) for our health-care workers there are those who march out in the streets to defend their constitutional right to be a part of a participatory democracy where people want to be consulted about reopening — especially because it affects their livelihood.

As long as testing, tracking/tracing and treatment are not in place, people will need to get their burgers, beer and band-aid curbside or online through delivery services.

And for those who demonstrate with signs that say “Give me liberty or give me COVID 19” all I can say is “I don’t think so!”

When public health is concerned, do not let conspiracy theorists, scammers and porch poachers/pirates spoil it for the rest of us.

As one who has had friends here and abroad suffer and die from the virus, I know it is real. Therefore, let science and our common humanity, not politics and individual selfishness, help us make a rational decision that benefits us all.

Cecilia Manrique is a retired professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who hopes that her former students are connecting what they have learned in theory in her classes to the reality surrounding them. She also hopes that they are keeping safe.

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