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Commentary: A pandemic of division

Commentary: A pandemic of division

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After a week that felt like forever, the end of the Trump presidency is finally in sight.

President-elect Joe Biden has won the largest number of votes of any candidate in the nation’s history. More than 77 million people stood up to say they are sick of the collateral damage caused by a deadly virus.

But I’m not talking about the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 238,000 lives and counting. No, in my view, the continuing spread of COVID-19 has been a symptom of an even more widespread illness: a political system that uses race-baiting and nativism to pit us against one another.

The common term for this pathogen is divisiveness. The kind that makes a lifesaving act like mask-wearing into a symbol of politics, and that makes Black and brown people disproportionately likely to die of COVID-19 or face harm at the hands of police. Like racism and other oppressive forms of exclusion, divisiveness is about “othering” people who look, believe or behave differently than you.

We know the president’s power is deeply rooted in this attitude. Victimhood and its evil twin, entitlement, help him justify demonizing, name-calling and using the government to punish those with whom he disagrees.

As a lifelong advocate for racial and economic justice, I believe Trump — and his enablers in the Republican Party — began losing this election not long after he won the last one. The day after his inauguration, more than a million people turned out for women’s marches across the United States.

Barely a week later, activists, immigrants, people of color and white suburban women alike showed up to protest Trump’s Muslim ban. In 2018, millions nationwide decried his family separation policy — which we now know has left 545 immigrant children still separated from their parents.

And throughout the long summer of 2020, millions of protesters have shown up to say yes, Black Lives Matter, creating the largest social movement in U.S. history.

That is why today, groups — both demographic and issue-driven — have found common cause in rejecting the administration’s overt acts of racism, xenophobia, misogyny and attacks on our democracy.

We see it in Georgia, a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in nearly 30 years, as well as in Arizona and in Pennsylvania. It’s not just the fact that young people, joined by a powerful surge of Black voters, rejected Trump.

Voters across a broad political spectrum have clearly been hungry for a leader who will unify us. A Wall Street Journal/ NBC poll taken in mid-October found that more than half of respondents cited “Trump will divide the country” as their top concern, ahead of the economy or COVID-19.

Voting Trump out was a critical step toward healing the deep divides this president and his enablers have sown. With my years in the field organizing for justice, I know how ready everyone is. This includes immigrants who live in fear of losing family members to deportation, Black people exhausted by racism, people of all races stressed by police violence toward communities of color and an economy that is leaving all but the wealthy behind.

But when the final vote is counted, it will be the beginning of our work, not the end of it.

It will only be when we treat the actual illness plaguing the United States — our divisions from one another — that we can protect the democracy so many before us fought, protested and died for. Because there’s no vaccine for that.

Dorian Warren is a longtime organizer and progressive scholar; he serves as president of Community Change and vice-president of Community Change Action.

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