The personal is the political.
The political is the personal.
For much of the time, this truth is known only to the most vulnerable in a population, or the least privileged. The majority of us who coast along smoothly in the middle class, enjoying a degree of racial privilege and decent health, are unaware of the life-or-death outcomes of political policies.
Now this has changed. The slice of the populace designated “most vulnerable” is now enormous. In the face of a pandemic, all of us are vulnerable, even if some remain more at risk than others.
And now, another slice of the populace has decided it simply does not care. Groups of armed protesters, some bearing symbols of overt white supremacy, have marched in our nation’s capitals demanding “freedom.” That fact that they are free, free to spend money and speak their minds and march in the streets, appears to have escaped them. What they are actually demanding, even if they do not realize it, is not freedom but license: license to use their freedom irresponsibly, license to squander their freedom, their lives, and the lives of others.
This has real life outcomes.
My outrage at these rioters is not the abstract fury of an academic fed up with bad logic in philosophy exams, or mixed metaphors in essays. I am angry because this stupidity is not simply abstract; it translates into a real and deathly threat to people I love, and to whole communities.
Your personal decision to break quarantine and join terrorists who are protesting our necessary safeguards has broader ramifications for society as a whole.
Your personal decision to risk your own life affects other lives.
Your political choice, a vote for a policy, a vote for a leader, means you are assenting to what that policy entails for others, and what that leader has promised to do to or for others.
Those others are not abstractions.
Over the past few years we have had ample evidence on the basis of which we can safely deduce that many who claim the label “pro-life” do not care about life at all. If “pro life” actually meant what it sounds like it means, the pro-life movement would have staunchly opposed a president who consistently advances anti-life policies in areas of immigration, just war, the environment, economics, and bioethics.
And now the same people who venerate a multiply-accused sexual predator, overt racist, and defender of war crimes as the “most pro life president ever” are at the frontlines of objecting to the lockdowns that are crucial to saving lives. Their rhetoric has shifted. Life is no longer the priority. Life is expendable. Freedom is suddenly everything.
What a strange reversal from the days when the pro-life movement chastised women who had had abortions for prioritizing their own personal liberties over the lives of the unborn.
Those who found “my body, my choice” repugnant ought to be even more repelled by “your body, my choice.” Yet, as we have seen repeatedly with the shrugging off of sexual assault allegations (“just locker room talk” “boys will be boys) the Venn diagram overlap between those who oppose “my body, my choice,” and those who excuse the choices that harm others, is significant.
I am making a point about contradictions in thought. But this is not simply about faulty logic and sloppy ethics. It is about real, live bodies. And that is why I am angry. It is not because I am merely intolerant of other people’s views. I am angry the way I would be angry if a drunk driver was careening around my neighborhood, because she felt like it. I am angry because the irresponsibility of these people will lead to more deaths.
My father died a week ago today.
It still feels strange to write this. It feels strange to have this tremendous emptiness where so recently, he lived. This has made me more, not less cognizant of the dire circumstances we face – and of the suffering of so many who have lost loved ones due to this terrible pandemic.
In the days before my father’s death, we were unable to visit with him much in person, because with his heart and lung issues, we could not risk infecting him, in case we were unwittingly carrying this deadly virus. We spoke to him through the window, and my children waved to him from the yard. This was hard, but it was necessary. And many around us were making the same hard choices, which meant that the COVID-19 numbers in our area were still low, when my father suffered cardiac arrest on Easter Sunday.
I am so grateful for the many in my local community who have made responsible choices and sheltered in place, so that when my father was taken to the ER, unresponsive, my mother was actually able to be with him.
But countless others will not be able to stand by their loved ones as they painfully gasp their last breath.
The choices we make now will influence their outcomes.
I do not intend to be nice or to be tolerant to those who think that the lives of our parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, children, and friends can so lightly be gambled on, for the sake of a trip to the hair salon or a ball game, or the abstraction of “personal liberty” (by which they mean unfettered license, apparently). I do not respect the religion of those who will sacrifice lives of my loved ones in order to get their weekly worship in.
Jesus taught that it was justifiable to break the Sabbath in order to save a life, so the faith that these people adhere to is not the faith that Jesus taught, nor is their ethics the Christian ethics that has always viewed life as sacred.
And I see no moral merit in tolerating political choices that directly threaten personal lives. The most vulnerable among us are now everywhere, and they need us to speak up, and to act wisely.