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America’s road back from COVID-19 must begin with an end to the politics of division

We suppose the thinking of ideologues on both sides, right and left, is that the pandemic offers them a unique opportunity to finally make headway on longstanding aims. But now, more than ever, we need unity, not discord.

Protesters hold signs May 1 in front of the James R. Thompson Center demanding that the Illinois economy reopen.
Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

We think we can all agree that the woman who carried an “Arbeit macht frei, JB” sign at a downtown rally on Friday was not speaking for a significant number of people in Illinois.

She was speaking for Nazis.

But more importantly, we don’t believe the hundreds of demonstrators at the Thompson Center rally, or at a larger rally in Springfield on the same day, were speaking for a significant number of people — not when it comes to Illinois’ response to COVID-19.

The demonstrators in their foolish approach — no masks, no social distancing and no respect for science — were out of step with the vast majority of people in Illinois, who accept that the coronavirus is real and deadly and have been working hard to keep it at bay.

Our state, like our nation and the world, will be living with the fallout of the coronavirus for a long time — years, not months. The pandemic, long after it has ebbed, will continue to reshape every aspect of American life, from whether we go to concerts to the wisdom of relying on foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers to how we produce and deliver food. Our country faces sustained high unemployment.

The practical challenges will be enormous, but the political challenges will be even greater in a nation that already is deeply divided. We will need leaders who seek to unite us, as the current president does not, and we will need data-driven, non-ideological solutions that appeal to the widest number of Americans.

Ideological groups on the right or left can’t be the tail that wags the dog.

They don’t speak for us

Consider the demonstrators at those rallies in Chicago and Springfield on Friday — what a joke. They waved signs that read “Stop the shamdemic” and “the coronavirus is a hoax.” If they had it their way, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order would be lifted immediately and everybody would flock to county fairs tomorrow, free to cough all over each other.

The protesters were angry and loud and claimed to speak for a lot of us, but they did not. They were a know-nothing, right-wing fringe, working it for the cameras.

The reality is that the great majority of people in Illinois have stood firm with Pritzker in this fight against COVID-19. They respect the science of how the virus spreads and the necessity of the governor’s stay-at-home order. They don’t want to get sick and they don’t want Grandma to die. They understand that personal liberty doesn’t mean somebody gets to roll the dice with somebody else’s health.

As Rich Miller of Capitol Fax reported on Sunday in the Chicago Sun-Times, a new poll has found that a “whopping 77%” of Illinois residents support Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, while only 18% oppose it and 4% don’t know.

Dubious lefty critics

On the other end of the political spectrum, Pritzker and other local Democrats, such as Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have been catching grief from lefties who are using the pandemic to further their own dubious, if well-intended, agenda.

They are calling for rent strikes and rent control — bad ideas — and they say prisoners should be released en masse — a dangerous idea. They think it’s terrible that Lightfoot has named Sam Skinner — a known Republican! — to head a coronavirus recovery task force. Skinner was a chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush.

We suppose the thinking of ideologues on both sides, right and left, is that the pandemic offers them a unique opportunity to finally make headway on longstanding aims. Or, as Chicago’s most recent past mayor liked to say, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

And, we suppose, in our call for a more pragmatic, data-driven, science-solid, nationally unifying approach to the politics of the pandemic, we’re doing the same. Maybe this public health crisis finally will drive home to more Americans how devastating the politics of division have been for our country.

A call for national unity

At a time when tens of thousands of Americans are dying from COVID-19, which so far has no cure, can we finally agree that there’s something horribly wrong with President Donald Trump, who cheers protesters who carry assault weapons into the state capitol in Michigan, or who mocks a former president, George W. Bush, just for calling for national unity?

Allow us to quote from Bush’s offending words:

“In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”

America’s best chance at rebounding from the pandemic, in a way that’s fair to all of us, begins with true leadership and an end to the politics of division. If we seek common ground, all else can flow.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.