The stock market plummeted yesterday amid fears of the economic impact of the coronavirus. While there are only 80,000 cases worldwide, the “silk flight path” of the virus — from China to India and even Italy — show that the virus spreads rapidly. Experts agree that this is probably not containable. Coronavirus is at the tipping point of a pandemic.
The White House also announced this week that Vice President Mike Pence would head a new coronavirus task force established last month to coordinate a national response to the threat it poses to the American people. These are the sorts of things that all good governments do when faced with a serious health crisis. Oftentimes, it’s when the most fundamental good of a nation is threatened that our most heated partisan disputes fade into the background. Yet looking at the political responses to a real health crisis suggests that either Americans do not yet grasp the threat, or that threats to the nation no longer galvanize us. I’m not sure which it is.
Bringing the full weight of the Executive branch to protect every single American was immediately met with partisan posturing and mockery. NPR was fast on the story of how ill-suited the Vice President was for the task, diving into his health policy record as Governor of Indiana. Nevermind that Pence was not tasked to bring medical advice or write health policy, but to manage a coordinated multi-agency response to an impending crisis. Yet for the taxpayer-funded National Public Radio, it was time for an opposition story that helped them frame the 2020 Presidential Election. The Washington Post conveniently ran a nearly identical dismissal of Pence.
Though the topic of coronavirus has been almost completely absent from the Democratic primaries, Elizabeth Warren decided today that the White House response to the outbreak gave her campaign the opportunity to achieve that crucial thing which will protect us all: de-funding the border wall to pay for the response to coronavirus! Never waste a political opportunity, I suppose.
To top it all off, TheNew Yorker, that bellwether of elite liberal opinion, captured the satirical partisan response to the crisis. In a widely shared cartoon, the magazine not only mocked Vice President Pence as too inexperienced for his new role as head of the coronavirus task force, they mocked his Christian faith too. Showing Pence at the podium of his Ash Wednesday press conference, the caption read below, “We remind everyone that the first defense against this outbreak is vigorous handwashing and repentance.” The magazine’s Twitter account doubled down on the joke, adding the further caption “Medical Advice from Mike Pence.”
As the Director-General of the World Health Organization was announcing that we are at “a decisive point,” and that aggressive national responses are needed to save lives, a cartoonist at The New Yorker thought readers would enjoy poking fun at Christians not because their readers are Christians who enjoy a good self-deprecating Lenten laugh but because their readers laugh at Christians who believe in traditional things like sin and repentance. Such are the political and religious divides in America. Never waste a crisis.
Yet what if the crisis is the sort where the atheistic virtue signaling rings hollow? What if it’s the sort of crisis where you don’t view the person in front of you as a Bernie Bro or a Trump voter, but as infected or dying or a competitor for scarce resources, or a child in need of a doctor? What if it’s the sort of crisis in which prayer seems like the only thing you can do after all the handwashing? What if the crisis becomes a kind of Lenten sign, a mark of death upon us? Isn’t that our fear?
What if we not only followed the best medical advice but also looked to Almighty God? There was a time in America when we would beg the Lord to look mercifully upon our nation in the face of a new epidemic, to look mercifully on those infected, suffering, worried for themselves, their spouse, their children. There was a time when the nation would set aside partisan differences and ask God to pour His graces upon all of us in a time of anxiety and fear.
For many Americans, prayer is still the right response to a crisis — turning to God rather than against your neighbor is eminently reasonable. If the cross of coronavirus comes for us, it will be Christians who know how to face it.