mask protest
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  • I’m sweating bullets that my kid’s school is going to close for no science-based reason, and we’ve already given up Thanksgiving. But I can’t help but feel discouraged that my family’s sacrifice is in vain.
  • A winter hellscape awaits, even with encouraging vaccine news, because America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been an endless loop of stupidity.
  • A lot of Republican politicians deny science, while some prominent Democratic lawmakers cynically flout their own COVID guidelines. 
  • Ours isn’t a cohesive society banding together to fight a common enemy, one that has wreaked havoc on each of us in some way. 
  • America’s COVID response has devolved into a politically-driven, toxically narcissistic, tribalistic mess.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Thanksgiving is an unalloyed joy of my life, and I’m not particularly given to public displays of effervescence.  

Unlike religious holidays, this one requires the least formality. It’s all just goofing off, catching up, and pretending to care about the Detroit Lions game. It’s a low pressure, high-carb event that briefly makes the awful-weather months bearable. 

But as we have with so many other staples of “normal” life this year, my family and I are willfully opting out of an extended family Thanksgiving. We’re taking one for the team, again, so that family members in high-risk age and health demographics aren’t put at unnecessary risk. 

We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s a very modest sacrifice in the interests of social responsibility, especially with words like “out of control spread” being used to describe the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. 

Despite doing our part, I can’t help but feel discouraged that my family’s sacrifice is in vain. A winter hellscape awaits, even with encouraging vaccine news, because America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been an endless loop of stupidity.

"Nightmare Spring" gives way to "Horror Winter"

It's been over eight months since COVID crushed life as we knew it. 

Seared into my memories of last March through July are the refrigerated tractor trailers filled with bodies, the constant wail of sirens, and mandatory shutdowns of everyday life.  

And then there was that time I got a mass text from the City of New York telling me (and everyone) to not call 911 or go to the emergency room unless a life was in immediate danger. Whenever my kids rough-housed on our couch, which they needed to maintain sanity, I now watched with dread at the prospect of a broken finger and the lack of available medical attention. 

During this nightmare existence last spring, confined to an apartment in the epicenter of the pandemic with three kids aged toddler to tween, all I hoped for was a near-future where my kids were in school and not climbing the walls while I desperately tried to earn a living. 

My utopian vision included fantasies of Americans generally agreeing that the coronavirus is real, and we should all be disciplined enough to not recklessly spread it. I also spun imaginary tales of lawmakers making consistent, science-based policies, and then proving to the public that they too would live under the same draconian restrictions. 

Like my once-held hope for hoverboards, my idealism for the future under COVID is gone.

Instead of an effective, science-based approach, America's COVID response has devolved into a politically-driven, toxically narcissistic, tribalistic mess. And it's only getting worse as we're heading into what could be the most brutal stretch of infections and hospitalizations to date.

The rot at the top 

No assessment of American disharmony is complete without a full accounting  of the political class' myriad failures. 

It's not just that President Trump helped convince millions of Americans that wearing a mask was an affront to liberty, and a good number of Republicans echoed his idiocy.

South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem presides over the state with the highest number of COVID deaths per capita over the past month, but she continues to raise doubts about the value of mask-wearing and allow large gatherings in the name of "freedom."

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted "Don't cancel Thanksgiving. 

Don't cancel Christmas. Cancel lockdowns" as COVID cases surged out of control in the Buckeye State, where weddings are proving to be superspreader events

Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott broke with the COVID-denying orthodoxy of many in his party by tweeting a thread that recognized "I know it's hard to keep sacrificing. I hear the anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness." 

Scott also conceded that "there's not much we can do to stop" citizens from denying science and putting other people at risk. But, Scott added, "please don't call it patriotic or pretend it's about freedom...Real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not."

But it's not just GOP politicians that have undermined the basic aspects of the COVID response and made any response into a political fight. There is plenty of blame to go around. 

Democrats' tone-deaf elitism and selective outrage over mass gatherings have also done plenty of damage to the social cohesion required to beat back a pandemic.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to be publicly shamed into cancelling an indoor dinner with about 50 new and returning members of the Democratic caucus. 

Massive public protests, as well as celebrations, have been cheered in liberal circles — but only when the politics are correct. Meanwhile, conservatives and religious devotees seethe that their houses of worship remain closed by order of the government. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants citizens of his state to limit their Thanksgivings to 10 people or less, but earlier this month he attended a private dinner for a well-connected lobbyist at Napa Valley's ultra-exclusive French Laundry restaurant that had more members of different households than the state's guidelines advise. 

It hardly gets more Marie Antoinette than that, or maybe it does! 

After apologizing for attending what he said was an outdoor dinner with mostly-masked guests, photos surfaced of Newsom sitting indoors in close proximity with other unmasked diners. 

And in my completely Democratic-dominated city and state, I'm sweating bullets over whether my middle schooler will be barred from going back into a classroom, despite the fact that she's only attended in person an average of fewer than one day a week this year. 

At the start of the school year in late August, it wasn't clear from one day to the next whether schools would be opening at all. Eight months later, the mixed messages are still flying between New York City and Albany. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's policy is to close schools if the daily positive COVID test rate hits 9%. 

But in NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio could only get the teachers union to agree to come back to work if he agreed to a clampdown should the daily positive rate hit 3%. The city's daily positive rate has been hovering just under that threshold all week, and an imminent closure feels inevitable

This is despite the fact that New York City schools have over the past three months had positive tests of about 0.18%. Schools, according to the city's top health experts, are just about the safest public place you could be. 

There's nothing science-related about these school policies, and they're certainly not in the public interest. And it is lower-income families, who are the most likely to lack reliable high-speed internet that remote learning requires, who will suffer the most.

It's all indicative of the mismanagement by a city government that hasn't done much of anything to help teachers navigate the uncharted waters of remote learning, leaving kids barely educated and parents like me struggling to teach common core math to a bored eight-year-old in the middle of a workday.  

Throw in a lame duck president more concerned with undermining democracy than the lives of his constituents and it kind of feels like nobody's at the wheel, like we're never going to figure this out. 

Americans making it worse for America

A lot of people think advisories against large Thanksgiving gatherings from the Centers for Disease Control and lawmakers are going to result in raids led by Dr. Fauci where stormtroopers flip the dinner table and haul the entire family into COVID-jail

That's absurd. They're advisories, like not staring directly at the sun during a solar eclipse

And just because politicians are typically self-interested hacks with messiah-complexes doesn't mean the counterargument — that we should do the exact opposite of what the scientists advise — is any better advice.

It's been eight months of ruptured education. Eight months of massive unemployment, unpaid rent, and businesses dying through no fault of their own. Eight months of lockdowns, rebellions against lockdowns, and now more lockdowns. 

We might have a vaccine next year, and we might have everyone vaccinated a year after that. But we're going to suffer — a lot more than we need to — because our elected officials are flailing and kicking and undermining science, and too many citizens are passing the bug rather than be inconvenienced.  

Ours isn't a cohesive society banding together to fight a common enemy, one that has wreaked havoc on each of us in some way. 

I'm bracing for more darkness.  

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