COVID-19 might as well be called Divided-2020.
When the pandemic started, optimists thought it might inspire us to come together, the way our parents and grandparents did in the Depression and World War II.
But if you watch the news and follow social media, we seem more divided than ever.
As usual, we seem split along pro-Trump and anti-Trump lines. North Carolina has a “Reopen” team and a “Stay Home” team. Wearing a mask, or not, is a political statement.
Those divisions are by choice. Other divisions leave little choice. The pandemic shows that, as former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards used to say, there are “two Americas.”
In one America, people still have jobs. They can work from home. They may lose some income, and their 401(k’)s took a hit, but they’ll make it.
The other America lost their jobs or got furloughed without pay. They worry about paying the rent and keeping their home. They worry about feeding their families. They line up at food banks. They file for unemployment and wonder when they’ll get the check and how long it will last. They may have to go to work even if they don’t feel safe there.
In one America, we can see a doctor to get tested for the virus. In the other America, an estimated 43 million people may lose their health insurance. They can’t afford to go to a doctor.
A teacher reminded me that children, too, live in two different Americas.
In affluent America, children have parents with the time, ability and desire to home-school. They have easy access to their schools’ online classes.
In fact, the teacher said, these kids may benefit from this time. They get a break from end-of-grade testing pressure. They get a vacation from daily schedules packed with tutoring, advanced-placement classes and music, voice or dance classes. They’ll catch up when school starts back up.
But in the other America, children don’t have the internet. They don’t have books at home. They may not get decent meals. They get no break from neglect, abuse and homelessness. They’ll never make up what they’re missing now, the teacher said.
America needs an honest and constructive discussion about how we address these gaps in economic security, health care and education. Will our poisoned political climate allow that? Well, maybe we’re not as divided as it seems.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll May 5-10 found that two in three Americans think it will be July or later before gatherings of 10 or more people will be safe.
Yes, there is a partisan split; 80 percent of Democrats agree with that timeline. But a majority of Republicans, 54 percent, also agree.
Despite all the media coverage of protests, only 21 percent in the poll said current restrictions on restaurants, stores and other businesses in their state are too restrictive; 58 percent say they are appropriate and 20 percent, not restrictive enough.
Maybe we should pay less attention to the people yelling — on the streets, on TV and on social media. Maybe we should listen to quieter voices that speak to the basic decency of all Americans.
Like former President George W. Bush. He was never known for his way with words, but he put it pretty well recently:
“Let us remember that empathy and simple kindness are essential, powerful tools of national recovery. Even at an appropriate social distance, we can find ways to be present in the lives of others, to ease their anxiety, and share their burdens.”
Gary Pearce is a former political consultant and frequent Pilot contributor. He was an adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt, 1976-1984 and 1992-2000 and is author of the book "Jim Hunt: A Biography."