During a crisis, it’s not uncommon to hear the refrain that it “shouldn’t be politicized.” Many people who say that are probably well-meaning, but it’s terrible advice—and whoever is giving it to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, about President Trump and the coronavirus pandemic, should stop. We can never escape politics, because politics is about deciding how we live together, how we shape the world in which our lives unfold. When an emergency arrives, these questions become more urgent, not less, as judgments about who to save, who to help, and where to send resources get made.
The pandemic is not just a problem of facts and information, though it is that—the woefully inadequate testing for the virus in the United States, for example, certainly will hamper efforts to know just when it is safe to “reopen” the economy. But such a reopening would mean more than simply gathering data and trusting models: it’s a choice about whose lives to risk. Many office workers and other white-collar professionals would continue to stay safely at home, meeting via Zoom, while ever greater numbers of delivery people, factory workers, service employees, and health-care professionals face possible infection and sickness.