Our politicians failed to address the pandemic. Don’t just blame reckless individuals.

The U.S. Capitol Building. (File Photo)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Something that has frustrated me a lot throughout the COVID-19 crisis is the widespread public lack of care for observing social distancing. This has been going on since we were all sent home back in March, and it’s especially frustrating considering that earlier in the pandemic, I kept receiving videos from my family in Italy of military trucks filled with dead bodies, parading solemnly through the town I spent my summers in as a child. So many of us have been personally touched by this pandemic, and yet many of our peers could not have cared less when it came time to temporarily put aside our personal desires for fun, travel and in-person human connection.

But while these concerns are valid, I also recognize that most of these problems would not have existed if our government had actually acted decisively and compassionately to slow the virus’ spread and mitigate the harsh economic fallout. While it is absolutely important to criticize the individuals breaking COVID-19 rules and pretending the pandemic doesn’t exist, we must be careful not to hyper-focus on the actions of individuals to the point that we exonerate institutions for engineering the conditions that allowed COVID-19 to spread so extensively. 

Naturally, the expectation is that rational human beings who care about others will actually follow COVID-19 guidelines; but if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many individuals fail to weigh the consequences of their actions in considering the safety of the most vulnerable. And while we can tell endless horror stories of people flouting social distancing measures and endangering others, we should be directing most of our attention and anger toward those in power. 

It’s not just President Trump who couldn’t give less of a shit about the health and economic consequences of COVID-19 — it’s Congress as well. While millions of Americans struggled with unemployment and rent payments, the Senate took its typical August recess. Of course, all of us are expected to return to work with or without COVID-19 protections and health care, but the urgency of the pandemic and the largest recession in living memory were clearly lost on members of Congress. 

With Democrats blocking a (slim) COVID-19 relief package three days ago, it’s time to take our frustrations out on our politicians taking months to (possibly) extend vital aid. It’s so easy for our government to skirt accountability when we’re preoccupied with tearing at each other for going to bars, beaches and public gatherings. 

Clearly, it’s necessary we hold each other accountable for breaking social distancing rules and failing to wear masks. But I can’t help but wonder — if states hadn’t opened prematurely, if our government had given us the financial support we needed to weather the pandemic, if rent had been canceled and if our president and members of Congress had actually acted with urgency at the start of this crisis, we would not be here today struggling to make ends meet and stay safe. 

We must make sure not to let our politicians fool us into blaming each other for the bulk of this crisis and instead band together (safely!) to force our politicians to feel the same urgency and responsibility we feel every day. Otherwise, those in power will never take the decisive action we deserve.

Caterina Ieronimo is a junior government and politics major. She can be reached at ieronimocaterina@gmail.com.

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