Four years ago, in advance of the 2016 Republican National Convention, something odd happened when I ran unsuccessfully for the position of national committeeman for the Hawaii GOP. At the Waipahu FilCom Center, a local Republican approached one of my campaign team members and tartly informed her that he could not vote for me, “because (Danny) supports vaccination.”

I remember being flummoxed. For starters, it never even occurred to me to mention vaccines or politicize them. Vaccines have been in use for over two centuries, and it has always been one’s choice to have them or not.

I personally am up-to-date on recommended vaccines, but I’ve never boasted about it or told anyone. More importantly, I’ve never once advocated that people should be forced to be vaccinated.

I figured the man who opposed me over vaccines was just crazy and put it out of my mind. But now, years later amid the coronavirus pandemic, I find myself wondering if perhaps that man’s beliefs are becoming common among those who identify as conservatives in the Trump era.

Anti-Science Or Just Tribalism?

Today, a political divide is growing over both the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and beliefs over its severity. I would have never in a million years dreamed that partisanship would spill over into something as cut-and-dried as fighting a virus, but then again, in these days of Orwellian 2-minute hate, anything that threatens one’s favorite politician is a conspiracy to bring them down.

Nationally, you might have noticed that conservative media and thought leaders have downplayed the threat of COVID-19. According to the Pew Research Center, a stunning 56% of people who watch Fox News regularly see the coronavirus outbreak as “greatly exaggerated,” compared to just 25% of CNN viewers and only 12% of MSNBC viewers.

Whataboutism and reactionary talking points of how the seasonal flu, diabetes, cancer or former President Barack Obama’s handling of the swine flu are much worse than the coronavirus are endemic among conservatives in this pandemic. My personal favorite is the conspiracy theory that hospitals are now inflating COVID-19 deaths to undermine President Trump and that no one has actually even died of COVID-19 at all in 2020.

Shutting down the economy is hard, but an economy depends on healthy people. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2020

In our ongoing local controversy over whether Gov. David Ige acted too late on COVID-19 or if he overreacted by shutting down all but essential services in the Aloha State, it seems that same political divide drives the debate over whether we should reopen the economy or stay in self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution.

Setting aside the occasional local readers who daily message me links to how 5G networks are the true culprit behind coronavirus, I’ve noticed that my Trump-conservative peers in Hawaii seem to think that we should just reopen Hawaii because saving the economy is of paramount importance to them.

Like the fictional Weyland-Yutani mega-corporation from the movie “Alien,” it’s almost as if human beings are expendable to some if it means raising the gross domestic product a few points or getting Trump reelected.

By contrast – and I’m sure all of you have seen the same on social media – liberals and progressives seem to be more in favor of continuing the quarantines to prevent infection.

This is a moment when we should set aside politics and think pragmatically as well as scientifically. We are an archipelago state with few places to go; we have a tightly packed population on Oahu that can easily spread a highly contagious virus; and, as Native Hawaiians know, the introduction of outside diseases has ravaged the population before.

As I have written before, the local economy in Hawaii will almost certainly take a hit from coronavirus. But remember that an economy exists in the first place to serve people, not to serve itself. Without people, without healthy laborers, without residents, there is no economy. We should place our first priority on avoiding infection and keeping as many people free from COVID-19 as possible so that when this thing is over, there will be someone left to move Hawaii forward.

Play The Long Game With COVID-19

History shows that in times of plagues, many people who made it out alive later benefited from higher wages or had greater property ownership because when the disease clears, there is always demand for work. Getting rid of a disease, therefore, is the most urgent priority, not going back to work in the middle of one.

If we prematurely reopen Hawaii and a place like Honolulu ends up becoming an epicenter for COVID-19, our state’s reputation won’t be the only thing that’s dead. This is why, for the time being, government needs to step up in terms of providing money for those out of work so they can stay home.

Wendell Willkie, a Republican presidential candidate in 1940 witnessing the crisis that faced America with the outbreak of World War II, wisely remarked, “Today all private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger.”

In our local battle against coronavirus, we need to come to terms that an overriding public danger has put our private lives on hold. Let’s stop arguing about this and just stay home until the virus goes away. The economy will only come back when we get healthy again.

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About the Author

  • Danny de Gracia

    Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

    Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

    He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

    Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.