When COVID-19 arrived in the United States, it brought so many questions with it. Scary questions. Questions about our jobs and our social networks and our collective well-being.
But for me, it also brought hard ideological questions. COVID-19 forced me to ask myself, “How do I reconcile my political ideology with what is going on all around me?”
I identify as a conservative-libertarian, a conservatarian for short. I joke that when I am around my conservative friends I am shocked by what they want the government to be doing, and when I am around my libertarian friends I am shocked by what they do not want the government to be doing. If I had to summarize my political beliefs, I just want limited and fiscally responsible government, empowered individuals and justice and liberty for all.
There is one very big difference that separates this cultural moment from those before it: I have no context or previous framework to help me figure things out. Where I live in Iowa, many businesses are still closed (even as other parts of the state slowly reopen) and I keep reading about federal spending going up and up. While I’m concerned about the huge deficit numbers and civil liberties, my first pandemic is a whole new ballgame and I’m lacking arguments and solutions that only come with prior experience.
The dichotomy between my political views and the response to COVID-19 only becomes more apparent when I think about my loved ones. All of my immediate family members and many of my close friends have had their lives dramatically impacted by this pandemic in some way. And when I sit and listen to their experiences, any answers I have seem insufficient.
My insufficient answers show themselves in my parents’ living room as we worry together about whether or not my father can remain self-employed in social media marketing and communications after this is over. They linger uncomfortably in the back of my head as I wait to hear back from my severely at-risk mother about whether or not she tested positive for COVID-19. They are still there when I drive my father to the emergency room myself after he starts showing symptoms weeks later.
The insufficiency is obvious as I wonder when my little brother Morgan, temporarily laid off from his position at a local coffeeshop, will be able to go back to work. Is unemployment for the sake of public health preferable to ruining the financial livelihood of so many? What can be done here? What should be done here? But just when I think lockdown is the wrong answer to this issue, I talk to my sister Lily, a nursing student, who makes a case for why it should continue.
Insufficient answers are right there with me as I talk with her what is happening in the hospital where she works. They are there as my heart breaks with her while she talks about changes on her hospice floor because of COVID-19: “My heart kind of broke because I had patients who were dying and they could only have two family members [present].”
I feel the weight of my insufficient answers when I talk with my best friend J. as he runs himself ragged trying to ensure the health of the team he manages in a big box store that’s still open. We often agree politically and so the gravity of this situation hit even harder when he said, “It is really difficult because, from my political perspective, I don’t like to set precedents where the government can lock anything down that the private sector is doing. I want the private sector to be free from regulation. But, right now, the safety and public health of the entire state is very close in my mind to outweighing the dangers of the precedent that would be set…”
The quest to figure out what I think in the midst of this pandemic is only complicated by the anti-shutdown rallies happening around the country. As I struggle alongside others with similar political beliefs to figure out what I think the solutions should be during this unprecedented time of hardship and heartache, I can’t help but notice we are underrepresented in the media. While many of us sit quietly and try to reason through this, we are represented by the loud and nominal few who shirk the responsibility we have to our communities in favor of being able to open up their cities and keep their summer vacation plans.
So how do I reconcile my political ideology with what is going on around me? I have been wrestling with this question for weeks, only to come to the same conclusion every time: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll figure it out before all this is over, but I have a feeling that clear answers will only come in retrospect.
Kelvey Vander Hart is part of the national reporting project 18-to-29 Now: Young America Speaks, a collaboration between YR Media and WNYC’s Radio Rookies that explores issues relevant to the lives of young voters during the 2020 Election. Her essay is part of a larger collection of coverage by young adults across the country to be published throughout the year.