Since its incursion, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the breadth of our medical apparatus. However, mentioning COVID-19 solely as a health crisis is omitting its implicit political position in American politics, making it contingent to any political discussion.
Currently, as American society seeks to return to a pre-COVID lifestyle, immunization requirements have been a contentious topic for universities, the workplace and the government, making vaccination status an important policy consideration. While vaccination rates continue to rise, the rural American demographic is seen to be the most hesitant towards the vaccine. This behavior is often misappropriated by media and individuals to reproach and blame the political opposition. Such an approach disregards the larger history of the Republican Party, as well as general political behavior.
The rural American identity is pivotal in understanding the trend of vaccine hesitancy. This demographic is not only a regional description, but it speaks to a larger cultural identity which deeply resonates within members of these communities. Politically, this identity fosters contempt for the social, economic and political activity in those individuals living namely in cities and suburbs who are perceived to serve only for the interests of the non-rural businessmen, politicians and social elite.
These sentiments are often well intended, as rural America faces fleeting populations, stagnating job growth, and government and political neglect as resources are directed in favor of centralized living. Urban culture maintains a patronizing view on rural America, looking down on and scorning rural life. These factors amalgamate into the resentment for centralization, which is summarized by lack of dignity that is felt missing in rural America from its American peers within national politics.
As Francis Fukuyama argues in The End of History and The Last Man, the concept of dignity is commonly overlooked or deprecated in economic and political evaluations. He proposes that dignity in the decision-making process is mechanically fundamental to the process of politics, the economy and the course of history. Dignity, Fukuyama says, deserves significant accreditation for its role in human behavior. This mechanism in politics has distinctly imprinted itself in the COVID-19 responses of rural America.
Given the political implications of the pandemic, it is no surprise that the current climate makes rural America hesitant to the vaccine. In the demanding period of a public health event, the rural American feels subordinate to institutions and peripheral to the national direction.
Furthermore, the politicization of the virus forces rural America into an ideological corner. When casting skepticism on the government is met with aggression and disdain, the perceived degradation of dignity continues to manifest. The overzealous vaccination activist determined to prove any hesitant individual wrong ultimately demonizes the latter, and it only facilitates anguish and political turmoil.
A virus with such high contagiousness and proportionally low lethality makes the disease’s impact elusive to an individual while still straining health and economic resources in communities. As rural Americans are chastised under the guise of science and factuality, regardless of its truth, this disallows any patient to have open conversation about the disease and undermines political discourse, creating conditions for future health concerns in COVID-19 variants and other possible diseases.
The factors behind vaccine hesitancy lends to larger political patterns and implications of democracy in the United States. While China has the privilege to relegate the virus quickly through a centralized state, the United States is encumbered by the intentionally placed internal contradictions of democracy that prevent flexibility and adaptiveness in exchange for the upholding of liberal values. Democratic lethargy is further dilated with the politicization of COVID-19, and the casted doubt on both national and international institutions.
The history of the epidemic is shadowed by its impact on the political environment in the United States, bearing an omen for the gradual transmission of global power from the United States to China. The virus, as most events in American history do, bring into question the American identity and the freedoms of individual choice and bodily autonomy as the anxiety of America’s future is increasingly unclear.