Nearly two months into the Coronavirus spectating, Americans finally came to realize that we are actually playing this game in the arena…for life. Dan Diamond, a POLITICO reporter who investigates health care policy and politics, tells us how serious this pandemic is and how much we need to be concerned. As I am writing this, cities and nations are closing down one after another, following the example of ground zero, Wuhan. Italy is locked down. France closes its stores and theaters. The US has banned flights from more than twenty countries. At the same time, Costco is being raided for water, rice, canned food, sanitizers, and God forbid, toilet papers! In the midst of this global panic, a sense of “zombies apocalypse” loomed over the crisis going “viral” in the backdrop. While this universal concern is understandable, I find it ironic that almost nobody talked about a much more serious and much bigger global problem that was taking us down and tearing us apart just two months ago.
I think of populism as a global spiritual problem. The dominating emotion that drives this movement is anger. There is no reasoning in anger. A narrative is adopted and the purpose is set. The rest is to tear down the establishment. This description can account for the protests in Chile, the call for independence of Catalonia from Spain, the yellow vests movement in France, the five-star movement in Italy, the uprising in Hong Kong and India, the Brexit in UK, and the stardom of Donald Trump in the US. Populism reflects a failure of how liberal democratic countries depended on a neo-liberal understanding of capitalism in the past to operate the economy. In other words, they view “the system” as a perfectly constructed clockwork that the best the government can do is to step back and let the system do its own thing. This 80-year experiment starting from the 40s proves to be much less than ideal. While on the one hand, it did lift many out of extreme poverty, it also created a huge gap in income inequality, wiping out the middle class, therefore destabilizing the society. Instead of bringing what it promises on happiness and self-sufficiency, many found that they are trapped in a disadvantaged position that does not allow them to find a way out. In the US, rather than gaining a sense of pride from building a home and providing for the family through honest hard work, the white working class slowly devolves into losing one’s own dignity and being beaten down by an opioid epidemic. Then, along came the populist who tells them that they’ve been cheated by the elite class who rigs the system to favor their own gain, and that they conspire with foreign immigrants to plan an invasion to take away what rightfully belongs to them. Once the erroneous but easily understood story takes root, it sparks the fire that burn across the globe!
The grave danger of populism is that it undermines liberal democracy. The strong man says the bureaucracy that comes with the system ultimately works to fail the people, and what they need is someone to shake up the system. The people support the strong man with much enthusiasm because they feel that someone finally understands them. As long as he is representing them and speaking out for them, they are willing to tolerate policies that might even hurt them a bit. Such is the story of Adolf Hitler and Hugo Chavez. Our world has been quickly heated up in this direction in the past few years with situations getting worse every day. What I worry most is that civil wars would erupt around the world. In an abrupt attempt to bring peace militarily by some strong man, we may have WWIII. But then, something happened. Coronavirus happened.
Yes, Coronavirus can cause serious infections and can be deadly. To this day, over 140,000 confirmed cases has been reported around the world and is responsible for over 5,000 deaths. But, this is also the first time since many months I’ve observed that our anger is taking a break. I was listening to NPR the other day. The radio host was interviewing a lady in quarantine. “How are you and your husband doing?” She was genuinely asking the well being of another human being going through some tough time. How are you doing? How are we all doing becomes the focus of our global effort in combating this disease. It is almost a designed distraction to our bickering, mocking, attacking, protesting, and fighting. Our new concern becomes “what can I do so that we don’t get sick?” Before, it was me and my enemies – me and the elite or me and the migrants. Now, it’s us. The virus knows no boundaries. If I get sick, you will get sick, and the reverse is true. Yes, the Coronavirus kills thousands. But WWI killed 40 million and WWII killed 70 million. When I think about it, it seems almost divine.
No, I am not suggesting God created this virus to save us. God is not Thanos (a comic character in the movie End Game who killed half the universe population to solve world hunger). At the same time, his fingerprints are all over the place that he uses a dire situation and gives us blessings, much like what he did with Jesus on the cross. I believe that God did not destine for his only begotten son to die on the cross. Rather, he turned the moment of despair into glory by lifting Jesus up so that his name is above all names that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Speaking as one who may contract this disease and perish by it, when I reflect on the pandemic, I see glory and grace! How shall I pray? How can I pray anything else except gratitude and praise.