In San Diego, As Elsewhere, Reaction To Coronavirus Restrictions Is Political
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / May 19, 2020
Reaction to the various ways of dealing with the coronavirus — wearing masks, staying home, going to the beach, protesting — is often along political lines in San Diego County as elsewhere in the U.S.
Speaker 1: 00:01 Reactions to the stay at home orders during this pandemic are increasingly breaking down along political lines, whether it's wearing masks, social distancing, or going back to work. It appears that Republicans generally want government to back off while Democrats want more government leadership and help. San Diego union Tribune columnist Michael Smolins has written about the growing fault lines developing over how we live with the virus and he joins us now. Welcome Michael.
Speaker 2: 00:28 Well, Alison, thanks for having me on.
Speaker 1: 00:31 So, Michael, you pointed out in a recent column that there are some major differences in the opinions that Democrats and Republicans hold about how we're dealing with this pandemic and, and whether we've seen the worst of it yet. Tell us how, how you see they differ?
Speaker 2: 00:46 Well, yes. Uh, you know, we've seen this in the visual manifestation in the, uh, the protests, which are largely conservative folks that want government out of their hair and to top stop telling them a what to do, which is a traditional Republican view and frankly, very American in many respects except a time of crisis perhaps. But several polls have showed, uh, a big partisan split. Uh, you know, my, my column on Sunday was focused on mass and one poll suggested that about two thirds of Democrats are game to where mass about half Republicans and half independence. I've seen some other polling that shows out an even bigger spread. What's interesting is, um, even other aspects of the, the divide is greater. Uh, just a simple one is to do you think the federal government's doing a good job, a poor job? About 80% of Republicans say it's doing a good job and 80% of the Democrats say it's doing a poor job. So, you know, that's the world we live in. I think you see those splits so much on just the basic job performance ratings of a, of president Trump and things like that.
Speaker 1: 01:53 Yeah. And then there was that poll that said that most Republicans seem to think the worst is behind us. While most Democrats say they think the worst is still ahead, which of course affects the way we react to all these rules. But, but why do you think that they view the danger presented by the virus so differently? What does it say about underlying values?
Speaker 2: 02:12 Well, you know, it says a few things, uh, or several things. Obviously president Trump has been trying to move on from this just from the beginning. He, uh, you know, in many people's views ignored the seriousness of the threat and has been trying to suggest we're over the hump. And, uh, you know, his latest, uh, appeal is that the economy is going to come back roaring in the third quarter. I think a lot of Republicans take a lead from that, but I think there's, this kind of goes back to deeper roots and just the constant push pull since the founding of the United States. I mean, you know, we're, we're sort of very big on individual liberties, but that's balanced off with, you know, what's for the collective good and security. And there's always that push pull. We've seen it even post nine 11, uh, in terms of certain security issues, once current really came together, I think in a, in a sort of moral way. But then there were divisions on certain policies and surveillance policies in particular that, uh, even some, you know, Republicans, uh, took issue with. So in that larger respect, what we're seeing, I don't think is that unusual for the United States, but it's always troubling now at a time when, when, uh, you know, there's this invisible deadly disease floating around a virus floating around and, uh, uh, you've got people suggesting there may be other motivations other than just to protect people from that.
Speaker 1: 03:37 Exactly. Yes. Well, we'll get to the motivations in a while, but I thought it was so interesting that you point out mosques have become this sort of cultural flashpoint and in some ways they sort of symbolize prioritizing individual Liberty as you were saying, versus, you know, caring about the greater good. Um, so do you see this, do you think that it could in some circles to become politically incorrect, to wear a mask?
Speaker 2: 04:01 I think so, yes. We've seen, unfortunately, I don't think here in San Diego, but scattered instances around the country where poor people working in, uh, you know, Walmart's a Walmart security guard was shot because he, it's just that people wear masks according to the policy of the store. Um, you know, people have been attacked because they've tried to escort people out of stores. Those are pretty rare instances. But yes, I think so. Uh, I think that that, uh, you will see it more as a political statement than what it should be. Uh, according to health experts, uh, you know, a health issue or in terms of wearing them. Now having said that, if a lot of people want to go to VA Hoss casino, which opened yesterday, they have to wear a mask. Uh, at least getting in. There were reports that people were removing them once inside, uh, and they weren't being enforced to put them back on to a great degree.
Speaker 1: 04:53 Yeah. It's sort of becoming like a secret signal to other people about where you stand on the issue, isn't it?
Speaker 2: 04:58 Right. Well, one of the real ironies, and I pointed this out in a previous column, but the week before when when the president visited a factory that makes masks, uh, his supporters were harassing reporters covering the event for wear outside for wearing mask. Now think about the irony of that for a second, but the political divisions and the anger, uh, you know, is presenting itself in this whole, um, uh, Corona virus situation as well.
Speaker 1: 05:23 Well, mass are sort of one end of the rebellion spectrum and the other end are people believing, as you mentioned before, these conspiracy theories that there's a deep state that's out to control our lives. Do you think the, the likelihood of believing in conspiracy theories falls along party lines?
Speaker 2: 05:39 You know, I haven't really looked at that terribly closely, but I think that the conspiracy theories, uh, are more, um, more believed among the people that, that question, the, the stay at home rules, that very question government, uh, that rather than look at the, uh, health experts, uh, they're looking at ways as to why government might want to be in a controlling situation.
Speaker 1: 06:03 So now let's just look at San Diego County because here in the County we appear to have seen a fairly unified sort of benevolence, kind of overlord appearance from the County supervisors with these daily news conferences where they put out the numbers and dr Nikki fan TVs, the chief medical officer calls for a unified approach and models wearing masks, you know, with the stars and stripes. But would you say that there's a great divide opening up at the County now between the supervisors who want to open up rapidly and those who are much more cautious?
Speaker 2: 06:34 I don't think a great divide. You know, we shouldn't treat every disagreement as, as a, you know, a health threat. I mean, I think that there's legitimate room, uh, for the kind of discussion that we're seeing on the supervisors and at city hall. Frankly, you know, sort of one interesting example is you take a mayor, Faulkner and uh, border provisor chairman, uh, Greg Cox, they sent a letter to governor Newsome last week saying, you know, they're, the criteria you're using for full reopening is really unrealistic and we have a plan to do it. Look at our plan, you should change that now. I don't know that they deserve all the credit for that, but they and others I think, uh, showed, uh, the governor as did his own data, people that things are more contained to where he feels comfortable to where they could open. Now you've got on the board, um, you know, certain supervisors that do want to open more quickly and I think others would like to open quickly, but they think that that they can't go role. They've got to follow the state's rules. So there is that divide, but it doesn't quite seem to come down to kind of the, the real harsh political and anger, frankly, that you're seeing at these, uh, these protests.
Speaker 1: 07:46 One of the newest members on the County board is, is uh, our supervisor, Jim Desmond, who's a Republican and who just, uh, recently began his term on the board and, and really appeared initially to be pretty much of a moderate. But, um, do you see that his conservative allegiances are emerging more under pressure of the pandemic?
Speaker 2: 08:03 Well, certainly on some aspects of it. Uh, as we all are aware and then frankly, I'm writing about this in my column for tomorrow, you know, he's raised questions about the covert 1919 death toll. And this is something that conservatives that brought up on Fox news, commentators, uh, the Trump administration about pointing out that the vast majority of these desperate people with underlying conditions. And so he kind of said bluntly, there's only been six pure Covin 19 deaths without underlying conditions, which to some people suggested maybe that's all that should be counted. And that's significant because the governor had been using the rate of deaths as, you know, a barometer as to when counties could reopen more. And so that caused quite a stir. You know, I, I think that that it was sort of like what the mayor and a supervisor clocks were saying that the criteria was, was too difficult and we've got safeguards. They didn't start discounting certain deaths as not covert related, which I think is where, um, a supervisor Desmon caught a lot of flack that and the fact that he, he just outright question the motivation by governor Newsome as a more of a control freak than then concern about the health of the public. So those things combined. Yeah, it was certainly in the conservative talk show wheelhouse. Um,
Speaker 1: 09:28 yeah. Uh, well when you look at the conflicts that, that there are over these issues, you know, just supposing that hundreds of people in San Diego start refusing to Bay restrictions, does either the city or the County had the ability to deal with a more robust rebellion or are they dealing with it by, by just opening up faster now?
Speaker 2: 09:48 Well, they've been inconsistent as we've seen. The real challenge I think is yeah, we do get this second wave and everybody expects one, but if it's bad enough and if they trace it to the fact that we've reopened to a greater extent to try to go back to some of those restrictions, I think that will be very hard. Uh, uh, you know, just politically and just in, in people's lives, uh, once they get a little taste of freedom again.
Speaker 1: 10:13 Yes. Well, Michael, we'll be looking for your future columns on all this. Thanks so much for joining us. Thanks again for having me. That's Michael Smolan, columnist of the San Diego union Tribune.
Speaker 3: 10:33 [inaudible].