American democracy may be a wonderful system, but our politics can be the scourge of the land.

In fact, politics can be a matter of life and death.

Our current pandemic is a prime example. The United States has 4 percent of the world’s population, yet accounts for 25 percent of the planet’s COVID-19 cases. That has occurred even while our country has the best scientists in the world. Why is that?

Why politics, of course.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from the virus, and hundreds of thousands more are debilitated, because COVID-19 became political.

Early on during the pandemic our infectious disease specialists determined that wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and closing crowded venues such as restaurants and auditoriums would slow the spread of the disease. Many of our government leaders, though, spurned that advice. As the rhetoric heated up preceeding last November’s election some top politicans mocked those wearing masks and downplayed and even lied about the severity of the pandemic.

Unfortunately many people followed that lead, refusing to masks or avoid crowds. Of course the more the virus spread the more the hospitalizations and deaths increased exponentially. Now more than 550,000 Americans are dead, and because many states recently loosened restrictions and lifted mask mandates we appear to be on the cusp of a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator under former administration, said although many of the first 100,000 deaths in the initial COVID-19 wave were likely inevitable, the deaths from the later waves could have been reduced if the U.S. had implemented lockdown measures sooner and taken safety protocols more seriously throughout 2020.

“The first time, we have an excuse,” she said. “There were about 100,000 deaths that came from the original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

Current CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday the country faces “impending doom” as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and more states loosen restrictions. Walensky pleaded with the public to continue practicing safety measures to prevent another surge.

Although more than 18,500 Ohioans have died of COVID-19, the death toll would be much higher had it not been for the courageous and insightful leadership of Gov. Mike DeWine. He received national accolades for boldly shutting down venues and severely restricting many others. DeWine would have done even more, such as an early mask mandate, except for the pushback he received from many private citizens and members of his own party.

What is DeWine’s reward for that bold leadership? You see “Impeach DeWine” signs posted along roadways, and the Ohio House and Senate – dominated by his own party – passed a law allowing legislators to override the governor’s ability to implement safety measures to combat the pandemic.

DeWine initially vetoed this foolishness, but the GOP majority ignored his pleas for sanity and reason and overrode his veto.

I could go on and on about this mindless and potentially deadly political grandstanding on the part of our GOP legislators, even as we are staring down a fourth deadly surge, but I’m too disgusted to do so in language appropriate for a family newspaper.

As I have said so many times before, COVID-19 kills. Early on in the pandemic I saw the virus claim the life of a friend. My uncle recently died of the disease. A friend lost both his parents an hour apart to COVID – and there are more than 550,000 other stories just like those, all people leaving behind grieving family and friends.

It’s so sad that so many of victims are dead because of politics, yet even as the vaccines promise to deliver us from the pandemic soon, the shortsighted fecklessness of our leaders still goes on.

Don Allison is an author, historian and retired editor of The Bryan Times. He can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com.

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