With regards to COVID-19, Arizona aptly demonstrates the idea of the American “melting pot”—though instead of diversity in people, Arizona has a diversity in opinions.

It’s woefully ironic to watch the state become the most infected per capita, bolstered by the absurd rationale of Governor Doug Ducey to reopen the state, even as experts warn that the state has not reached its peak. Native American communities are facing more COVID-19 cases than other states; the Arizona-Mexico border, always a hot partisan debate in the news, now takes on new complications during this pandemic as ICE detainment camps propagate infections; Arizona’s status as a popular retirement destination correlates to a significantly high vulnerability to the virus. 

All of this is unsurprising, given that Arizona has been a reliably Republican state, and the current political climate has effectively split Arizonians between safety and rights. Trump’s recent rally in Phoenix, Arizona only exasperated platitudes and half truths about the virus. 

To a crowd of about 3000 students, most of whom ignored the ordinance to wear masks, the president said: “[Democrats] hate our history, they hate our values, and they hate everything we prize as Americans. Our country didn’t grow great with them. It grew great with you and your thought process and your ideology.”

“What we prize as Americans.” American nationalism is a funny thing. As much as America seems a unified entity on a global scale, Trump’s speech highlights just how divided Americans  are about history, values, ideology, and just what it means to be American.

“America is such a great representation of ‘the grass is greener on the other side,’” Lilly Ramirez, a rising freshman at Arizona State University, tells The Politic. “I think there’s an idea in the world that America is one, unified place. At least, that’s how my grandmother felt when she came.”  

Ramirez’s grandmother had crossed the Mexican border to Arizona in search of the American dream, illegally. Ramirez continues, “My family thought that America was such a free place and they could achieve this unification. But with all these freedoms we have, we get to do our own thing and pick who we want to be, what we want to represent.” In the midst of a pandemic, these choices reflect less on our freedoms than on our responsibilities. 

In its beginning, the coronavirus was heralded as the “great equalizer,” not discriminating by  national borders or human distinctions. In the months since—where we have seen COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color and the poor—have proven that sentiment jarringly wrong. Even a global pandemic is not experienced universally. On top of that, rising nationalistic policies show the disingenuity of the statement; not only is the pandemic not a “great equilizer” by nature, but we don’t even want to treat it like one.

Where the virus did not impose borders and restrictions, countries have done so themselves. Rising nationalism has posed increasing concerns for international collaboration towards sourcing materials, sharing research, and creating a vaccine. More than 69 countries have banned or restricted the export of protective equipment, medical devices, or medicines. Countries have turned this pandemic into an opportunity to display scientific prowess and gain soft power. Politicians play a dangerous hegemonic game with issues that should be shared priorities of the global community. 

Many experts are concerned that this track will lead to ‘vaccine nationalism’. There could be major issues in distributing vaccines once one is developed but short-supplied. Wealthy countries are already pre-ordering vaccines, as in 2009 with the H1N1 vaccine, which will crowd out poor countries. Vaccines will be distributed based on a country’s purchasing power instead of need.

Nationalism naturally hurts international relations; paradoxically, however, it hurts Americans as well. An important consideration after “vaccine nationalism” is the distribution of vaccines within American borders. And if the trends in resource distribution in the past are any indicator, such as with the H1N1 vaccine in 2009, there will be widespread disparities across income and race.

There are arguable perks to nationalism: solidarity, sense of community, willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the whole. But America isn’t reaping these effects, because the nationalism displayed on a global level doesn’t translate to unity on a local scale. In some cases, people don’t want to wear masks or maintain social distancing as long as the urging is from the opposing political party. 

The irony is that due to increased nationalism, there is more discordance in the response to the pandemic. There is an ‘us vs them’ mentality that can cause individuals to alienate those that diverge from their worldviews, whether it be between political parties, races, or other dividers. What’s more, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told Congress in February that the government would not intervene to ensure any vaccine’s affordability, leaving people and communities on their own to obtain vaccines.

Tribal communities, for example, have faced centuries of systemic maltreatment. Broken infrastructure for running water and electricity, limited health services, and poor food networks all contribute to the spread of Covid-19 in indigenous communities. In his article on Insider, Tyrone Whitehorse, a member of the Diné Nation (or Navajo Nation) from Lechee, Arizona writes, “…we lack many of the resources that the rest of the country has. It’s challenging to follow public health guidelines against such systemic disparities.” For months into the pandemic, Native demographics were excluded in COVID-19 data collections. Undercounting limited federal support, with much aid coming from grassroots relief groups within tribes. 

Immigration detention centers also highlight this otherism. They will not be considered to receive America’s initial vaccines. Past the detention centers, undocumented immigrants also face undue dangers. On February 24, 2020, a new “public charge” rule came into effect, stating: “aliens are inadmissible to the United States if they are unable to care for themselves without becoming public charges.” While the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) Public Charge has since written on its web page that seeking COVID-19 treatment “will not negatively affect any alien,” the Trump administration has escalated actions against undocumented immigrants and border security. 

Prison populations are another group that may be excluded from an initial vaccine. According to a CDC receipt after the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, over half of US jails did not receive H1N1 vaccines when they became available. 

It’s important to recognize the disparate impacts that the coronavirus has between differing populations—in the world, but even more so within one country. On a practical level, the diverse demographics in a state like Arizona must all be considered for mass vaccine distribution to create herd immunity. But more significantly, the disproportionate harm a pandemic has on minority groups reveals vulnerabilities in the unity and support of a country. If nationalism is rising, we should be careful to not protect only a subgroup of “American,” and focus on bettering the whole nation.

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