The Valley Industry Association heard Dan Schnur, a professor of politics at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, share his thoughts on what he called “the biggest story in politics,” the coronavirus.
Schnur kicked off his remarks to VIA members via Zoom on Thursday by addressing the “immense divisiveness and polarization that exists in our politics and in our society.”
He said the divisiveness surrounding COVID-19 felt different than the divide typically seen in American politics between Republicans and Democrats.
“It feels like we’re on the edge of a much larger and potentially a much more dangerous divide in American society,” Schnur said. “The anger and the mutual disdain between those of us who follow the COVID-19 guidelines and those of us who have not has surfaced fairly consistently over the course of the pandemic.”
Not having a scapegoat for the pandemic, he said, has made the political divide challenging, too.
“We had this huge crisis, but no villain on whom to assign the responsibility and that gets frustrating,” Schnur said of 2020.
In 2021, the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine changed the nature of the divide.
“The resentment from those who have taken the shot toward those who have it is much stronger and much more targeted,” he said. “Those who have resisted or rejected the vaccination are now putting other people at risk and we’re beginning to see increasingly frequent examples of that hostility playing out in our communities.”
Finding common ground on the vaccine, he said, will be a “considerable challenge.”
“I tell my students I’ve never changed anyone’s mind by telling them how stupid they are, so we’re going to have to find another way to come together,” Schnur said. “That might not be as cathartic as this finger pointing and blaming, but if we’re going to continue to function through what looks like a very long-term challenge it’s going to be necessary.”
Schnur also discussed the California gubernatorial recall election scheduled for Sept. 14 and its place in the political divide created by COVID-19.
“Most California voters, according to public opinion polls, agree with Newsom’s approach to the coronavirus over the course of the last year-and-a-half and they also oppose the recall,” Schnur said. “But among likely voters, those likely voters not only are more likely to support that recall, but they’re much angrier about the way Newsom has taken on the virus given the impact it has had on their businesses, on their families and on their lives.”