Coronavirus is revealing a shattered country

As Hammond notes, this doesn’t imply a moral equivalence between right-wing retirees shouting “white power!” from their golf carts and left-wing protesters pulling down or defacing monuments to people united by little more than their white skin. But it is to note that both are examples of political factions embracing a tribal sensibility — white nationalism in the first case and anti-whiteness in the second — over and against an identity tied to the political community as a whole and its complicated collective history. Both are also examples of those factions enacting their new-found tribalism by lashing out against shared public order and authority.

This is the doom loop into which we appear to have fallen. It’s a politics of centrifugal forces that issues not just in partisan polarization and a vacated ideological center, but in an emptying out of any public, common life at all. The siloing of ideas and even reality online, along with the race- and class-based segregation of physical space that has long been a feature of American society, are feeding off of and amplifying each other in the crucible of a country confronting a deadly contagion, economic free-fall, and serious spike in urban gun violence.

Many Black citizens have understandably lost faith in law enforcement. Businesses are shuttering. Police are pulling back from enforcing public order. Acts of lawlessness are increasing. Leading newspapers are under pressure by activists and some of their own employees to abandon the ideal of objectivity in favor of a “moral clarity” that amounts to outright political advocacy. People are dismissing and mocking the advice of experts in public health.

This isn’t what a liberal society is supposed to look like.