Political polarization & COVID-19

Katie Ribbens – Staff Writer

Once thought a biological concept, the virus sweeping across the world in one great wave now depends on political ideologies. 

“I should desire to wear the mask because that’s what the scientific experts say I should do,” said Dordt alumnus Terry Ribbens, a family physician and Associate Medical Director at St. Luke’s Hospital. “It shouldn’t become something that my political view would influence.”

Ribbens is baffled that COVID-19 became a political issue, though he believes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been muffled by a White House that inserts bias into the conversation. These political influences make it difficult to implement solutions that might combat the disease.

Idaho state senator Lori Den Hartog, also a Dordt alumna, holds the same opinion. She believes that politicians didn’t help matters by politicizing COVID-19, and simply created another controversial issue to divide the electorate.

“When state government started to do the stay at home orders,” Den Hartog said. “I think it became political because there were real and legitimate questions about whether or not government was overstepping its constitutional authority.”

Den Hartog believes that most of what she works on with the legislature isn’t partisan nor divisive. Even if someone has a different political philosophy than her, Den Hartog is able to work with her fellow legislatures to incite the same change—even if their reasoning is different.

However, it is not peaceful policy operations that are broadcast in the news. Rather, it is the polarization of COVID-19.

When asked about the cause of polarization, Ribbens pointed toward extreme thinkers who were selected to lead and left the people in the middle behind. 

“The other side is demonized and the people that are getting together reinforce their own views,” Ribbens said. 

While America already faced a polarized political scene before COVID-19 hit, the virus offered the most recent outbreak for disagreement, according to Ribbens. 

With a divided nation comes divided constituents that Den Hartog must represent. She finds it challenging to represent the people of Idaho, especially when there’s disagreement.

“On any given bill, you don’t get to pick ‘maybe,’ you have to pick ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and then be okay with the consequences of that,” Den Hartog said. 

Additionally, Den Hartog struggles to reconcile her Christian faith with politics. She cannot vote on a bill that goes against her conscience, but she also has to abide by her duty and represent her constituents. 

Den Hartog said she could never look at a policy outside of what she believes. 

“There would be such cognitive dissonance,” Den Hartog said. “My faith, and what I believe, is not just a compartmentalized part of my life—it’s my entire life.”

Doctors and senators alike are attempting to find a remedy not just for COVID-19, but for decreasing polarization. The antidote is reducing “us vs them” thinking, according to Psychology Today.

Ribbens recommends trying to truly understand someone’s opposing view without trying to persuade them to change their mind. Pointing toward the complications at Dordt with students finding community in the age of COVID-19, he encourages coming together. 

Ribbens said that in order to solve problems, people need to link hands and move forward as a unified force. 

Den Hartog said, “This is what in our culture and in our society is just missing so much and it breaks my heart: we have to be okay with people thinking differently than us.”

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