Call them the Pandemic Cynics: Countless Americans who understand the seriousness of the coronavirus, who have dutifully attempted to follow all of their political leaders’ instructions, who “believe the science,” who watched as their friends’ and family’s businesses went bankrupt after following the dictates of the lockdown. These are the people who maintain social distance despite the untold social and psychological cost, and who continue to wear masks because it’s the right thing to do. They are the people who have tried to keep their children’s education on track through virtual learning while still working full-time at their own jobs, even as they wonder why so many countries (where teacher’s unions don’t hold political leaders hostage) have managed to keep schools open and children safe with in-person learning while their own cannot.

Their cynicism grew as they watched tens of thousands of people—not all of them wearing masks and none of them maintaining social distance—protesting and partying and rioting in the streets while they were barred from attending church services, or funerals, or birthdays, or weddings. They watched politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York congratulate himself for his leadership and launch a lucrative, self-promotional book tour atop the graves of the more than 25,000 New Yorkers who died on his watch, many of them thanks to his insistence that sick people return to nursing homes.

Now, with new COVID-19 cases increasing again, along with hospitalizations and deaths, the country is facing a return to stricter lockdowns. That cynicism is back and deepening. At a recent press conference, President-elect Joe Biden spoke of the “very dark winter” ahead given the increase in virus cases. Health officials are advising Americans to tighten their social circles and avoid social contact outside immediate family members.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine ramped up the rhetoric, telling his state’s residents, “Wear a mask so that your friends, neighbors, and family members might live.” The admonition accompanied new punitive measures, including edicts mandating that “stores would be closed for 24 hours if a team of inspectors found that workers or customers at any retailer ignored the mask rule two times.” The governor has also banned “dancing and games at social gatherings” and “said participants in banquets, weddings, and funeral receptions could no longer congregate.”

A similar message came from the governor of Wisconsin: “It’s not safe to have others over—it’s just not safe . . . So please, cancel the happy hours, dinner parties, sleepovers, and play dates at your home.” In New York, Cuomo has limited private gatherings to fewer than ten people and mandated that gyms, bars, and restaurants close by 10:00 pm.

Enforcing these measures is enough of a challenge, but the nation’s political leaders must also confront another: Understandable cynicism and mistrust among the people. “It’s time to end the politicization of basic, responsible public health steps like mask-wearing and social distancing,” Biden declared recently. No doubt. But the way to de-politicize an issue isn’t simply to announce that it is no longer political, especially after months of inconsistent messages from public health officials and blatant hypocrisy from political leaders. You have to rebuild people’s faith in the institutions that are demanding these sacrifices. The real problem isn’t politicization: it’s mistrust.

In ways small and large, leaders like Cuomo (aided and abetted by a media friendly to Democratic politicians) have eroded the public’s trust by saying one thing and doing another. One egregious example, laid out in detail by the New York Post’s Karol Markowicz, was the behavior of CNN’s Chris Cuomo and his brother, the governor, during Chris’ bout with coronavirus. Chris broke quarantine while sick with COVID and got a haircut indoors (a violation that would have netted a non-celebrity a $1,000 fine), while his wife enjoyed indoor workout sessions at a gym that was supposed to have remained closed.

Worse, Governor Cuomo devoted an inordinate amount of time to promoting his leadership style during the pandemic, despite the fact that the state was second only to New Jersey in deaths per capita from COVID.

In Washington D.c., which still has some of the most restrictive lockdown measures in the country and where public school students never returned to in-person education, Mayor Muriel Bowser offered residents a pitch-perfect example of political hypocrisy last week when she and many of her staff traveled to Delaware to celebrate Biden’s win at a crowded campaign party. Delaware is listed as a “high risk” state by D.C., which means anyone traveling to the District from Delaware must quarantine for two weeks. But such rules don’t apply to Bowser, who deemed her and her staff’s partying “essential travel” and, thus, “exempt” from the quarantine order.

For months, D.C. has also been the site of weekly demonstrations and protests by people who are not consistent in their mask-wearing and who have completely ignored rules for social distancing. During 2020’s summer of anti-police protests, the same public health officials who angrily denounced anyone questioning lockdown restrictions released a letter claiming that “white supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” and protests against it were fine. “Infectious disease experts must be clear and consistent in prioritizing an anti-racist message,” they claimed. The message many Americans got from this letter was clear: The public health experts are hypocrites.

Similarly, the left-leaning media has proved adept at shaming its political opponents while conveniently ignoring the rule-breaking on its own side. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, commenting on images of thousands of people partying in the street after Biden’s victory in the election last week, tweeted, “Lots of people need this right now.” One week later, after Republican Joe Borelli tweeted that he would be having more than 10 family members to his home for Thanksgiving in defiance of Cuomo’s order, Hayes sanctimoniously responded, “Increasingly the entire Republican Party has basically taken the side of the virus and are actively trying to spread it.”

Americans are an unruly lot; we question authority and stubbornly defend our freedoms—all good things, for the most part. Most Americans also want to do the right thing when it comes to making sacrifices for the sake of public health. As the divided government that resulted from our most recent election reveals, we don’t want to see the pandemic response further politicized.

But that demands political leaders on both sides of the aisle be consistent in their messaging about the pandemic and their enforcement of the rules. Perhaps more importantly, they must also be consistent in their behavior. If we want to avoid creating more Pandemic Cynics, we need to see more honesty and integrity from our public officials.

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