Ohio Wesleyan prof: Coronavirus doesn’t care about politics


An Ohio Wesleyan University professor of political science shared his thoughts about “Coronavirus and Global and American Security” in a virtual class Monday.

“We have expertise everywhere, so the challenge is how do we liberate it,” said Sean Kay, “so that we can come with solutions to complex problems.”

Not only do we need experts with technical expertise, Kay added, but we need experts in empathy and selflessness, like Gandhi, King and Mandela. These are people who are able to listen, challenge assumptions, are engaged as citizens, can keep their heads, say what they know, and make informed decisions. Finally, these experts can step back before they act, even in a situation where quick decisions are needed.

“Arguing about it on Facebook isn’t going to get anything done,” Kay said. “Don’t be defensive. Be aware of where people come from. Coal is a problem, but coal workers are not a problem. They’re people.”

Kay said experts are “people who know what we don’t know.” This, he said, includes all of us, who are experts at what we do.

“We need every hand on deck,” Kay said. “We need to get smart. We need information. Every single one of us definitely has a solution. I am optimistic.”

As experts we need to prioritize security threats and align budgets accordingly, he said. Those threats include nuclear weapons, climate change, water supply, poverty, authoritarian leadership, the future of the European Union, the rise of China, and Russian interference. Threats can be handled with forms of power, but winning hearts and minds can be better than conventional warfare or containment.

“We need military defense, but we do need balance,” Kay said.

Of course, infectious diseases such as the novel coronavirus are a major threat to security not just in America, but worldwide. Kay said experts have warned about the human and economic destructiveness of a pandemic for decades, not just in recent months. For example, the cover of Time magazine read, “Warning: We are not ready for the next pandemic.”

“We can build walls, but a wall won’t stop a pandemic, and neither will that defense budget, so we’re going to need some balance,” Kay said. “We’re going to have to think harder about security and what it’s going to achieve. Let’s get politics out of this. The virus doesn’t care.”

Kay said expert tools such as the United Nations and World Health Organization can help coordinate threats, but they are only as strong as the nations they serve let them be.

“Politics and gridlock in Washington are too often a barrier to unleashing our human capital — it becomes part of the crisis,” he said. “Look at good governance — it’s doing a good job on behalf of the people who elected them.”

Kay added he didn’t understand the United States’ lack of coordination at the federal level, two months of delay acting on the pandemic, and why the states are doing the testing on their own.

“We could be doing the testing, we could be ramping up,” he said. “The upside is we do have effective bipartisan leadership at the state level, driven by data not politics, and the power of empathy. We’re wearing masks because we’re doing it for others. The people of Ohio have stepped up, and we have to keep stepping up. We’re all on a big learning curve. It’s going to be whack-a-mole for a long time, it’s hit and miss. We’re identifying the problems, seeing what the worst case is, and coming up with better cases. We’re in the second or third inning of this thing, or maybe the bottom of the first.”

Kay praised Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton.

“We could have been trending like Italy but Ohio intervened. Ohio has managed to beat the curve. Not about beating the pandemic, but making it more manageable.”

In recent weeks, an Irish columnist suggested the world now pities America. Kay disputed the notion, pointing to our accomplishments.

“The U.S. can best spread its values by setting the best example at home. I think Ohio has done it right. We know we can do these things, we’ve done them before. We can be a role model. That’s why the French gave us the Statue of Liberty.”

Monday’s virtual lesson began week three of a 10-week, free online course called “We’re in This Together: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Coronavirus Pandemic.” The course is open to students and the public alike.

For more information about Ohio Wesleyan’s “We’re in This Together” course, visit www.owu.edu/COVIDclass.


By Gary Budzak

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Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.

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