Yesterday we took a look at Nature's psychological analysis of <>how misinformation takes hold of a population-- and doesn't let go. Not unrelated, and also yesterday, the Washington Post published a column by Michael Gerson, a conservative evangelical and the former Bush speechwriter who came up with the pithy phrase "Axis of Evil"-- The GOP Celebration Of COVID Ignorance Is An Invitation To Death. He began by noting-- and remember, Gerson is a lifelong hard core conservative-- that "When the future judges our political present, it will stand in appalled, slack-jawed amazement at the willingness of GOP leaders to endanger the lives of their constituents-- not just the interests of their constituents, but their lungs and beating hearts-- in pursuit of personal power and ideological fantasies. We are seeing at least three varieties of GOP political necromania."
What Gerson is pointing out leads to exactly what I've been pointing to in both the previous posts about the end of the two-party system. How can the GOP be a home for conservatives like Gerson and fascists like... well, we could certainly start up north in Wisconsin: "Ron Johnson is not a Wisconsin Republican. He’s a Trump Republican, and he could care less about what Wisconsin Republicans think, or about the future of their party. That was obvious in the scandal-plagued senator’s decision of where to announce his reelection run: on the opinion pages of New York City-based Wall Street Journal... [F]or Wisconsin Republicans who retain even the barest measure of self-respect-- a dwindling circle but one that we would argue still exists-- the idea of tying their party’s future to a delusional huckster who recommends fighting COVID-19 with Listerine should be deeply unsettling.
"But Gerson decided to begin in Florida: "Ron DeSantis, uses an ongoing pandemic as a stage for the display of ideological zeal. In this view, the covid-19 crisis-- rather than being a story of remarkable but flawed scientists and public health experts deploying the best of science against a vicious microbe-- has been an opportunity for the left to impose 'authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.' Never mind that U.S. public health officials are not part of the left, and are authentically confused about the equation of their advice with ideology. In the name of freedom, politicians such as the Florida governor employ the power of their office to prevent other social institutions from taking responsible, lifesaving steps in the midst of a pandemic. This is an effort by populists to prove that their MAGA commitments outweigh all common sense, public responsibility and basic humanity."
A second type of the Republican romance with death comes in the vilification of those most dedicated to preserving the lives of Americans. Public officials such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) invent a conspiratorial backstory to the covid crisis and depict the most visible representatives of the United States’ covid response as scheming, deceptive deep-state operatives. Any change in emphasis or strategy by scientists-- an essential commitment of the scientific method-- is viewed as rich opposition research.
A third category of Republican death wish is the practice of strategic ignorance. In a case such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)-- America’s most reliable source of unreliable information about covid-19-- such ignorance might not be feigned. He might well believe that gargling with mouthwash call kill the coronavirus, and that thousands of people are regularly dying from vaccine side effects, and that a pandemic that has taken more than 800,000 lives in the United States is “overhyped.”
Says Johnson of the vaccines: “We now know that fully vaccinated individuals can catch covid… So what’s the point?” Well, the point is to prevent serious expressions of the disease and avoid the filling of hospitals and morgues. Johnson’s brand of home-brewed epidemiology will inevitably result in added suffering, tragedy and grief.
He offers his lack of intellectual seriousness as an element of his political appeal-- similar to handing out a résumé with the firings and felonies highlighted. Even when comprehensively refuted, he takes the pose of a brave man willing to question the repressive experts. This is what leads a conduit of myths and lies to claim: “I’m just one of those truth tellers.” Such an assertion must be narrowed to a particular version of “truth.” It is the “truth” found in the glow of a computer screen at 2 a.m. while wandering the far reaches of the Internet. It is the “truth” of secret knowledge about conspiracies granted to an intrepid few.
Johnson is not only making dangerous statements about the coronavirus. He is using his willingness to cite stupid things as the evidence of his independence from the rule of professionals and experts. He is defining democracy, in the words of Tom Nichols, author of “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters,” as “unearned respect for unfounded opinions.” Johnson is practicing strategic ignorance.
This would be bad for democracy at any time. It encourages the development of not merely alternative views but alternative realities. And this makes the pursuit of a common good nearly impossible.
During a pandemic, however, the celebration of ignorance is an invitation to death. Public health depends on social cooperation. If a significant group of Americans regard the musing of a politician such as Johnson as equal in value to Fauci’s lifelong accumulation of expertise, the basis for rational action is lost. And the result is needless death.
The most recent polling by Data For Progress (released this morning) found overwhelming support for the main provisions of Build Back Better. This was the approval number for each provision:
$110 billion in subsidies providing universal preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds- 59%
$270 billion in subsidies to make sure parents don't spend more than 7% of their yearly income on childcare- 54%
$150 billion to improve the quality of-- and increase access to-- long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities- 76%
$130 billion for a one-year extension of the Child Tax Credit, a program that provides most parents up to $300 per month for each child they have age 17 and under- 52%
$205 billion to guarantee four weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers- 62%
$15 billion for a one-year extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a governmental income-support program for working people- 59%
$555 billion to expand the use of clean energy, prepare for extreme weather events, and create new American jobs in manufacturing and environmental conservation- 64%
$120 billion to extend tax credits for people who get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act expansion- 55%
$35 billion to expand Medicare so that it includes hearing coverage for seniors- 73%
$175 billion to increase housing affordability-- including in rural areas-- by providing rental and mortgage assistance for families, and building, preserving, and improving more than 1 million existing affordable rental and single-family homes- 65%
$40 billion to reduce costs and expand access to education beyond high school by raising the maximum Pell Grant (government-funded college scholarships for low- income students) increasing funding for minority-serving colleges, and better funding workforce development- 61%
OK, good, good; now take a look at these two charts-- and try figuring out why the Democratic Party can't-- or won't--make the case. What the hell is wrong with them?