On Monday, when Paul Krugman entitled his column The Snake Oil Theory of the Modern Right, he was literally talking about snake oil as a thing, not as a metaphor. Wikipedia defines "snake oil" as deceptive marketing, health care fraud or a scam." He was not even using it as a more abstract conception ("deceptive marketing" or a general "scam," which is what I assumed when I saw the headline. He was talking about health care fraud. The Free Dictionary defines "snake oil salesman as "Someone who sells, promotes, or is a general proponent of some valueless or fraudulent cure, remedy, or solution." A perfect description of the GOP, both literally and figuratively. As Noah noted Sunday, after all these years, the Republican health care plan has finally arrived.
Krugman looked at in a financial and economic context. "Right-wing extremists, and to some extent even more mainstream conservative media," he wrote, "rely on financial support from companies selling nutritional supplements and miracle cures-- and that financial support is arguably a significant factor pushing the right to become more extreme. Indeed, right-wing extremism isn’t just an ideological movement that happens to get a lot of money from sellers of snake oil; some of its extremism can probably be seen not as a reflection of deep conviction, but as a way of promoting snake oil. Consider where we are right now in the fight against Covid-19. A few months ago it seemed likely that the development of effective vaccines would soon bring the pandemic to an end. Instead, it goes on, with hospitalizations closing in on their peak from last winter. This is partly due to the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant, but it also crucially reflects the refusal of many Americans to take the vaccines."
Yesterday was another banner day for the pandemic, especially in Trump areas where vaccination rates are low and people look at mask wearing a "too liberal." The most one-day deaths were in Texas (215 from 62 on Monday), Georgia (99 from just 1 reported on Monday), Indiana (72 from none reported on Monday), Tennessee (57 from 20 on Monday), and North Carolina (56 from 93 on Monday). Florida has changed the way they count deaths to make it appear that DeathSantis is less of a murder than he actually is. And in terms of new cases yesterday:
And the half dozen states with the most cases per million residents:
North Dakota- 154,183
Rhode Island- 153,505
South Dakota- 149,503
As Krugman wrote, "much of this refusal is political. True, many people who are refusing to get vaccinated aren’t Trumpists, but there’s a strong negative correlation between Donald Trump’s share of a county’s vote and vaccinations. As of July, 86 percent of self-identified Democrats said they had had a vaccine shot, but only 54 percent of Republicans did." If you've been reading DWT with any frequency over the last month, you have an even more granular knowledge of the correlation between Trump voters and vaccine refusers. Quite a few states-- including some that are doing very badly, like Georgia-- don't offer county stats, but here are the least vaccinated and most vaccinated counties in some of the states that are worst stricken right now, along with the percentages Trump received last year.
Smith Co.- 24% fully vaccinated (Trump 77.5%)
Jefferson Co.- 52% fully vaccinated (Trump 13.6%)
Holmes Co.- 23% fully vaccinated (Trump 89.0%)
Sumter Co.- 71% fully vaccinated (Trump 67.8%)
Spencer Co.-24 % fully vaccinated (Trump 76.4%)
Franklin Co.- 65% fully vaccinated (Trump 49.5%)
Moore Co.- 17% fully vaccinated (Trump 81.6%)
Williamson Co.- 53% fully vaccinated (Trump 62.2%)
Winston Co.- 16% fully vaccinated (Trump 90.3%)
Madison Co.- 48% fully vaccinated (Trump 52.8%)
Dewey Co.- 22% fully vaccinated (Trump 90.0%)
Caddo Co.- 51% fully vaccinated (Trump 71.1%)
Miller Co.- 10% fully vaccinated (Trump 72.1%)
Pulaski Co.- 46% fully vaccinated (Trump 37.5%)
LaGrange Co.- 19% fully vaccinated (Trump 76.3%)
Hamilton Co.- 62% fully vaccinated (Trump 52.4%)
Cameron Parish- 14% fully vaccinated (Trump 90.7%)
West Feliciana Parish- 73% fully vaccinated (Trump 61.6%)
King Co.- 13% fully vaccinated (Trump 95.0%)
Presidio Co.- 74% fully vaccinated (Trump 32.5%)
Slope Co.- 9% fully vaccinated (Trump 89.0%)
Nelson Co.- 60% fully vaccinated (Trump 64.2%)
McPherson Co.- 10% fully vaccinated (Trump 81.2%)
Clay Co.- 53% fully vaccinated (Trump 43.1%)
Douglas Co.- 19% fully vaccinated (Trump 83.2%)
St Louis Co.- 52% fully vaccinated (Trump 36.6%)
Lassen Co.- 28% fully vaccinated (Trump 74.5%)
Marin Co.- 75% fully vaccinated (Trump 15.8%)
In each case, there was a wide chasm between the huge Trump vote in the least vaccinated and the smaller Trump vote in the most vaccinated. And, wrote Krugman "vaccine refusers aren’t just rejecting lifesaving vaccines, they’re also turning to life-threatening alternatives. We’re seeing a surge in sales of-- and poisoning by-- ivermectin, which is usually used to deworm livestock but has recently been touted on social media and Fox News as a Covid cure. OK, I didn’t see that coming. But I should have. As the historian Rick Perlstein has pointed out, there’s a long association between peddlers of quack medicine and right-wing extremists. They cater to more or less the same audience."
And don't forget evangelical preachers. They practically define snake oil salesmen. "Americans willing to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that Italian satellites were used to switch votes to Joe Biden," he continued, "are also the kind of people willing to believe that medical elites are lying to them and that they can solve their health problems by ignoring professional advice and buying patent medicines instead."
Once you’re sensitized to the link between snake oil and right-wing politics, you realize that it’s pervasive.
This is clearly true in the right’s fever swamps. Alex Jones of Infowars has built a following by pushing conspiracy theories, but he makes money by selling nutritional supplements.
It’s also true, however, for more mainstream, establishment parts of the right. For example, Ben Shapiro, considered an intellectual on the right, hawks supplements. [OMG! Ben Shapiro is "mainstream???" What world is that in?]
Look at who advertises on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. After Fox itself, the top advertisers are My Pillow, then three supplement companies.
Snake oil peddlers, clearly, find consumers of right-wing news and punditry a valuable market for their wares. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find many right-leaning Americans ready to see vaccination as a liberal plot and turn to dubious alternatives-- although, again, I didn’t see livestock dewormer coming.
The interesting question, however, is to what extent the connection between right-wing politics and snake oil marketing has shaped the political landscape.
Put it this way: There are big financial rewards to extremism, because extreme politics sells patent medicine, and patent medicine is highly profitable. (In 2014 Alex Jones’s operations were bringing in more than $20 million a year in revenue, mainly from supplement sales.) Do these financial rewards induce pundits to be more extreme? It would be surprising if they didn’t-- as conservative economists say, incentives matter.
The extremism of media figures radicalizes their audience, giving politicians an incentive to become more extreme.
So you can see how vaccination became such a flash point. Getting shots in arms is a priority for a Democratic president, which automatically generates intense hostility among people who want to see Joe Biden fail. And such people were already primed to reject medical expertise and believe in quack cures.
Surely everyone on the right noticed that even Donald Trump got booed recently when he told attendees at a rally that they should get vaccinated. He probably won’t say that again, and would-be future Trumps definitely won’t.
None of this would be happening if there weren’t a climate of anger and distrust for unscrupulous pundits and politicians to exploit. But the fact that extremism sells patent medicine creates a financial incentive to get more extreme.
You could say that if American democracy is in danger, that’s partly because sellers of snake oil-- not bad policy ideas, but actual bad medicine-- have been pulling off this one weird trick.