Why Have So Many American Conservatives Embraced COVID-19 Pseudoscience?

Why Have So Many American Conservatives Embraced COVID-19 Pseudoscience? By Nidra Poller.

While many Western nations have all but extinguished COVID-19 within their borders, the American pandemic is raging with a new ferocity. Yet some conservatives continue to protest even basic public-health measures, including masks. How could some of America’s best and brightest abet their country’s collapse into dysfunction in the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic? …

In February, the president’s then acting cabinet chief, Mick Mulvaney, assured everyone that no country is better equipped to deal with this kind of crisis, and that “the press was covering their hoax of the day because they thought it would bring down the president… That’s what this is all about.” This was in late February, a full five months ago, when the American death count was still in double digits. Yet now that it is well into six digits, we still get the same script. People die all the time, from all sorts of causes, they tell us. Take the flu. It kills tens of thousands every year, right?

As someone who has a wide network of conservative friends and ideological allies, cultivated over decades of writing on the Middle East conflict, anti-Semitism, terrorism, and related issues, I’ve watched in horror as writers I’ve long respected succumbed to this nonsense. …

In his weekly articles on the American Greatness site, New Criterion publisher Roger Kimball conferred legitimacy on the no-big-deal approach to the unfolding pandemic with highbrow literary references and Latin phrases. As the body count climbed, he began insisting on picayune distinctions between “dying from the virus [or] with the virus.” This pedantry continues to this day, as various conservatives spin the death numbers this way and that, in order to present the plague as an artifact of testing, natural mortality cycles, or media bias. …

Even the usually sure-footed Heather MacDonald … nonchalantly noted that no children under the age of nine had died, while 89 percent of the Italian victims were over 70, “nearing the end of their lifespans. [They] might have… died from another illness.”

Succumbing to Godwin’s Law, Dennis Prager argued that the economic effects of the lockdown would be worse than the disease itself, and, in the same breath, that “the Nazis came to power because of economics more than any other single reason.” …

What I have described here represents a crisis of ideology — an abstract, electronic-media-driven phenomenon by which conservatives prioritized partisanship and wishful thinking over saving lives. But the results played out all over real-world bricks-and-mortar America: Healthcare workers begging for PPE, governors bidding against federal emergency-management officials for desperately needed supplies, scenes of triage at hospitals, and chaotic protests outside state capitols. Meanwhile, the nation’s elderly remained holed up as prisoners in nursing homes (the decrepit state of which has been revealed as a scandal in and of itself). The whole world is now watching Trump’s America degenerate into the kind of dysfunction that we usually associate with failed states.

As with all important policy issues, the best approach to fighting COVID-19 is open to debate. Even scientists don’t fully understand the role of drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, or the medical side effects of lockdown. But what I’m describing here isn’t evidence-driven debate: It’s angry, ideologically driven luddite mysticism masquerading as hard-headed conservative skepticism.

Here in France, I’ve already lost two precious friends to COVID-19: Jewish community leader Claude Barouch and senior politician Claude Goasguen. Others who are close to me have suffered horribly from this illness. Ideologues didn’t create the virus that struck these people. But they did let themselves become trapped in a partisan rabbit hole at a time when they could have been lending their influential voices to productive, scientific, life-saving ends.

Brazil and the US have done worst to date, out of the more advanced countries, in dealing with the virus.

Both have leaders who chose to downplay the virus and to listen to people playing politics for too long. Partisanship has caused unnecessary economic pain and health problems — and that includes the refusal of the US left to even consider closing its borders properly against the virus.