GOP’s Achievement is Now on Display

Significant blame for the failed response and delayed action in responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic is being directed at Donald Trump. He fired the pandemic response team so crucial to readiness and progress, threw away the pandemic response book Obama’s administration left him, he cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding less than two weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID an emergency, he called it a “hoax,” and “bad flu” when an early response would have been most crucial, etc…

Even where he has taken action, like instituting travel bans, it is not accompanied by vital and necessary measures. In this wholesale failure, he does not take any responsibility, and he makes states fend for themselves while celebrating that his coronavirus briefings are ratings hit!

Maybe he is right, it is not his fault. I think we should look deeper into the conditions and loyalty that have allowed Trump’s incompetence to metastasize into such a public health menace—thanks to his much-delayed response the US has now surpassed China in coronavirus deaths. Republicans are responsible for condoning his corruption, persistent abuses of power, and ongoing grift. With COVID-19 we see a reality show President–one part “Apprentice” and one part “Survivor”– instead of a dedicated public servant.

Remember the scenes of the Florida beaches packed during Spring Break? Brady Sluder epitomized the display, “If I get corona, I get corona … I’m not going to let it stop me from partying,” but he has now apologized, “I wasn’t aware of the severity of my actions…” What could lead to such broad negligence?

The prolific rise of conspiracy, hoax, and propaganda on the right is now presented in full relief. Pick your poison: Fox, OAN, QAnon, or Rush Limbaugh.

Some are clearly worse than others. For example, while Fox may mollify viewers about white nationalism, QAnon itself presents a domestic terrorist threat according to the FBI; all push dangerous conspiracy theories about the “deep state,” and other roundly discredited hoaxes, like “pizzagate” and false-flag stories like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting being a ruse to take gun rights away.

It is not surprising that they have all pedaled deception over our current crisis. Trump and Fox took almost two months to pivot from “hoax” to “blindsided the world,” while the more extreme groups champion the coronavirus as a “weaponized viral strain designed to sell more useless, deadly vaccines, while at the same time killing off a few thousand, or perhaps a few million, people.”

The GOP has led a decades-long crusade against science. In policy debate after policy debate science and expertise are undermined. Science and evidence are presented as obstacles to business goals and stockholder profit. Powerful and well funded donors, lobbyists, and political action committees challenge everything from environmental protections and global climate change to human rights and worker protections. Now Trump allows corporations to break pollution laws, using coronavirus as an excuse and has just rolled back emissions standards. Yes, it looks like his “cure” could indeed be as bad as the disease.

All these years of dishonesty about science have had a devastating impact. Ad hominem attacks have replaced critical thinking; MAGA hat-wearing group-thinkers endorse a “savior” who declaims, “what do you have to lose?” when the truth is: everything—life as we know it is at stake. The opinion of experts in the field, based on volumes of evidence and sound analysis, is no match for an ignorant public that was not inoculated against the thousands of lies— “you’re just a Trump hater,” they say when you cite actual empirical, observable, measurable evidence.

The conditions that made the public vulnerable started decades ago. Cuts to funding for education year after year, undermining curriculum, calling creationism as valid as evolution, and the results are clear: people who believe bad information make bad choices. States supporting Trump take the epidemic less seriously but get more aid from him as appreciation. For instance, in California counties with more conservative political tendencies people have not reduced their daily travel as much or taken “stay at home orders” as seriously those with more liberal tendencies.

There used to be rational political debates. They took place where people were in agreement on the facts, but the arguments were about priorities and values. Now Trump’s grievances have replaced governance.

The attacks against the media are also clear. Responsible journalists sounding alarms are being blamed for causing panic. The track record of rightwing media is abysmal, from climate chaos denial to birtherism to deep state paranoia and now to imbecilic and deadly coronavirus ignorance. This is the media of the Republicans and the party with its mouthpieces need to be both dismissed and held to account.

Wim Laven has a PhD in International Conflict Management, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Executive Boards of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association.