Could COVID-19 Count Fox News Among Its Victims?

Photograph Source: Patrick Finnegan – CC BY 2.0

It is hard to find good news in these dark days of the growing pandemic COVID-19. Stuck between a choice of going bankrupt and dying of a highly contagious, and yes, quite deadly, disease, the so-called Other (the so-called poor) is turning out to be all of us. Built on a house of cards, the supposedly fluid system of capitalism finds itself scrambling who to save. Will it be poor people, living paycheck to paycheck, or big business, who continually reinvests in itself in order to gain more and more profit? Today we find both groups broke, in need of what the layman may call socialism, a handout. Both groups find themselves broke artificially, as workers are not paid for the value of their human life, or even for the value of their work produces, but rather for whatever wage the free market dictates. The choice and freedom here lies with the CEOs who have, just like the consumer does for products to buy, a choice among workers, thus a worker is artificially broke, because she is paid for the cost of growth, not the cost of productivity. Similarly, the company is artificially broke, as real profits have only been shuttled back into profit creation and therefore, just like the worker, the largest company can only live for the moment in the hustle.

The coronavirus is deadly. And yes, we are looking at millions being killed unless drastic measures are taken to protect the most vulnerable. This is not the flu. It is not a hoax. It is the pandemic. At this point in time the virus appears to have no political ideology. It’s much like Joe Biden, cowardly embracing the dynamics of the times—feeding on the most vulnerable. However, the virus may have a few more tricks up its sleeve than Mr. Biden. Well, who doesn’t?

Modern conservative thought operates upon a simple reversal in relation to power. It takes the most powerful person within a situation and makes them the victim. This, in a word, is hyper-liberalism. Indeed, the terms liberal and conservative certainly seem outdated. Modern conservatives want liberalism of laws or the powerful and conservatism of laws for the powerless. Modern liberals want liberalism of laws for the powerless and conservatism of laws for the powerful.

Finding a Western political subject with a pure belief system is near-impossible. All of the above options are identity-based. Which is why the chance of the communist (communal) utopia remains a far-off dream, for now. The modern conservative discourse is over-determined. It is over-determined by corporate power. The conservative does see the basic liberal problem correctly. The liberal finds itself in relation to power and assumes the role of victim. The conservative over-determines this relationship by finding itself in relation to power and assuming the role of power itself. But this is not exactly possible precisely because the subject is not powerful, it too is the victim. Therefore the powerful becomes victim. The most accurate order of operations here would be that the conservative also discovers a lack in its relationship to power first, but being incapable of striking against it, joins in its own demise.

Now most times there is a reward for the valiant sacrifice, sometimes superficially, but often materially. The operation of conservative power structure generally rewards those who are complicit with power, no matter how pathetic their victimhood pandering may be. After all isn’t this always the cynical calculation of power anyways, this assumption of victimhood? Evidenced by rich people hoarding during COVID-19. Evidenced too by rich people not taking the pandemic seriously and claiming cover in the economy (working people must work, but hey the government prints money, no problem??).

Modern conservative thought not only is littered with so-called fake news, it operates on a reversal in every situation. This makes one sure that at least subconsciously there is a recognition of the real and true power dynamics, but this is sped past to the necessary reversal which is believed only in the hope that by lying for the powerful, you can become powerful. In a word, the truth cannot be afforded.

How can people navigate these reversals? Mr. Trump, for example, claims the danger of undocumented immigrants, but then exploits them as cheap labor. This is a successful juggling act. He does not believe and act in the same way. Because he fears them, he does not humanize them. Yet is through a basic recognition of at least limited humanity that he can use them in the first place. A typical Fox News viewer might be more sincere than Trump. Their fear of the immigrant may prevent them from getting profit off the immigrant’s back because the fear is too overwhelming, even if on some level the viewer knows he made up the fear for his own gain. To fully capitalize on this fear, there would need to be a quicker disavowal of this fear, a reversal that enabled the person to still use their dehumanization of the Other as a road to personal gain, while not entirely believing their view because if their view was true it would prevent the nonhuman from doing the job or even inspire the fear. I think even the average Fox viewer is more sincere than Mr. Trump, and thus does not navigate these contradictions as nimbly.

Now here is where we get to COVID-19. Fox continually downplayed the threat of the virus, instead choosing to cast Mr. Trump as the victim of its hoax. Normally, the viewer could simply use their real fear of the virus (inconvenient to gaining power) as a substitute for their concern for Mr. Trump (politically expedient). Usually, this works fine. One can obscure the truth in a number of ways because the system is hard to understand and not always directly reactionary.

Take for example Mr. Trump intimidating the Fed to drop interest rates during his Presidency, creating an artificial bubble in the stock market. It appears as if Trump’s economy is doing well, and even if we know otherwise, the lack of direct link raises doubt. Climate change works that way too. We can say terrible drought and list a million reasons why, because hey, the atmosphere is complicated. Hence racial minorities can broadly be blamed for economic problems caused by corporate capitalism, feminism can be blamed for the collapse of personal control, and massive military spending can be justified as keeping us safe when in reality it guts all funding for health and safety regulations at home. The coronavirus is dangerously simple. You get it, you get sick, you know where it is from.

A YouGov/Economist survey found that 63% of Fox viewers saw the virus as a minor threat just a couple of weeks ago. Unlike the rest of Fox News’ lies, this one is hard to obscure. The virus is who it is. If it kills you, it kills you directly. The typical reversal is not possible here. Could COVID-19 be the end of Fox News’ grip on the American mind?

Perhaps. But given that the strategy of much of the public was already denial one has to wonder if rationality can intervene amidst this complicated process. It seems more likely that all parties will simply double down on the strategy and engage in a reversal of Donald Trump as a strongman leading us out of the crisis when he only followed the virus deeper into its own lair.

You can see what I mean if you just take the fact that after a supposedly sincere debate Jordan Peterson, wowed by Slavoj Zizek’s intelligence, asked him why he didn’t just drop the Marxist label because he would gain a lot more money if he did. One can see the difference between the two supposedly disparate thinkers was not at all belief, but interest in money.

The thought in conservative America is to side with the rich and powerful, and one day you will be them, if not in reality, then in your own imagination. We all can be rich, if we work hard enough, they say. The coronavirus and the lack of government and health care funding presents a different universal collapsing upon the world’s people. We may all be poor, if we are truthful enough to confront our own condition. As the gap grows between rich and poor, we must ask, how much longer is this painful reversal of logic by the right-wing possible?

The liberal and conservative, both letting life pass them by, could find peace if the individual victimhood was replaced with communal obligation, but that’s a whole new layer. The lack of this layer is painfully on display as we all become fascists—declaring some people essential in the fight to save us, implying a soldier-like death when really no one is a hero for dying—they are only a loss. As the system of government is broken down, we are hearing sick things like “not all heroes wear capes” as people plunge to their death. The need, now more than ever, is not for the victim to be celebrated but to not have so many victims. This would leave the liberal and conservative without so much news to watch, and that’s not even the best part. We could assert a communal obligation amidst this universal virus that could infect us all and could travel from any one of us. For the first time in years, Mr. Trump is not the most acclaimed victim on our television sets. Instead, we all are the victims, and as a result, the depth goes beyond the neoliberal weaponization of the self, and instead moves us into existential questions about the meaning of life and its organization. It would be a shame to let Mr. Trump steal this moment, but his approval rating amidst the crisis is growing despite his monumental butchering of the situation. It remarkably seems that the more people die, the higher Trump’s approval climbs. Reversal, indeed.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com