The country hasn’t been this divided since the Civil War. This division stems from Americans living in two separate realities. One lives in a reality informed by facts, reason, and science. The other lives in an alternative reality based on “alternative facts” (i.e. lies and fabrications) and conspiracy theories. This distortion of reality has an effect on every aspect of society. Conspiracy theories are usually subscribed to by fringe groups, such as people who literally believe the earth is flat. However, with a perfect storm of Trump, the internet, and Fox News and company, conspiracy theories have seeped into the mainstream.
There are now tens of millions of Americans who believe Bill Gates is working on a coronavirus vaccine so he can put a microchip into the population. There’s a movement of people who believe wearing masks is unnecessary –some even believe it’s dangerous to wear masks. Tens of millions of people have watched a documentary that claims the virus was not an act of nature but is instead a grand conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to make money off a vaccine. There are people who believe 5G cellular technology is the culprit. Some people believe China genetically engineered the virus to hurt America (and oddly themselves too). There’s a lot of people who believe the virus is no different than the flu –it’s simply the mainstream media hyping it up. And then there are others who believe there’s no virus at all.
Ordinarily, conspiracy theories are harmless: believing that we never landed on the moon isn’t going to hurt anyone. Yet, when it comes to public health, credible information is critical. The coronavirus spreads from person to person. You can spread the virus before symptoms emerge. You can be infected with the coronavirus and have no symptoms (i.e. asymptomatic) and still spread it. This is why it’s important that people take it seriously. There’s no vaccine and no reliable treatment for the virus. The only way to slow the spread of the virus is by social distancing and wearing face masks. If people don’t think there’s a threat, they’ll continue to live life as usual and potentially infect their family, friends, and neighbors.
It’s not surprising so many Americans are so poorly informed. Trump is the single greatest promoter of misinformation in the country and he’s the president. Most Americans know he’s a compulsive liar, but there’s a sizeable portion of the country (45%, give or take) who still support him, most of whom believe everything and anything that comes out of his mouth or Twitter account. He has Fox News –an entire “news” organization– that echoes, amplifies, and reinforces his lies. If he says something that’s too hard to twist and spin, they simply don’t talk about it.
If people don’t know the facts, they can’t make informed decisions. In order to have a functioning democracy, people need access to credible information. Trump creates and promotes misinformation to maintain power over his followers. He depends on them to maintain his own power. If the press reports on something that’s unfavorable to him, he simply calls it “fake news.” If he says something crazy that was recorded on video, which he can’t take back, he’ll lie to cover up a lie. For example, when he talked about injecting “disinfectant” as a treatment for the coronavirus, he simply said he was being sarcastic. It was obvious he wasn’t being sarcastic, yet even if he was, what kind of leader uses sarcasm during a public briefing for a public health crisis? It’s beyond irresponsible, it’s dangerous. And sure enough, poison control centers across the country received an uptick in calls following his remarks.
Twitter, which is his primary way of dispensing his misinformation, made an unprecedented decision to fact check his tweets containing misinformation. Trump is against mail-in voting. When people have more options to vote, they’re more likely to vote. Since Trump only has the support of a minority of the country, he views mail-in voting as a political threat. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and people need to socially distance, so governors in some states have made mail-in voting more accessible. He spread misinformation through his Twitter account and Twitter added a link for people to get the facts about mail-in voting. Trump was furious. He said Twitter was censoring him and therefore violating his First Amendment right to free speech. The irony is, his response, in and of itself, is misinformation. He wasn’t being censored. Twitter didn’t remove his tweet –they simply added a link to it so people could get the facts on mail-in voting. Trump responded by issuing an executive order that would seek to enforce oversight over social media companies.
Twitter hasn’t backed down, despite Trump issuing the executive order. They intend on continuing to post links to his tweets if they contain misinformation or if they egregiously violate their terms of service. This week a riot broke out in Minneapolis in response to the murder of George Floyd. Trump responded by threatening violence against American citizens who were part of the riot. He called the rioters “THUGS” and threatened to activate the military. He even used a quote that has been associated with the infamous white supremacist governor, George Wallace: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter decided they had a moral obligation to obscure the tweet since it was promoting violence. The tweet was still available to view with a simple click. Again, Twitter didn’t remove the tweet. They basically put a warning label over it, as they should have.
While Twitter has taken action, other social media platforms such as Facebook have decided inaction is the best policy: let people see the content and make their own judgements. This would make moral sense if the content were based on facts. After all, that’s how news should be consumed: give people the facts and let them form their own opinions. However, when people are being lied to and don’t have the capacity to fact check on their own, they have no way of knowing they’ve been conned into believing something that’s false.
Trump can only maintain control over his followers if they continue to believe whatever he says. The irony is his most die-hard followers are just pawns to him. He doesn’t care about them; he just wants them to believe he cares. He’s a terrible leader but a master manipulator. If there’s something he can’t con his way out of, he just changes the conversation by saying something controversial or outlandish. He knows it will force the media to move on to the next crazy topic. And while everyone is paying attention to the crazy puppet, the puppet master controls the strings for his own personal benefit. The internet is like the wild west. If people aren’t doing their due diligence to ensure the information their getting is accurate, they will continue to act and vote against their own best interest.
“The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
The coronavirus has devastated the United States, as well most of the world. The first confirmed coronavirus case in the US just passed its 3-month mark. And it’s been about 7 weeks since we surpassed 100 cases. Since then, we’ve been experiencing an exponential growth of confirmed cases. Since our testing is still so inadequate, we’re likely only seeing a fraction of how bad the coronavirus has hit the country.
While we’re enduring this ongoing nightmare with the rest of the world, that’s about as far as our common, global experience goes. The era of American exceptionalism is over, and it’s never been more apparent. Since Trump took office, our standing on the world stage has fallen. All it took was one grossly incompetent president and a political party willing to not only look the other way but serve to actively enable and empower him.
The Republican Party is essentially the MAGA Party. This mutation started way before Trump. It began with right-wing talk radio and later with the rise of Fox News. To call it a news organization is like calling the WWE a professional sports organization. It’s politically-driven entertainment, produced and served by hosts who are not there to inform but to misinform. To be fair, Fox does have real journalists –they’re just sequestered to daytime slots. The primetime slots go to the opinion hosts –not journalists— who spend their time promoting and defending Trump, while attacking anyone they deem as a threat to Trump. When historians look back and analyze how the era of American exceptionalism ended, Fox News will be considered one of the driving factors.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Trump and his allies at Fox had a relatively easy time creating an alternative reality for their viewers. Whether it be children locked up in cages at the border or Trump asking Ukraine for a quid pro quo, they could always manage to still raise doubt amongst their viewers by omitting facts and spinning the facts they couldn’t omit in their favor. Trump is infamous for his habitual lying. Most Trump supporters only get their information from Fox, other right-wing media sources, or from directly from Trump’s mouth. This cycle of misinformation is the foundation of Trump’s rise to power.
For the average American, their daily lives weren’t directly impacted by Trump and the right-wing propaganda machine. That all changed, however, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which first broke out in Wuhan, China. So, for the first time in his presidency, Trump was faced with a once-in-a-century public health crisis that he couldn’t talk his way out of. However, that hasn’t stopped him from trying.
As we’ve now learned, he was repeatedly warned about a public health crisis that could only be compared to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic with socioeconomic consequences only comparable to the Great Depression. He was warned not only by US intelligence agencies and public health officials, but by his own trusted advisors and his own Health and Human Services secretary. The only partially preventative action he took was banning Chinese nationals from entering the US in late January, but the order wasn’t executed until February 2, 2020. The first confirmed case in the US was recorded on January 22, 2020. The coronavirus was already in the country, being spread person to person with no federally sanctioned containment efforts.
Trump spent the month of February actively misinforming the American people. He downplayed the virus: calling it nothing more than the flu, saying the 15 cases we had in late January would miraculously drop to 0, and even called the virus a “hoax” created by alarmist Democrats and a “fake news” media. While the country continued moving toward disaster, Trump not only did nothing to prepare us but acted only to hurt any potential preparations by lying and downplaying, as if he truly believed his own delusional rhetoric.
Other than his inability to grasp the big picture, which effects long-term planning, Trump pushed his misinformation to not spook the stock market, as if they weren’t going to find out about it. It’s part nefarious, part delusional. He was “furious” with the CDC when they gave updates on the virus because the warnings “spooked” the markets. With Ukraine, he put his personal political interest ahead of our national security. With the coronavirus pandemic, he put the economy ahead of an unprecedented public health threat for his own personal political interest. And his priority has been on the economy ever since.
While the majority of Americans were growing alarmed by the facts from the actual news, Fox News and other right-wing media sources were echoing Trump’s misinformation. They were not only irresponsible in playing games with a serious novel virus, they were putting their viewers at risk.
In March, the coronavirus was simply becoming too big to deny, so he pivoted and said it was completely under control. He spent the month of March doing a lot of talking and making a lot of promises, but there was no real action taken. The White House taskforce, led by Mike Pence, continuously made weekly promises on coronavirus testing –a critical tool for identifying cases, clusters, and gauging the overall size of the outbreak– but never got it done.
Yet still, the right-wing propaganda machine minimized the threat every single morning on Fox and Friends and every night during primetime. They had morally compromised celebrity doctors, such as Dr. Drew comparing the coronavirus to the flu. “The entire problem we’re having is due to panic, not the [corona]virus,” Drew claimed on the Laura Ingraham show. He continued to a grinning Ingraham, “The flu virus in this country is vastly more consequential and nobody is talking about it. Again, once the coronavirus became too big to deny, Drew walked back his comments.
By this point, most states realized there was no one steering the ship that was headed straight toward an iceberg. Just like the Titanic disaster, the Titanic’s captain was forewarned about the icebergs in the Atlantic Ocean but chose to discard the warning. Since there was no action by Trump, governors took control of the situation as best they could. They essentially lowered their respective life rafts and did what they could to mitigate the spread of the virus and prepare for the worst. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) made a bold and unprecedented decision to put his entire state on a stay-at-home order. While this was a new move in the US, it’s what other countries were already doing: quarantining the public to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
The coronavirus has no cure, no vaccine, and the public has no natural immunity since it’s a novel virus. Since the possibility of containing the virus came and went in the first two months of the year, the only option left was mitigation: reducing social contact to reduce the contagion and therefore give state health systems the ability to handle the surge of hospitalizations.
New York City, the most densely populated city in the US, rapidly became the epicenter of the coronavirus not just for the US, but for the world. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo (D), quickly began issuing executive orders to steadily ramp down the workforce, systematically reducing the non-essential workforce until March 22, 2020, when the entire state was put on a stay-at-home order. Cuomo, like Trump, held daily press briefings, but didn’t mince words or downplay the seriousness of the virus. He clearly communicated his plan, briefed the public on the reality of the situation based on current projections, and displayed compassion. For most of the country desperate for strong leadership, Cuomo quickly became a household name.
On the radio waves, the misinformation campaign was led by Rush Limbaugh, who just a few months earlier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump during the State of the Union. He told his millions of listeners “this virus is the common cold” and “all this panic is unwarranted.” He attacked Cuomo for his initial quarantine of the city of New Rochelle, NY, where the first major outbreak occurred in the state: “Do you think Andrew Cuomo knows what’s best for you? He put this little quarantine around New Rochelle. I mean, it’s just, this is just — too much of this, to me, appears to be made-to-order for objectives that have long been held by the American left, the Democrat Party, the media, what have you.”
By March 30, 2020, there were 30 states that issued stay at home orders. On April 1, 2020, statistical modelers working with the White House taskforce, estimated that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would likely die from the coronavirus, even with mitigation efforts (e.g. social distancing). Today, April 25, 2020, there are 42 states with stay at home orders. With most of the country essentially shut down, the White House taskforce altered their death projection to approximately 60,000 Americans –a number we’re rapidly approaching.
Modeling is dependent on data. The more data a modeler has, the more accurate the prediction. It’s like when a hurricane emerges in the tropics and there are dozens of different models predicting its path. The more time that passes, the more data that’s accumulated, and the more accurate the models become. However, a significant difference between a hurricane and contagion is we have the ability to mitigate the impact of an outbreak with social distancing (e.g. stay at home orders). It’s a simple concept: a virus that’s spread person to person will spread less when people are separated and therefore less people will become infected.
We should have been better prepared to deal with this pandemic. Some of the reasons we weren’t can be traced directly back to Trump. When every warning alarm was sounded, it fell to deaf ears. The Obama Administration, having dealt with their own pandemics, created a “pandemic playbook,” which created a step-by-step guide on how the federal government should proactively respond to an emerging pandemic. The playbook was never opened by the Trump administration. Trump ignored the warnings like a tooth ache –what could have been resolved by a filling soon required a root canal, and what could have been resolved by a root canal resulted in the loss of the tooth.
We’re now at a dangerous crossroads when it comes to the coronavirus. Since a majority of the country has been shut down, the projections improved. And since the projections improved, some people, aided by misinformation, make the false assumption that the coronavirus really isn’t as bad as we thought. The transmission of the coronavirus didn’t just magically dissipate. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of why the projections improved: they improved because most of the states decided to shut down.
However, having states shut down has consequently led to unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. There are millions of Americans out of work, which has led to Congress passing the CARES Act, which among other things, added an additional $600 a week in income to people on unemployment (on top of whatever they collect from state unemployment benefits). The problem is many Americans have been unable to collect their unemployment benefits due to systems that were designed to deal with a fraction of the claims.
There’s also been a vocal minority of Trump supporters protesting against stay at home orders in states across the country. The protests can partly be traced back to Fox News and right-wing media rhetoric about the decision to shut down states in the first place. Back in late March, as coronavirus cases were rapidly climbing, Fox News host Brit Hume literally told his viewers that it was “entirely reasonable” that the elderly –those most at risk of dying from the coronavirus—would be willing to die to save the economy. This kind of inhumane rhetoric has bounced around right-wing media circles since then.
The protests truly started to rev up once Trump began sending out tweets in rapid succession on April 17, 2020: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”, “LIBERATE VIRIGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” The President of the United States told American citizens to “liberate” their states. Just let that sink in for a moment. All of these tweets were directed at states with Democratic governors. This brought out all kinds of different fringe groups, most of them Trump supporters, who can easily be identified with the MAGA hats, MAGA and Trump flags, and even some Confederate and Nazi flags.
These are the self-declared “patriots” who claim they’re being ruled by tyrant state governors. In the middle of a pandemic, Trump incited mass protests when people are supposed to be social distancing. This will more than likely cause infections to rise in those states in the coming week. Most people were not wearing masks and most people weren’t socially distancing. It was a collection of every right-wing fringe group in America, from anti-vaxxers to neo-Nazis to your average brainwashed Fox News viewer. They held signs saying things like “Give me liberty or give me death” and “Don’t tread on me” –phrases from the Revolutionary War, and most recently the Tea Party movement, which has folded into the MAGA Party.
You would think these states shut down for no reason. And if they’re unable to think rationally, why wouldn’t they think that? They have blind loyalty to Trump and will believe whatever he says, no matter how crazy or absurd he gets. Then Trump’s rhetoric is echoed by a right-wing propaganda machine that misinforms them. Some of them still believe the coronavirus is a hoax, as if the entire medical community is part of a grand conspiracy to take away their rights.
Who’s really living under a repressive system: the Trump supporter who act against their own best interest? These are the same people who call non-Trump supporters “sheep,” yet when their dear leader told them to liberate, they left the safety of their home and put themselves at risk in support of an idiotic protest. Trump thinks a strong economy will get him re-elected, which is why he’s instigating protests to reopen. He doesn’t care about the public health; he only cares about himself. He put his own supporters in danger to put pressure on governors to reopen their states for his own self interest. They are the sheep, being led by their false shepherd to the slaughterhouse.
These aren’t patriots, they’re ignorant and selfish idiots. They walk around with their assault rifles and their tactical gear, as if they’re going into battle. The people going into battle and confronting death are the healthcare workers, not these selfish cowards.
Most Americans are in support of a careful and measured response to the coronavirus. You don’t see counter protests because the rational Americans understand the coronavirus is serious and they’re staying at home. That’s what it means to be a responsible American. The rational majority knows that not listening to scientists and experts will make the situation worse. They understand that they may not die from the coronavirus, but they can pass it onto other Americans who can get sick and die. They respect and appreciate the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives to save their fellow Americans, regardless of their politics. There were a few counter protestors: nurses in scrubs and their masks, standing their ground against the Trump supporters because they know better than anyone how serious the coronavirus is. They know as long as this pandemic is a threat to our society, they’re the ones who will have to put themselves at risk because of irrational behavior.
The protests have continued popping up across the country. Trump has done nothing to stop them. He’s the one who incited the civil unrest. When asked about it during his daily briefings, he said the protestors “seem very responsible to me,” as we can all see the video evidence of mass congregations of ignorant, brainwashed Americans who are not social distancing and the majority are not wearing masks.
The great irony of the Trump supporters protesting is Trump, as the head of the federal government, is responsible for how bad this pandemic hit the US. Trump never listened to the warnings, never followed the advice of the experts, and when it was too late to contain it, he never took a leadership role in mitigating the disaster. He pawned off all responsibility onto the governors because, like all of his failed businesses, he’s incapable of managing anything. He also pawned off the responsibility for governors to decide to shut their states down because he thinks he doesn’t have to take any blame for the pandemic. If things go well, he’ll take credit. If things go bad, he’ll blame the governors as he’s already done.
Trump can blame whoever he wants. At the end of the day, the majority of Americans have witnessed enough to understand we’ve gone through, and are still going through, a crisis without a leader. They know this is the United States of America. That’s why he have a federal government: to unite the states for the people’s collective interests.
To put it into context, the US makes up about 4% of the world population. However, the US has approximately 33% of the world’s confirmed coronavirus cases: the US (902,072) currently has over four times as many cases as the second hardest-hit country, Spain (219,764). And the US has 24% of the world’s coronavirus deaths: the US (46,243) currently has more than twice the number of deaths than the second-hardest hit country in coronavirus deaths, Italy (25,969).
This is what losing looks like. This is what happens when an unqualified, narcissistic idiot becomes the president. The presidency is not a reality TV show, it’s reality. This is what happens when you don’t listen to experts and scientists because they make your fragile ego feel inferior. This is what happens when you don’t value the facts and the truth.
The irony of the slogans “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great” is lost on the loud-mouth minority of this country who are still Trump supporters, but it’s not lost on the rational majority.
Any American who still supports Trump after his complete abdication of constitutional duties is no patriot. You’re either ignorant, a fascist, or likely both. You can wave your American flags all you want, it doesn’t make you a patriot. During his last press briefing he talked about injecting disinfectant inside the body and lungs to kill the virus. A child knows Lysol doesn’t go inside your body. If you support an idiot, you are an idiot. You can be forgiven for making the mistake of voting for him, but there’s no forgiveness for continuing to support him.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”