In the early days of the pandemic, many conservatives insisted that COVID-19 was no big deal because the fatality rate was only about 3 percent. So even if every American caught the virus, the claim went, we shouldn’t get too worked up when 3 percent of the country dies.
By this logic, the Civil War was a minor affair, because it killed only 2.5 percent of population.
In any case, all that gibberish about the coronavirus being no worse than the common cold has mysteriously disappeared within conservative circles. In fact, there is some evidence that Republicans are finally taking “the coronavirus more seriously.”
Is it the fact that America’s response to the pandemic, by any objective standard, has been abysmal? Is it because we are closing in on a quarter million deaths, a ghastly number that once seemed unimaginable?
No, it’s because one old man who refused to wear a mask has now caught the virus.
Yes, in a development that is either ironic, karmic, predictable, joyous, shocking or horrifying—depending on your viewpoint—our supposedly invincible chief executive is currently fighting off the virus that he has both cavalierly dismissed and criminally downplayed. He has checked himself out of a top-tier medical center, where he enjoyed premium healthcare for free, so that he could return to the White House and resume his busy schedule of tweeting all-caps insults and jarring non sequiturs.
So how will Trump’s infection affect the election?
Fuck if I know.
So rather than analyze the future, let’s look at how we got to this point, where members of the president’s own family believe that the guy may be cracking under the pressure.
The catalyst, as it is for so much of the conservative movement, is fear.
Yes, we all know that right-wingers portray themselves as brave warriors, unafraid of those pathetic liberal snowflakes. But if your whole worldview is that you need a dozen AR-15s and a massive wall to protect you from scary brown people—to say nothing of the panic you feel when you see a mosque or hear the words “gay marriage”—then you are not in a position to lecture anyone on the topic of fear. In fact, many studies have shown that conservatives tend to be more fearful and squeamish than progressives.
And that fear reflex has led to real-world chaos.
For example, when it comes to COVID-19, “the president’s delayed reaction to the crisis was partially due to his fears about the deep state.” In this case, the conservative fear of an imaginary enemy helped turn a bad situation into a national catastrophe. Trump’s response to coronavirus was “colored by his suspicion of and disdain for what he viewed as the ‘deep state,’ the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus, and likely save lives.”
Many Americans are dead today because the president got jittery about a nonexistent threat, while ignoring a real disaster.
It got worse after that, as the stupidest cultural war of all time ignited over face masks. Millions of Americans, particularly men, refused to mask up because they were afraid—absolutely petrified—that total strangers might consider them wimps. The irony, of course, is that if you alter your behavior out of fear that people might think you’re weak, it means you’re a wimp who cares what people think of you. And this terror of social disapproval—which didn’t exist, by the way—helped COVID-19 spread faster, leading to even more death. Clearly, the right wing’s “narrow definition of masculinity has lethal repercussions.”
And what of those so-called looters and rioters that are burning down our cities? Well, this is yet another figment of the conservative mind. In truth, 93 percent of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. And when violence has occurred, it is usually right-wing extremists who are committing it.
Furthermore, there have been 33 incidents where Black Lives Matter protesters were threatened with a gun, shot at, or killed. However, there have been just 12 similar incidents where counterprotesters were the target.
This twisted focus on fake threats, and the related dismissal of real danger, is a conservative hallmark.
You see, lovers of Fox News spend their lives trembling in terror over the progressives who are out to kill them. The idea that leftists are a bigger danger is completely backward, considering that “America’s greatest domestic terror threat stems from racially and ethnically motivated extremists, following a record high in hate-motivated attacks and the rise of neo-Nazi and white supremacist violence,” now formally recognized by the FBI as a significant threat.
Since 2018, white supremacists have conducted “more lethal attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist movement, demonstrating a longstanding intent to target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, politicians and those they believe promote multi-culturalism.”
Basically, that guy with a swastika tattoo is more likely to come after you than some Earth First vegan.
This fact has been true for decades now. After all, it was not Antifa or BLM that bombed Oklahoma City—Timothy McVeigh wasn’t exactly a bleeding-heart liberal.
The doublespeak of this situation is evident in the right-wing chorus of “Facts, not fear,” and in their insistence that they are the toughest hombres around for staring down COVID-19.
But of course, it’s all projection. Because there is nobody more scared right now than Donald Trump. And his fear, as well as the fear of his followers, is infecting all of us.
Featured image: Eric Thayer/The New York Times