Paul Krugman devoted a recent column to the conspiracy theories that have emerged to “explain” the coronavirus. My only quibble with the column was its narrow focus; I’ve come to the conclusion that a substantial percentage of Americans find reality so intimidating, messy and/or incomprehensible, the only way they can make sense of it is to assume that someone or some group must be intentionally responsible for the aspects of that reality they most fear.
It can’t be random–“those people” must be engaged in a purposeful effort to harm or mislead them.
We really haven’t come very far from colonial days, when clerics opposed the newfangled smallpox vaccine because smallpox was undoubtedly sent by God, and inoculating people against it would constitute interference with God’s plan. Just substitute “those people”–the Deep State, the bankers, the Jews, the DNC, whoever–for God.
It’s just really hard for some people to accept randomness, and the fact that–as the undignified saying goes–shit happens.
As Krugman writes
We still don’t know how much damage Covid-19 — the coronavirus disease — will do, but it’s reasonable to be very concerned. After all, it appears to be highly transmissible, and it is probably a lot more lethal than ordinary flu.
But not to worry, say right-wing pundits and news organizations: It’s all a hoax, a conspiracy by the liberal media to make Donald Trump look bad. Administration officials and Trump himself have echoed their claims.
These claims are, of course, crazy. Among other things, Covid-19 is a global phenomenon, with major outbreaks ranging from South Korea to Italy. Are the South Korean and Italian media also part of a conspiracy to get Trump?
I agree with Krugman that this particular reaction was predictable to anyone who follows the right-wings long-running war on facts, especially when facts prove inconvenient or conflict with the right’s preferred version of reality.
And as Krugman also reminds us, much of their insistence on attributing unwanted outcomes to nefarious evil-doers rests on projection.
In the case of Covid-19 the usual suspects were, in part, engaged in projection. After all, they themselves engaged in a concerted effort to politically weaponize the 2014 Ebola outbreak against Barack Obama, whose response was in reality smart and effective. By the way, in the aftermath of that outbreak the Obama administration put in place measures to deal with future pandemics — all of which Trump scrapped.
Denial, as my grandfather used to say, isn’t just a river in Egypt.
Climate change? As recently as the 2018 midterms, a survey found 73 percent of Republican senators denying that man-made climate change is happening. The success of Obama’s economic measures? Right-wing politicians and pundits insisted that the numbers were being cooked. (Those evil “deep state” folks, no doubt…) Etc.
But fair is fair: this sort of nonsense is hardly confined to the crazy people on the right, although clearly, the right has a majority of the crazies.
For example, a troubling percentage of his supporters are absolutely convinced that if Bernie isn’t the nominee, it will be due to a plot by “the establishment” to rig the process. Despite the results of Super Tuesday, it is evidently inconceivable to them that a majority of Democratic voters might prefer Biden or someone else–that large numbers of voters might honestly believe that Bernie would be less likely to beat Trump and more likely to doom Democrats’ down-ticket prospects.
As a column from Talking Points Memo put it,
To hear many Sanders surrogates describe it, the establishment and power brokers closed ranks and pushed Biden into the lead. But again, this just pretends like millions of voters don’t exist, or function as pawns of party elites. So you have one theory of political agency for Sanders supporters and another for everyone else. This stands no kind of political scrutiny.
Party workers making anti-Bernie arguments are engaging in typical (small-d) democratic campaigning, not “rigging” an election. Similarly, doctors aren’t conspiring to hide the “dangers” of vaccinations. Scientists aren’t part of an international cabal engaged in falsifying data on climate change. The government isn’t running a secret program entailing the discharge of dangerous airplane “contrails.”
Elvis’ death wasn’t faked, and there really isn’t a monster hiding under the bed.
In fact, there’s no one here but us flawed human beings trying to make sense of the shit that happens in a complicated world.