I will never understand political “leaders” who actively celebrate ignorance–or those who vote for them.
The lack of basic civic literacy–which I’ve ranted about for years–is bad enough. The utter cluelessness of people who piously declaim their reverence for life while making it easier for the violent and mentally-ill to acquire and carry firearms is appalling. But nothing–nothing–in my adult lifetime has been as incredible and ignorant as the anti-COVID vaccine “movement.”
A recent essay in the Washington Post echoed my reaction. The essay wasn’t written by a hated “librul,” but by Michael Gerson, an Evangelical Christian refugee from the GOP who served in the administration of George W. Bush. As he said in his introduction
When the future judges our political present, it will stand in appalled, slack-jawed amazement at the willingness of GOP leaders to endanger the lives of their constituents — not just the interests of their constituents, but their lungs and beating hearts — in pursuit of personal power and ideological fantasies.
That observation–the recognition that the GOP officials preaching anti-vaccination nonsense are actually complicit in killing their own partisans–is what I find so incomprehensible. I can’t decide if these people are truly as ignorant as they sound, or if they are playing to what increasingly seems to be a death-wish of their rabid base.
Gerson divides them into three categories.
The first, practiced most vigorously by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, uses an ongoing pandemic as a stage for the display of ideological zeal. In this view, the covid-19 crisis — rather than being a story of remarkable but flawed scientists and public health experts deploying the best of science against a vicious microbe — has been an opportunity for the left to impose “authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” Never mind that U.S. public health officials are not part of the left, and are authentically confused about the equation of their advice with ideology.
As Gerson notes, populists like DeSantis are demonstrating that “their MAGA commitments outweigh all common sense, public responsibility and basic humanity.”
The second category is populated by conspiracy theorists (and major twits) like Rand Paul. These jackasses are playing “crackpot roulette.” They
depict the most visible representatives of the United States’ covid response as scheming, deceptive deep-state operatives. Any change in emphasis or strategy by scientists — an essential commitment of the scientific method — is viewed as rich opposition research.
Paul talks of jailing Anthony S. Fauci in the midst of our public health crisis on the basis of imaginary claims. But the fundraising appeals to MAGA loyalists that immediately follow such attacks by Paul and others are real. And for a subset of true believers, Paul’s acts of dehumanization provide cover and permission for threats of violence against scientists and their families.
Senator Ron Johnson exemplifies Gerson’s third category of Republican ignorance peddlers. Gerson dubs this category “the practice of strategic ignorance” and he notes that in the case of Johnson —” one of America’s most reliable source of unreliable information” — such ignorance might not be feigned.
He might well believe that gargling with mouthwash call kill the coronavirus, and that thousands of people are regularly dying from vaccine side effects, and that a pandemic that has taken more than 800,000 lives in the United States is “overhyped.”…
Johnson is not only making dangerous statements about the coronavirus. He is using his willingness to cite stupid things as the evidence of his independence from the rule of professionals and experts. He is defining democracy, in the words of Tom Nichols, author of “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters,” as “unearned respect for unfounded opinions.” Johnson is practicing strategic ignorance.
As Gerson points out, all of these behaviors encourage the development of alternative realities, and make the pursuit of a common good difficult if not impossible. But the damage goes well beyond that–to celebrate ignorance during a pandemic is an invitation to die.
If a significant group of Americans regard the musing of a politician such as Johnson as equal in value to Fauci’s lifelong accumulation of expertise, the basis for rational action is lost. And the result is needless death.
Gerson is an example of the sane Republicans who used to dominate the GOP, partisans whose policy positions were based upon drawing different conclusions from a reality shared with Democrats and Independents, not upon invented “facts,” conspiracies, or a spineless need to assure the party’s increasingly lunatic base that–as Isaac Asimov would have put it–their ignorance is just as good as the hard-won knowledge of those stuck-up elitists.
A country where a significant percentage of people revel in, pander to and/or actively celebrate ignorance is in big trouble–even without a pandemic.