Without saying so out loud, because they know how ridiculous it would sound if they did, Trump supporters, particularly those among them who are evangelical, fundamentalist Christians, hold science in contempt. Our current crisis provides a microcosm of how quickly that contempt can turn deadly. When science spoke they should have listened. They should stop treating science like an embarrassing but clever relation they occasionally invite to dinner. Science ought to be the first thing they turn to for answers, not the last.
Like 9/11, the challenger explosion and the Kennedy assassination before it, the coronavirus pandemic will soon become the most significant life-changing moment in the psyche of the average American alive today. But none of those previous crises have quite the same, intimate connection between disdain for science and its immediate, deadly consequences.
Very soon now for Trump and people in his regime and the supporters he depends on, people they know personally will die in ever greater numbers. Soon they themselves will also die. Science warned them in January and they could be dead by May. The lethal connection really is that fast — and even faster.
Trump parades his disdain for science every time he holds a press conference. He still crowds people around the podium. To be sure, these days there are fewer people near the podium and they are somewhat spaced apart, as a self-conscious, begrudging, token concession to a science they barely trust. But Trump’s unwillingness to observe strict adherence to social distancing even now, his scorn for wearing protective respirator masks, his playing politics with desperately-needed, personal protective equipment, sets an example and a policy that his supporters and governors of red states will follow, and that example will be paid for by hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of human deaths.
Because of Trump many governors of red states are reluctant to take draconian actions to stem the inexorable spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and their negligence toward the people of their own states and sycophancy for Trump will sabotage the effectiveness of more prudent measures being observed in other states. That is why a stay-at-home order needs to be a feature of national policy. Donald Trump’s disdain for science is the reason it is not.
Nature doesn’t teach lessons, she merely provides consequences for actions and leaves it to us to discern the connection. The more a contempt for science is inculcated and encouraged in a population the more that connection will be overlooked.
For decades science has warned us that filling the earth’s atmosphere with carbon dioxide is unsustainable and will lead to an apocalyptic extinction level event for the human race if continued. Conservatives and evangelicals alike heaped scorn on that notion. For one thing, the distance between the action and the result has remained too attenuated for some people to notice the relationship. It became necessary to turn to science and its predictions to understand it, and a tradition of disdain for science made that unlikely.
One of Trump’s biggest mistakes was to liken this pandemic to a war and himself as a wartime president. But war isn’t merely a poor analogy for the crisis we are in, it is antithetical to reality. Examples of heroism in war are precisely the actions that could get us all killed. It’s difficult to convey the notion to anti-science simpletons, full of martial metaphors, that the bravest thing you can do is to stay at home and practice social distancing and hygiene, that the enemy we face is unimpressed by macho displays of common courage, that a virus can’t be intimidated by harsh language and oily muscles. The enemy they think they are outwitting by outward signs of bravery comes home with them and kills their mothers and fathers, their wives and husbands, their sons and daughters, becomes more potent and deadlier still because the viral load transmitted at closer quarters is larger and therefore more difficult to eradicate.
These are realities that need to be spoon fed to the scientifically illiterate, carefully and repeatedly over and over until they get it. That’s what would have happened had this pandemic occurred during the Obama administration, or what should have been the Hillary Clinton administration. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both respect and understand science, Donald Trump does not. Trump is too busy worrying about what people say and think of him. Trump demonstrates daily, by the large percentage of his time dedicated to defending himself, praising himself and insulting and belittling people he should be helping, and the tiny percentage he begrudgingly shows for his suffering, out of work constituents — he American people — just where his priorities are.
The sooner we are rid of this monster, the sooner America can begin to heal, the sooner the world can completely heal. Trump must go in November. Joe Biden believes in science and he will listen to experts for the sake of his people, and not for the sake of his ego. We must get rid of Trump and make Joe Biden president of the United States. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.