CJ Werleman explains why President Donald Trump’s support from the Christian Right is proving deadly in the US’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US is now officially the global ground zero of the Coronavirus outbreak, with approximately 50,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths recorded daily – numbers that are growing exponentially each day. It was a reality painted in stark detail by the White House on Tuesday when it revealed a graph showing that it expects there to be a minimum of 100,000 to 240,000 American deaths from the virus within the coming months.
Should suppression strategies be relaxed, however, COVID-19 could kill as many as 2.2 million US citizens in 2020, according to the modelling – an outcome that remains wholly within the realm of possibility given that America is tracking the worst trajectory of any developed country, including Italy.
“I’m not sure that people understand, even now, what that kind of exceptional growth implies,” writes Paul Krugman, a distinguished professor of economics and columnist for The New York Times. “But if cases keep growing at their current rate for a month, they would increase by a factor of a thousand, and almost half of Americans would be infected.”
It begets an obvious question: how has it come to be that the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth will experience anywhere in the vicinity of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths or more; an outcome that will inevitably produce Great Depression levels of unemployment and a contraction in the economy by 35%, according to widespread estimates?
Certainly, much of the blame falls on President Donald Trump, who spent all of January and February downplaying and denying the spread and affects of COVID-19 – describing it as “hoax”, likening it to the “seasonal flu” and promising that it posed “little risk” and would disappear by “April”. As recently as Sunday, Trump was likening it to the flu in making his case to relax social distancing measures by 12 April.
But Trump is the symptom, not the cause. Or, better put, he is the head of a political organisation, the Republican Party, which gets its energy from arguably the most intellectually and morally stunted voting bloc in America – the Christian Right – which represents the largest group of voters in the country, with more than 80 million Americans describing themselves as “evangelical”.
Trump wouldn’t have won the Republican nomination were it not for their support, and he wouldn’t have survived impeachment were it not for their stubborn loyalty. The Christian Right is impervious to facts, evidence and Trump’s moral and ethical transgressions because in him they see a fast-track to the Rapture.
Trump and Pence ‘Protected by God’
Until COVID-19 crashed into the country’s hospitals and healthcare systems, the Christian Right’s anti-truth screeds were largely confined to denying climate change and evolution as they carried their pro-life but pro-gun and anti-immigrant placards in front of city halls.
Pick any pivotal moment in history and the Christian Right will have been on the wrong side of it, from the abolition of slavery to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Iraq War to gender equality and social justice.
The outbreak of the deadliest virus pandemic in a century, however, has revealed it to be more than an obstacle to social progress. It has demonstrated it to be a suicide cult.
On Tuesday, a Florida megachurch pastor was arrested for holding services consisting of hundreds of people in defiance of stay-at-home orders. Coronavirus denialism and defiance of social distancing measures has now become a feature of the entire Christian Right movement, rather than just the fringe.
Jonathan Shuttlesworth, a right-wing evangelist, told a radio station that he intends to hold a larger Woodstock-like gathering for Christians in defiance of social distancing orders, a declaration also made by the right-wing pastor E.W. Jackson, who recently said that both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were immune to the Coronavirus because they’re “protected by God”, while Jimmy Falwell Jnr, who has a regular audience with Trump, has announced his intention to reopen Liberty University, a Christian fundamentalist school, despite 11 students already testing positive for COVID-19.
When Trump promised to reopen the country “for business” on Easter Sunday in defiance of every healthcare expert in the country, the source of his inspiration was clear.
The Christian Right is also the source of a great deal of Coronavirus disinformation floating across the country, with many conspiracies leading back to popular figures and leaders within the movement. Earlier this week, for instance, Dave Daubenmire, a right-wing radio host and Christian author, told his audience that COVID-19 is not a virus but a reaction to the radiation caused by 5G technology, while the firebrand televangelist Kenneth Copeland told his millions of viewers that he destroyed the virus through prayer, saying “I execute judgment on you, COVID-19. It is finished. It is over!”
I’m not sure what comment I can add to such dangerous buffoonery, other than to say that “thoughts and prayers” has not only failed to put a halt to the country’s gun death epidemic, but will also inflict devastating destruction on the world’s most powerful country by seriously hindering the collective action required to tackle a deadly global pandemic.