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Wed 27 May 2020
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CJ Werleman discusses a new poll which indicates sustained support for Donald Trump over COVID-19 and distrust of the country’s top infectious disease expert – and where this lethal aversion to the truth among a sizable part of the population could lead.

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We now have a single piece of polling data that not only captures the political and intellectual rot that’s hollowing out democratic institutions and civil society in the United States, but also explains why it is likely to be the country that emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic in an unrecognisable.

Why? Because 36% of Americans surveyed said they trust US President Donald Trump for information on the Coronavirus, while an almost equal number said they do not trust Dr Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and the US’ top expert on infectious disease, according to the new poll conducted by the independent research company SSRS.

If this doesn’t leave you aghast, you can only be unaware that Trump has described the Coronavirus to be a “hoax’, compared it to the seasonal flu, promised it would “magically” disappear by April, poses “little threat” to Americans, and suggested that it could be treated by injecting disinfectant into the body.

Trump has also touted drugs that have proven to be ineffective and even life-threatening, while also claiming that the need for COVID-19 testing is “overrated”. He even expressed surprise that a person can test positive after earlier testing negative for the virus, leading comics on Twitter to joke: “It’s so weird. I tested negative for pregnancy four times when I had unprotected sex with my husband, but on the fifth test, out of the blue, I tested positive. Maybe it was all that testing that made the baby”.

But somehow roughly 120 million Americans remain steadfast in their belief that Trump is the sole arbiter of truth and a source for all wisdom on the COVID-19 pandemic, which is on track to kill 147,000 of their countrymen before the start of August, while already leaving 37 million others jobless and on the brink of financial ruin. 

A full third of the American public have become so untethered from facts, truth and objective reality that if Trump suddenly declared gravity to be a liberal media hoax, it is a safe bet that millions of his most ardent supporters would jump from tall buildings to “own the libs” because clearly there are no limits to the amount of evidence they are willing to deny in deference to their President.

It is frightening to imagine just how far and easily Trump could push 36% of the country to carry out acts that endanger themselves and the wellbeing of their friends, family, community and country. If 36% of the country believe Trump – a con artist, pathological liar and all-round know-nothing – over actual public health experts and epidemiologists when it comes to information on a deadly pandemic, then what won’t they believe?

We know they believe Trump over the assurances of 17 US intelligence agencies on Russian interference during the 2016 Presidential Election. We know that they believe Trump over the corroborated testimony of the whistleblower on Trump demanding dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for US military assistance. We know that they believed Trump when he falsely accused former President Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim. We know that they believe Trump when he says climate change is a hoax; that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud; and that nobody took the initial outbreak of COVID-19 more serious than he.

The 36% is why national security analysts and practitioners are fretting 3 November – the date of the next Presidential Election. One only has to consider what might happen should Trump come face-to-face with the probability of defeat, knowing that losing the protection of the Oval Office will subject him to a potential slew of criminal indictments and possible jail time.

In such a situation, Trump “holds a rally with his supporters at which he declares himself the winner, tells the crowd ‘what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening’, slams the ‘fake news’ media, and claims ‘millions and millions’ of people voted illegally for the Democrats,” according to the journalist Mehdi Hasan. “He denounces a ‘deep state’ coup and warns of violence.”

If three years of the Trump presidency – and now the COVID-19 pandemic – have taught us anything, it has to be that Fox News and the conservative media ecosystem is ready and willing to inflict harm on the American people and the republic in servitude of Trump. When he called the Coronavirus a “hoax”, so did Fox News. When he was touting dangerous and unproven drugs, so did Fox News. When he came out in opposition to the very social distancing measures his White House recommended, so did Fox News.

It is no coincidence that, in the same poll, 35% of the Americans surveyed said they trust Fox News – a network which is being sued by a multitude of plaintiffs with class action lawsuits for “falsely and deceptively disseminating ‘news’ via cable news contracts that the Coronavirus was a ‘hoax,’ and that it was otherwise not a danger to public health and safety”.

A study conducted by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Centre of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Illinois found that people who rely on the right-wing media and social media for information about COVID-19 are “more likely to hold inaccurate beliefs about the potential seriousness of the illness and about how to prevent it from spreading”. They are also more likely to believe conspiracy theories about the virus, “including the bogus belief that people within government health agencies were exaggerating the danger in order to bring down Donald Trump’s presidency”.

Trump has made the US an international laughingstock – attracting shock, disbelief and incredulity throughout the world, a status made tragic when it was revealed that more than 70 people who attended a pro-Trump, anti-lockdown protest in Madison, Wisconsin on 24 April contracted the virus.

“Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger,” observes Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times. “But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.”

Beyond prompting global ridicule and scorn, however, the 36% are threatening to rip the country apart, by not only spreading the virus but also encouraging a violent right-wing insurgency. Armed protests against Democratic governors who are enforcing social distancing measures, and even armed occupation of state houses around the country, now accompany increasingly routine pleas to “hang Fauci” and “spill blood against tyranny”.

“This is a possibly disastrous development as tensions rise in the protracted fight against the pandemic, and economic catastrophe lingers, upending the lives of millions,” Firmin DeBrabander writes for The Atlantic. “Armed protestors don’t want to deliberate or debate, or even tolerate the opposition. When they appear, democracy ends.”

It is becoming increasingly difficult to foresee how the US survives COVID-19. The human and economic devastation wrought by the virus has now reached a level that could only otherwise arise from multiple nuclear weapon strikes. Americans must brace themselves for “darkest winter in modern history,” according to a government whistleblower and public health expert, due to the easing of social distancing measures, as the number of cases continues to climb and with adequate testing levels nowhere in sight.

South Korea had its first known case of COVID-19 identified on the same day as the US. But, whereas the US population is only six times greater than that of South Korea’s, the US has recorded 300 times as many deaths and 150 times as many cases. The difference, of course, being that South Korea doesn’t have Donald Trump, Fox News or America’s 36%.


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