In the early days of the pandemic I convinced myself that when the virus hit the Midwest — when it colored in every county on the tracking maps — Trump’s base would finally understand how they’d been duped.
They would see Trump’s denial of the virus and the science behind it for the lethal deception it was. That the Fox News bubble would be exposed as criminally negligent. That people would come to understand that masks are not a political statement.
Wow, was I wrong.
Of all the atrocities committed by Trump and his enablers this year, the propagation of “Covid denial” is easily the most heinous. And the most deadly.
A few stories have really rocked me. The first is from South Dakota, where the worst governor in the country, Kristi Noem, has gone all in on Trump’s murderous politicization of the virus.
A nurse in that state, Jodi Doering, recently went public with her frustration over the alarming number of patients she has watched dying, gasping for breath — literally moments from death — refusing to believe they had Covid, or that Covid even exists:
They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have Covid because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens.
She speaks of people dying in anger, filled with hate and confusion, unable to accept that because of this hoax, they could only say good-bye to their loved ones on an iPad.
These are your fellow citizens.
Then there’s Amber Elliott, a county health director in Missouri, who just quit her job because the death threats were getting old.
Every time you get on the phone, you’re hoping you don’t get cussed at. Probably half of the people we call are skeptical or combative. They refuse to talk. They deny their own positive test results. They hang up. They say they’re going to hire a lawyer … I have people in my own family who believe Covid is a conspiracy and our doctors are getting paid off … But the more I talk about the facts, the more it seems to put a target on my back.
I have no doubt these stories are echoed by thousands of healthcare workers in every state. And while it seems a horrible way for these misguided patients to die, my sympathies are more with the nurses trying, at great personal risk, to acquaint them with simple reality.
Covid denial is a proliferating phenomenon. It’s reflected in the election results and it’s popping up in studies. Only twenty percent of Trump voters named Covid as a top issue influencing their vote.
It’s also attracting the attention of psychologists. In a CNN interview, Mark Whitmore discussed the denial mechanism we’re all born with and use regularly, but which can go seriously off the rails if “unfounded beliefs were part of their upbringing.”
In other words, if someone is raised in, say, a faith-based sort of home-school reality — where their entire belief system is shaped by religion — they’re far more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.
They also tend to make decisions based on hunches and preconceived ideas and biases as opposed to using factual information … This also gets at confirmatory bias, where you create a bubble by surrounding yourself with people who believe what you believe, and you search out information that supports the way you believe.
So they’re not just denying the virus, they’re denying facts in general. I know, this is not a big surprise. But it led me to a sort of aha moment.
Could this be the missing link between evangelicals and Trump?
Could it be that their insular religious childhoods have predisposed them to fantastical realities that are, by any objective standard, bonkers?
Is this why they follow so blindly this con man who defiles, on a daily basis, everything they profess to believe in? Who gets them to reprogram their beliefs at will, to believe anything he wants them to, no matter how outrageous? Is this why they congregate in the Fox bubble? Is this why they only accept information that confirms a bias toward magical thinking?
As an explanation for the kind self-destructive behavior described by our two frontline workers, this is surely simplistic. But since it comports with my own biases, I find it intriguing.
Because when Trump tells them the coronavirus is a hoax, that it was made in a Chinese lab, that we’ve turned the corner, that it will go away “like a miracle,” that Democrats will stop talking about it the day after the election, they clearly believe it. Even if it blatantly contradicts what he told them the day before.
So while you and I might be troubled by certain questions — like “If a disease doesn’t exist, how can it go away?” — they aren’t troubled in the least.