We live in crazy times. The COVID pandemic is in its eighteenth month and we could have it well under control by now like China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Belgium and Singapore but “more than 98% of US residents now live in an area where there is a ‘high’ or ‘substantial’ risk of COVID-19 community transmission, up from 19% of residents only a month ago.”
The U.S. has enough vaccines for everyone who wants them but 30 percent of Americans are still not vaccinated. Locally, of course, it is nearly double that. Among the unvaccinated, eighty percent either “definitely do not have any plans to get the shots,” or “are a little less sure and say they will probably not get the vaccines.”
Subtract the 48 million American children age 12 or younger, that leaves 282 million of us eligible for vaccination. That means 30 percent or 84 million remain unvaccinated. If unvaccinated Americans were a country, it would be larger than 91 percent of the 195 nations on the planet. And 80 percent of them or about 68 million are on record as stating they definitely or probably won’t get vaccinated, a group larger than the population of the United Kingdom.
As cases rapidly rise, the United States just passed a grim milestone, “when the death toll (from COVID) surpassed 620,000 people, the classic estimate for the number of deaths from the American Civil War.” Ironically, most of the Civil War deaths – about two-thirds – were from “viruses, parasites and bacteria,” not “bullets and bombs.”
“Unfortunately, today’s COVID-19 death toll shows that many have approached the virus with a medical attitude hardly updated from 160 years ago.”
Of the twenty states with the highest COVID case-rates, 75 percent of them voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Of the twenty states with the lowest COVID case-rates (including the District of Columbia), 80 percent of them voted for Joe Biden. It doesn’t take a scientist to interpret the data for us. Political ideology and denial of science can be fatal. What we don’t know or refuse to believe can kill us.
According to one report, “The overwhelming majority of serious Covid cases — 97% of hospital admissions, and 99.5% of Covid deaths — are occurring among those who are not vaccinated.” Republicans are less likely to get vaccinated than Democrats and less likely to wear masks, even though thousands of lives could have been saved and Goldman Sachs predicted we “could avoid a $1 trillion economic loss…if everyone wore masks.”
What is behind all this? Why do those who identify as conservative or Republican trust science less than those who identify as liberal or Democrat?
Perhaps we can blame it on the ultimate denier of science, Rush Limbaugh, conservative icon credited with the creation of the modern Republican Party and revered for over thirty years by more than 15 million listeners a week as he denied the science of evolution, the link between smoking and disease (and yes, the life-long smoker died of lung cancer), climate change and the pandemic.
Twelve years ago, Rush said this: “We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap.
“So, we have now the Four Corners of Deceit, and the two universes in which we live. The Universe of Lies, the Universe of Reality, and The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.”
In response to Limbaugh, a Nature editorial expressed concern about “a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts.”
“The right-wing populism that is flourishing in the current climate of economic insecurity echoes many traditional conservative themes” and is “also tapping an age-old US political impulse — a suspicion of elites and expertise.”
“Denialism over global warming has become a scientific cause célèbre within the movement. Limbaugh, for instance, who has told his listeners that ‘science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists’, has called climate-change science ‘the biggest scam in the history of the world’”.
Limbaugh is not the only prominent conservative to deny science and is certainly not the sole cause of the right-wing’s allergy to factual reality. However, he found fertile soil in Republican minds that prefer seeds of comfortable lies over disconcerting evidence. In my next article, I will explore this further as we seek to explain the crippling polarization preventing us from working together to solve our collective threats and crises.