The trajectory of COVID-19 in the USA is at least somewhat predictable: Over the course of the next few weeks, as testing begins to ramp up, the number of cases will certainly climb well into the tens of thousands, and probably into the hundreds of thousands. Deaths will hit the four-figure mark within this time period.
What happens beyond then is still very speculative. We could end up with ten million or one hundred million cases, and one hundred thousand or one million deaths. Or more, or less, or something in between.
What’s certain to happen is a society-wide panic, fed by the contemporary media environment. This is not a comment on the extent to which that panic will be warranted. It may end up being perfectly warranted: the point is it will happen, and indeed is already beginning to happen.
Another thing that seems fairly predictable is the evolution of the response to all this among the 40% to 45% of the country that continues to support the Trump presidency. That response will be a textbook case of the right wing paranoid style in action.
As infections and deaths mount, the discourse in the right wing bubble will move quickly from it’s an overblown hoax, to all of the following, in various combinations:
(1) Yes the virus really is a problem, but it’s being exaggerated for political purposes (This is already the “thoughtful conservative reasonable Republican” position. Note the striking parallel to “respectable” climate change denialism).
(2) It’s a deadly pandemic, caused by the disgusting personal habits of filthy foreigners, which is why the Wall needs to be Really High, aka nativism on crank.
(3) It’s a deadly pandemic, cooked up in the bioweapon labs of China, to overthrow our personal Lord and Savior Donald J. Trump.
(4) Variations on (3) that includes participation by the Jews and the Democrats, as if there’s a difference LOL.
A friend of mine was talking to a wealthy farmer on the eastern plains of Colorado a couple of days ago. This fine representative of the common clay of the West was already in stage (3), since he had heard this reported as fact on CNBC. (Actually the CNBC report was regarding conspiracy theories circulating about COVID-19).
As with other forms of denialism, all this will come in various flavors. The respectable [sic] right wing media will push the filthy foreigners idea — Chinese virus from eating bat soup etc. — while noting that there are “troubling questions” about possible links to the Chinese government. Also, there will be emails of some sort.
The Scream Machine, from Limbaugh on down, will pivot from it’s just the common cold, straight into 24/7 hysteria about the bioweapon of mass destruction that has been engineered to destroy America, meaning white people.
All this will end up being a an example of what has been labeled “conspiracism” — that is, conspiracy theory without any theory, since any actual theory is no longer required.
In my day, crazy people with basement mimeograph machines spent a lot of time connecting the dots, but in the age of social media, the only dots that need connecting are between the various things that, as Donald Trump puts it constantly, “a lot of people are saying,” on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Fasten your seat belts.