The interaction between Donald Trump’s non-existent competence and attention span and the pathologies of contemporary conservative ideology is having deadly results in state after state:
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump spent weeks in denial, snapped suddenly into taking the threat seriously, reverted to denialism, and has, for the moment, toggled back to serious concern. In his Sunday press conference, Trump cited his public-health experts and refrained from promising a quick end to social distancing. Yet the threat of recidivism hovers over the presidency. At any moment, the wrong CEO or Fox News personality might get Trump’s ear and persuade him to toggle back to insouciance.
Trump’s congenital impatience is not the only culprit. Republican governors in several states have downplayed the virus, either refusing to enforce social-distancing measures or even overruling local officials who attempt to do so. A new study finds that the single factor that best explains the speed of state-level reaction is its governor’s partisan identity. “States with Republican governors and Republican electorates delayed each social distancing measure by an average of 2.70 days,” the authors find, “a far larger effect than any other factor, including state income per capita, the percentage of neighboring states with mandates, or even confirmed cases in state.”
Trump’s extreme, almost comic myopia has driven Washington’s laggard response. Having a television-addled president with the memory and long-term planning capabilities of a fruit fly is deeply unhelpful. But there is more behind Trump’s intermittent disregard for the virus’s danger than simple Trumpiness. As is often the case when analyzing any of the horrors of the Trump era, Trump’s coronavirus response combines his idiosyncratic personality disorders with ingrained pathologies of the conservative movement.
Two weeks ago, Richard Epstein, one of the movement’s most prestigious intellectuals, wrote a contrarian analysis of the pandemic. Epstein argued that conventional models were dramatically overstating the pandemic risk, and predicted the coronavirus would ultimately claim a mere 500 American lives. “Conservatives close to Trump and numerous administration officials have been circulating” Epstein’s article, the Washington Postreported a week ago. Conservative op-eds were still citing Epstein’s findings as of two days ago.
The way the “exposing your own citizens to a deadly virus to own the libs” became the default conservative position is an object and particularly toxic example of how conservative identity politics works.
For a minor example, check out this whiffleball Nick Gillespie interview with Richard Epstein, which is the inverse of the actual journalism Iaasac Chotiner practices to such important and satisfying results. It’s just surreal reading these two know-nothings with no idea what they don’t know exchange denialist fairy tales as a world-historical calamity accelerates. There’ll be no healing from the art of double-dealing.