The GOP’s ‘distrust’ of science has made the US a ‘Petri dish of infection’ during the coronavirus crisis: journalist
Vice President Mike Pence (screengrab)

Some Republican governors have been as proactive as their Democratic counterparts in responding to the coronavirus pandemic — including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. And while President Donald Trump is the Republican who is criticized the most when it comes to coronavirus, journalist Jonathan Chait, but in a lengthy essay published in New York Magazine on July 20, stresses that Trump is hardly alone when it comes to handling the crisis badly. As Chait sees it, the United States’ COVID-19 death count is an indictment of the GOP in general and underscores its “anti-science” tendencies.

The U.S., Chait writes, is “a viral petri dish of uncontained infection. By June — after most of the world had beaten back the coronavirus pandemic — the U.S., with 4% of the world’s population, accounted for 25% of its cases. Florida alone was seeing more new infections a week than China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and the European Union combined…. The United States is now the sick man of the world, pitied by the same countries that once envied its pandemic preparedness — and, as recently as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, relied on its expertise to organize the global response.”

Anti-science attitudes, Chait laments, were plaguing the GOP long before Trump was sworn into office in January 2017.

“The distrust and open dismissal of expertise and authority may seem uniquely contemporary — a phenomenon of the Trump era, or the rise of online misinformation,” Chait explains. “But the president and his party are the products of a decades-long war against the functioning of good government, a collapse of trust in experts and empiricism, and the spread of a kind of magical thinking that flourishes in a hothouse atmosphere that can seal out reality. While it’s not exactly shocking to see a Republican administration be destroyed by incompetent management — it happened to the last one, after all — the willfulness of it is still mind-boggling and has led to the unnecessary sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of people and the torpedoing of the reelection prospects of the president himself.”

Chait emphasizes that Republicans weren’t always anti-science, noting that the Environment Protection Agency was created under President Richard Nixon. But more and more, Chait writes, a disdain for science has plagued the GOP in recent years — and that anti-science attitude makes its presence felt whenever Republicans rail against Dr. Anthony Fauci (who is part of Trump’s coronavirus task for) or refuse to wear face masks in public.

“The truly remarkable thing about the right-wing revolt against public health is that it has taken place under a president whom conservatives trust and adore,” Chait writes. “From the standpoint of running the government, these have been awful conditions for handling a pandemic. But from the standpoint of persuading citizens to cooperate, they have been almost optimal. When we look back a year from now at the frenzied, angry revolt against science, the spring and summer of 2020 may seem like halcyon days.”