If you’re wondering what kind of death conservatism has died — and here I’m referring to the William F. Buckley/George F. Will variety of recently departed conservatism — the answer is a humorless, ignominious, stupid and pointless death without irony. What we once justly thought of as the “loyal opposition,” populated with men and women of reason (however misguided that reason may have been), we can now think of as the “lazy contradiction.” In short, a conservative may now say anything at all in defense of Donald Trump. Not only are they free to ignore the facts, it would be impolite if they didn’t. It would make all the other conservatives look bad. Whatever inconvenient facts are out there that make Trump look like a fool, conservatives are now free to employ alternative facts to contradict them — lazily.
Bill Buckley’s hand-picked (in 1997) heir apparent, is 51 year old Rich Lowry, current editor of the National Review. It was Lowry who recently tweeted congratulations to Trump when he wrote, “Trump, rightfully, slamming the ‘just the flu’ argument at this briefing.” That would all be well and good were it not for the fact that we have video proof of Trump dismissively comparing coronavirus to the flu a multitude of times. Not only that, but because Trump has compared coronavirus to flu, millions of his followers are emboldened to ignore social distancing and hand-washing protocols. After all, if it’s just a flu, what’s the big problem?
Trump’s new 180 degree reversal on his assertion will be missed by many. Propaganda is very hard to reverse, because propaganda often comes accompanied with glassy-eyed slogans that are almost impossible to eradicate. “Make America great again.” “But, her emails.” Old Man Warner in Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery” quotes an old proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” Propaganda creeps into our thinking and quickly becomes an unexamined assumption. That is why we must be hypervigilant against mental shortcuts like slogans and other purveyors of received wisdom.
This is why the notion that this novel pathogen is not like the flu, and it can be transmitted by asymptomatic hosts, was news to Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp. Kemp claims he only just found out what most of us have known for a month or two. Is he lying or is he just stupid? As he’s a Trump supporter it’s a coin toss.
But it’s possible to miss that crucial piece of wisdom if you live in a Fox News bubble. Most (admittedly, not all) of Fox News screens viewers from the worst of Trump’s lies and gaffs, and casts Trump in the iridescent light of sycophancy. The harm that has been done by Fox and similar propaganda carriers is incalculable. Many lives will be lost because of their irresponsible reporting, and because of the willful ignorance of politicians like Kemp who are charged with the sacred duty to protect us.
There is no way to candy-coat it, people and organizations, acting irresponsibly under color of authority, who have dismissed or minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, have blood on their unwashed hands. That blood will continue to accrue as this infectious pathogen continues to spread, its way made easier by the stubborn virus of ignorance and intractable propaganda.
What can you do as an individual? You should wash your hands like you’re obsessive-compulsive. Maintain strict social distancing. Go to the store only when you must and wear masks and gloves when you do. Think of the store and everything in it as covered in fresh paint, and your goal is to keep any of it from getting on your face. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.