So yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is at this point an ideologically fueled pandemic. The hospital systems are failing in Republican-governed areas, filling with Republican voters, dying of an illness being spread by other Republicans who have chosen, as part of their identity, to mock those that would have them act more safely. Because the virus itself does not distinguish between hosts, it’s not just conservatives who are getting sick and dying. There is no question, however, that the places where the most people are getting sick and dying tend to be places that vote Republicans into office.
As to the why of these results, the vast majority of the press has been reluctant to even delve in to such questions, even as experts and non-experts alike ponder over how to convince the vaccine-hesitant to join the rest of the country in trying to Not Die. At The Washington Post, Aaron Blake gives a bit of context for that one. The short version is that unvaccinated Republicans have absolutely bizarre beliefs about the effectiveness of the vaccine they’re not getting. Unvaccinated Republicans peg the chance of hospitalization if they were to get COVID-19 at about 5%, but also believe that the chances of vaccinated Americans ending up in the hospital at the same 5%.
This isn’t even close to true—in fact, it’s inverted. Getting vaccinated drops your risk of hospitalization to a tiny fraction of what it is for the unvaccinated, that being the whole point of vaccines. Unvaccinated Republicans have, ahem, “somehow” gotten the idea that the vaccine doesn’t do much of anything at all.
What we’ve been seeing in polling has remained consistent. The current Republican base believes masks aren’t effective, vaccines aren’t effective, and that the dangers of COVID-19 are being overplayed to begin with so why bother.
Now here’s where most press reports of how this bizarre misinterpretation of the most basic facts of the pandemic came to pass sort of … peter out. However could Republican-leaning Americans be so bizarrely misinformed about the basic known facts of a deadly pandemic? Is this a new streak of libertarian aversion to government? Is it the topsy-turvy information world we live in these days? Are public health experts failing in their duties? Do vaccine refusers feel insulted by all this fact-knowing these days? What’s going on? This is all very complex and—
No. No, it’s not very complex at all.
These notions that have embedded themselves in the Republican base, from theories about the ineffectiveness of masks and vaccines to their supposed “hidden dangers” to a general dismissal of the dangerousness of the deadly global pandemic can all be summarized as The Fox News Nightly Programming Schedule. You’re looking for how the staunchest conservatives in America are all rallying behind the same core collection of false claims and scientific denialism? Check Fox News during primetime hours and you’ll see it propped up on the screen behind angry hosts just asking questions about whether Actually, all of the world’s combined governments and experts might be lying to conservatives in order to something something something. And it’s been happening, like clockwork, for over a year.
As for how pandemic misinformation became a particular focus of Fox News and other “conservative” pundit dens, that doesn’t require much teasing out either. None of it was hidden.
• An incompetent real estate developer elevated to the presidency, one who surrounded himself with equally unqualified loyalist yes-men, suddenly found himself responsible for managing government through a worldwide crisis.
• Having no idea what to do or how to make it happen, the lifelong huckster declared that the crisis was overblown and that whatever actions he found himself unable to accomplish were therefore unnecessary.
• A movement that had celebrated the man’s gleeful racism and authoritarian instincts latched on to these pronouncements, themselves declaring that the pandemic was not serious and that their leader’s inaction was, in fact, evidence of his genius.
• These claims were widely broadcast by Fox News and the movement’s other outlets.
• Well slap me with a spoon and call me pudding, it turns out that broadcasting ideologically premised falsehoods relentlessly for the span of a year-and-a-half results in a political base believing those things with every fiber of their being.
• Those people are now getting sick and dying as a consequence of those broadcasts. It will continue until the broadcasters renounce the misinformation, until such a significant percentage of the believers have died off to cause a mass reevaluation of the false claims, or until the believers reach “natural” herd immunity the hard way.
There ya go, there’s the entire pandemic flowchart—incompetence; denial; misinformation; consequences.
The COVID-19 pandemic is now, in this country, a partisan disease. It spreads mostly through Republican counties, infecting mostly Republicans and their immediate contacts, filling mostly Republican-region hospitals with mostly Republican patients. This is a direct consequence of Fox News hosts lying to America about vaccines, about masks, about social distancing, about the danger of the disease, and about the public health officials trying to keep Americans alive. It was intentional. It was specific.
It continues because the Murdoch family, the Fox News board, and those that work on each of the Fox News hosts’ primetime shows are truly malevolent people who absolutely do not care how many Americans are coaxed into pandemic suicide by their half-assed justifications for conservative incompetence.
And it continues because Republican governors, mayors, and other public officials are more often than not devoting themselves to propping up conservative pandemic fictions rather than challenging a base now absolutely frothing in their insistence that the fictions are real.
So here we are.