It seems like shortly after President Trump took office—or maybe it was before the Grand Wizard Cheeto took the throne or whatever it is we have now—that we entered this strange dimension where there are “alternative facts.” In this realm, the information you’d rather ignore can be labeled, as he coined it, “fake news.” All you have do is call it that—even when it’s something that has killed more than 125,000 Americans.
Now, as we painfully stumble to the end of his fourth year in charge of a country that’s become increasingly agitated, the birth of this infantile ideology has grown into what feels like its terrible twos. Trump’s consistent demagoguery—and his dog-whistling and drumming of racist tropes—have flared both “sides” around any given subject. But when it comes to coronavirus, digging in one’s heals is especially risky.
In this new realm, the responses to the pandemic—something all Americans should be united on—are extremely adversarial. Egged on by Trump, his supporters deny reputable sources and science, relying instead on faulty and flawed opinion purveyors that multiply like an unmitigated virus.
This past week I’ve seen several friends I respect argue online against the shelter-in-place and mask mandates, using the same colorful meme that bears no citation of sources. Several of their points were easily debunked, but that didn’t stop them from propagating lies and decrying safety measures and so-called “fake news.” Other friends challenged them with science-based facts, only to be disrespected and personally attacked around their “fear.”
In truth, both sides are fearful—one of purported government overreach and the other of the very real impacts of COVID-19.
While the president may be largely responsible for the recent change in a certain subset of American culture that now dismisses peer-reviewed studies and reputable sources, I realize we’re talking about a much deeper-rooted issue. Following his lead, many are willing to sacrifice facts in the name of their own myopic ideology. That’s dangerous in normal times, but in the time of coronavirus it could prove fatal.
The author is a poet, hip-hop artist, activist and hobby historian who has lived in Chico on and off for 25 years.