'Vectors of stupidity': Columnists explain how Trump and his far-right ilk made coronavirus a referendum on identity politics

'Vectors of stupidity': Columnists explain how Trump and his far-right ilk made coronavirus a referendum on identity politics
President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks at the tree planting ceremony in honor of Earth and Arbor Day Wednesday, April 22, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

The coronavirus pandemic is both a health crisis and an economic crisis. According to researchers at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, COVID-19 had killed at least 184,372 people worldwide as of early Wednesday morning, April 23. And a variety of economic voices, from liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to Desmond Lachman of the conservative but non-Trumpian American Enterprise Institute (AEI) are warning that the United States’ economic recovery will be long and difficult. But according to recent articles in The Bulwark and the New York Times, coronavirus has also become something else in the United States: a Culture War issue.

According to journalist Charlie Sykes (who co-founded The Bulwark with fellow Never Trump conservative Bill Kristol in late 2018 following the demise of the Weekly Standard), President Donald Trump and his allies in the Republican Party have managed to make coronavirus a referendum on identity politics.

“This weekend, we got a good look at where the arc of conservative activism is heading,” Sykes explains. “The death toll in the United States from the coronavirus has now topped 40,000, but — egged on by presidential tweets — packs of flag-waving, maskless protesters across the country defied stay-at-home orders to demand that the country reopen quickly.”

Sykes goes on to say, “It’s too early to know whether the protests will become vectors of disease. But it’s already abundantly clear they have become vectors of stupidity in an already exceptionally stupid time. And Trump World and the GOP are both all-in on them….  Many of the protests devolved into festivals of recklessness and crackpottery, complete with conspiracy theorists, Confederate flags, gun-wielding cosplay, and chants of ‘lock her up.’”

Other examples of Culture War “infantilism” that have asserted themselves during far-right anti-shutdown protests, Sykes observes, include protestors chanting “Fire Fauci”— a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is part of Trump’s coronavirus task force along with Dr. Deborah Birx — and describing Birx and Microsoft’s Bill Gates as “treasonous.” A protestor in Madison, Wisconsin, Sykes adds, was proudly displaying a sign that read, “No tests, no vaccine, no masks.”

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters cites other ways in which coronavirus has been turned into a Culture War issue — from white Christian fundamentalists claiming that social distancing is anti-religion to wingnuts claiming that anti-coronavirus measures are an attack on gun owners.

“For now,” Peters reports, “Mr. Trump is speaking to the minority of Americans who believe the government has gone too far in trying to contain the threat from the virus. And he is doing so by spreading misinformation and innuendo about how the restrictions affect issues like gun ownership and freedom of worship. He falsely claimed last week, for instance, that the Second Amendment was under threat in Virginia.”

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