Paul Krugman's dismal diagnosis: America's 'anti-science' streak is killing us

Paul Krugman's dismal diagnosis: America's 'anti-science' streak is killing us
Democracy Now
News & Politics

It’s no coincidence that the United States is now the world’s leading hotspot for coronavirus: President Donald Trump and many of his allies have never taken the pandemic as seriously as they should have. This was painfully evident when, on June 20, thousands of his supporters attended an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma and many of them were not wearing masks. Liberal economist Paul Krugman, this week in his New York Times column, dissects Trump's“anti-rational” response to the pandemic and stresses that his rejection of “expertise, science and responsibility” is “killing” Americans.

“We’ve known for months what it takes to bring COVID-19 under control,” Krugman explains. “You need a period of severe lockdown to reduce the disease’s prevalence. Only then can you reopen the economy — while maintaining social distancing as needed — and even then, you need a regime of widespread testing, tracing and isolation of potentially infected individuals to keep the virus suppressed. Most advanced countries have gone down this route.”

Krugman cites some examples of how other countries have responded to the pandemic.

“A few countries, like New Zealand and South Korea, have largely or completely defeated the coronavirus,” Krugman observes. “The European Union, comparable in population and diversity to the United States, continues to record new cases of COVID -19, but at a far slower rate than at the pandemic’s peak in late March and early April. But the United States is exceptional in a very bad way: our rate of new cases never declined all that much.”

Krugman goes on to explain why the coronavirus death count continues to climb in the United States.

“Falling infection rates in the New York area were offset by flat or rising infections in the South and the West,” Krugman notes. “Now, cases are on the rise nationally and surging in such states as Arizona, Texas and Florida. And no, reported infections aren’t rising just because we’re doing more testing; contra Donald Trump, we can’t solve this problem just by testing less. Other indicators, like the percentage of tests coming back positive and hospitalization rates, show that the COVID-19 surge is real.”

A major problem in the U.S., according to Krugman, is the fact that so many Trump supporters view coronavirus as a Culture War issue.

“In America — and only in America — basic health precautions have been caught up in a culture war,” Krugman writes. “Most obviously, not wearing a face mask, and hence gratuitously endangering other people, has become a political symbol: Trump has suggested that some people wear masks only to signal disapproval of him, and many Americans have decided that requiring masks in indoor spaces is an assault on their freedom. As a result, social distancing has become partisan: self-identified Republicans do less of it than self-identified Democrats.”

Trump’s response to coronavirus, Krugman stresses, underscores the anti-science mentality that is prevalent among Republicans.

“The moral of this story is that America’s uniquely poor response to the coronavirus isn’t just the result of bad leadership at the top — although tens of thousands of lives would have been saved if we had a president who would deal with problems instead of trying to wish them away,” Krugman asserts. “We’re also doing badly because…. there’s a longstanding anti-science, anti-expertise streak in American culture — the same streak that makes us uniquely unwilling to accept the reality of evolution or acknowledge the threat of climate change.”

Krugman adds that while the U.S. is not a “nation of know-nothings,” there is a “belligerent faction within our society” that angrily rejects science.

“Trump hasn’t just failed to rise to the policy challenge posed by COVID-19,” Krugman writes. “He has, with his words and actions — notably his refusal to wear a mask — encouraged and empowered America’s anti-rational streak. And this rejection of expertise, science and responsibility in general is killing us.”

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