Is there a better prophecy of our end times? The only thing “Idiocracy” really got wrong was its timeline. It has taken just 15 years, not 500, for America to become an idiocracy. Don’t believe it? Look at our response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In other wealthy democracies, coronavirus cases have been plummeting. In the United States, they have risen 80 percent over the past 14 days. On Monday, the United States reported more than 40,000 new cases, while the European Union, which is more populous, had fewer than 6,000. The number of confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States is approaching 130,000, more than twice as many as in any other country.
It is easy, and correct, to blame this epic failure on abysmal leadership. We have an irrational, incompetent president who spent months denying the reality of the disease (remember when he claimed it would “miraculously” go away by April?), while suggesting cures including a risky malaria drug and bleach injections.
Now President Trump is holding rallies in places such as Tulsa, where the disease is surging; campaign aides even removed signs from the arena urging rallygoers to practice social distancing. Trump is planning a Republican convention in a state, Florida, that has become a new hot spot of the disease. How idiotic can you get?
The presidency’s idiocy is matched by that of Republican governors in states such as Florida (where coronavirus cases increased by 277 percent in the past two weeks), Texas (+184 percent) and Arizona (+145 percent). They were slow to declare lockdowns and quick to end them. They also refused to impose statewide mask mandates — and, in the case of Texas and Arizona, tried to prevent municipalities from imposing their own rules — even though studies show that wearing masks can reduce transmission by as much as 85 percent.
This toxic imbecility is getting people killed. But recall the adage that “every nation gets the government it deserves.” Trump and the Trumpy governors did not seize power by force. They were elected by constituents who, in some cases, see masks as the spawn of the devil.
An Ohio state legislator said, “I don’t want to cover people’s faces” because “we’re created in the image and likeness of God.” A Palm Beach, Fla., woman complained that masks “throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door,” while a fellow Palm Beach resident denounced mask advocates for “practicing the Devil’s law.” A North Carolina woman burned a mask, complaining that it represented “nanny state overreach.” Wait till these freedom-lovers find out about speeding laws, seat-belt laws and drunken-driving laws, which restrict their “right” to get wasted and careen down the highway at 95 mph without a seat belt.
Granted, few Americans are as maniacal in their opposition to the basic dictates of public health. But far greater numbers seem recklessly indifferent to them. A 30-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., man went drinking with his buddies and even shared drinks with them in a “super packed” bar. A few days later, he woke up with a 103-degree temperature. “I didn’t take this seriously,” Jimmy Flores now admits. “I didn’t think I was gonna get covid.”
There are a lot of Jimmys. While two-thirds of Americans told Pew Research Center pollsters that they wear masks in stores or other businesses, fewer than half say most people in their area do so. And far fewer Republicans or lean-Republicans (72 percent) than Democrats or lean-Democrats (88 percent) say they wear masks all or some of the time in those settings.
Trump won 62.9 million votes in 2016. If only a third of Trump’s supporters refuse to wear masks, that’s roughly 19 million Americans who are potential superspreaders. Add roughly 8 million similarly irresponsible Democrats — most of them presumably young and clueless — and you have the makings of an out-of-control pandemic.
We can and should hold our leaders responsible, but ultimately, we have no one but ourselves to blame. Nobody forced so many Americans to act so recklessly — first by placing their faith in a president who doesn’t deserve it, and now in ignoring widely publicized scientific findings. We are living — and now dying — in an idiocracy of our own creation.
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