The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Welcome to the United States of ‘Idiocracy’

President Trump speaks to the media as he leaves the White House on June 23. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

When Mike Judge’s movie “Idiocracy” came out in 2006, almost no one saw it. (The film grossed less than $500,000 at the box office.) Now everyone should see it.

Luke Wilson plays an average Joe who is put into suspended animation and reawakens 500 years later to find himself the smartest person in America because everyone else has gotten so dumb. The No. 1 TV show features contestants being hit in their private parts; crops are watered with a sports energy drink, causing a famine; and the president is a former wrestler and porn star who curses freely and fires automatic weapons on TV.

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.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

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.

Watch Opinion videos:

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans who are working outside their homes are concerned that they could be exposed to the virus at work and infect their families. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

The Post’s View: Face masks are vital to stopping the spread of the virus. Wear one.

Jennifer Rubin: Trump is out of excuses

Max Boot: Why does the ‘America First’ president keep putting Russia first?

The Post’s View: Don’t listen to Trump. Mask-wearing is essential.

Adam Taylor: How the split over masks sums up America’s chaotic coronavirus response

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

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