POPULISM & PANDEMICS

Political Beliefs Can Kill You

I and a group of friends took part in a “Ridin’ with Biden” campaign event last October in Florida. We came across a group of Trump supporters camped out in front of an early voting location and I put my large megaphone out the window of the car and yelled, “He’s going to kill you! He’s going to kill you!” The trumpers were oblivious to the way Trump’s Covid-19 policies were hurting and killing us. I get it, they love him and trust him with their grandmother’s lives. Why? It’s all part of a populism religion they decided to follow.

This sectarian concept has overtaken large portions of our country and our elected representatives. Sectarianism is a political or cultural conflict between two groups often related to their form of government. Prejudice, discrimination or hatred can arise in these conflicts, depending on the political status quo and which group holds more power within the government. One of the worst parts of America’s current populism is a constant war on science. By denigrating experts, big, strong-man populist leader Donald Trump first gets the attention of the downtrodden workers and eventually entices them to seek his advice rather than that of credentialed, knowledgeable experts.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post in March of 2020, “Trump, for his part, fuels fears by constantly talking about how the disease came from China and how he heroically saved American lives because he ‘closed the borders to China’ in late January, 2020. Thank goodness he doesn’t seem to know that the H1N1 virus was first detected in Mexico. If he did, he might close the border with Mexico, just to be safe.” Donald Trump has never trusted any opinion that is opposed to his own viewpoint.

Zakaria came back to that discussion on his CNN show yesterday morning. His experts were fair to point out that not all populist leaders in the world denied the danger of Covid, but they often tend to rebuke experts, disconnect from science and make decisions based on what they think their followers will swallow, rather than the truth. In the beginning of the pandemic, Indian’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was rather draconian with the lockdown and those polices kept the virus at bay. Then, he made the same mistake Trump did by pushing to reopen the country too soon. This caused a crisis of pain and death that will probably destroy his political career.

Brazil has a leader who was in total denial of the coronavirus and mingled with people at rallies, shook hands and called Covid-19, “just a little flu,” until he got it himself. He then softened his misdirection but continued to blame everyone else for what was happening in his country. The more people listened to him the more people died. He repeatedly fired his national health directors and appointed replacements, believing mismanagement was causing the spread of the virus.

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro

At this point, Brazil has more than 14.7 million people infected and more than 400,000 have died. Right now, India has more than 350,000 new cases each day and a total of 19.5 million infections with more than 215,000 deaths. We don’t know how many people have died in China or Russia, where dictators make policies. Some say that China, where the virus originated, has only 4,636 deaths. In a country of 1.4 billion that’s a totally unbelievable number.

Some sources say that Russia has 109,000 deaths, which makes more sense than the China statistic. Remember, Russia has a population of 145 million people. We know the case counts of democracies are more accurate. We also know that overzealous populist leaders, irresponsible state governors and state-run media have cooked the books on Covid-19. But as the World Health Organization puts more pressure on nations to cough up current statistics, we learn more about the effect of this virus on the planet.

The democracies of the U.K. and Israel had some rough coronavirus moments, but also amazing accomplishments. The U.K. was on the edge of disaster and Prime Minister Boris Johnson came down with a wicked case of Covid-19. In the U.K. currently, more than 34 million people have had a first vaccine dose and over 14 million have had a second. An average of 415,000 second doses are now being given daily. The National Health Service in the U.K. is very organized and thorough. For example, 98% of the people over age 50 in Scotland have received at least one vaccination already. The lowest percentage in that same category is London, with 87%.

Israel has done a fantastic job with vaccinations. As of May 2, 2021, Israel had fully vaccinated 87.3% of its population. Even with 900,000 people who contracted coronavirus in the country, they had only 6,363 known deaths. That is a particularly good outcome in a country of 9 million. Perhaps their general population has more awareness of science and medicine.

Populism attracts people who often reject things based on status or labels. If an intellectual in medicine is presented as an elitist by a populous leader, their followers tend to adopt the simple lie rather than the complicated realities of math, science and medicine. It’s interesting to note that a person doesn’t have to be less educated to take on a belief counter to well-known and proven facts. Steve Jobs denied conventional medical wisdom and it killed him. The word we should focus on is “wisdom.”

We all want our leaders to apply a sense of experience, knowledge and good judgment to their actions or decisions, but in some cases, they may not have enough knowledge or experience to act effectively. Where they lack knowledge, they must trust and depend on others for facts and guidance. If they don’t have good judgement, they might take advice from people who are totally full of shit. The quality of judgement is evaluated after the fact. Leaders talk of using their “best” judgement, but they cannot say it’s good judgement until their action bears fruit.

India’s Narendra Modi

India’s populist leader Narendra Modi made good choices in the beginning, but since the country was organized around a strict caste system the first wave of Covid-19 hit the lower classes and then slowed. When Modi began believing his own press, he opened the country to political rallies and large religious events, which was not only bad judgement but fatal to thousands.

Bad choices and ignoring science have consequences. This from Reuters, “The incumbent chief minister’s party in India’s West Bengal state has defeated Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in a state election held as the coronavirus pandemic surged to crisis levels. Modi has been criticized for focusing on the elections instead of making the pandemic his top priority.” So, there’s another populist who cares more about power than people. Bye, Bye!

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