America has now passed the milestone of 4 million COVID cases, and we’re still arguing with doctors and epidemiologists about masks and school closures. It did not take a lot of foresight to know, even before the coronavirus arrived, that the United States was leaving itself vulnerable to a crisis that would require the public to trust experts.
We long ago became a narcissistic nation whose citizens believe they can become competent in almost any subject by watching enough television and spending enough time on the internet. But I was certain that a true national crisis – a war, a depression, or, yes, a pandemic – would snap people back to reality. I was wrong to be so optimistic.
Some states have had great success in asking their citizens to cooperate for the common good. Other communities, unfortunately, have had to endure shouting matches with bellowing ignoramuses who think it is intolerable that they be asked to wear a mask while shopping or ordering food – two things people in other countries would gladly do wrapped in aluminum foil and with prayers of thanks on their lips if they got to do it in the USA.
When the pandemic arrived, these enablers in the conservative media and among the cowardly Republican political class took their cues – masks, no masks, closing, opening – from Trump, whose statements for months were a fusillade of nonsense that reflected only his own pouty anger that Mother Nature had the sheer brass to mess up his presidential grift.
But the Americans who are now driving the pandemic are not sudden skeptics about masks or distancing or expert opinion because of street protests. Some of them reject expertise because of the previous “failures” of experts. This is always one of the reflexive explanations for the refusal to listen to the educated and experienced.
Expert failures are real and happen every day. For these people, our national motto is not “In God We Trust” or “E Pluribus Unum,” but rather “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” (Credit: Tom Nichols)