Vulnerability To The Coronavirus And Political Party

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

There are consequences for political actions that diminish support for science and health research.

In a study titled “Red State, Blue State, Flu State,” Harvard’s Matthew Baum looked at our politically divided society and its impact on attitudes and policies in states around the country involving healthcare. His specific focus was on the 2009 “Swine Flu” (H1N1) and vaccinations.

“Even seemingly non-partisan political issues like public health are increasingly characterized by partisan polarization in public attitudes,” he wrote. He partially attributed the increasing polarization to our loss of a common source of news that pervaded society until advent of the internet in the 1990s.

“In its place has arisen an increasingly fragmented and niche-oriented media marketplace in which individuals are better able to limit their information exposure to attitudes and opinions that reinforce, rather than challenge, their preexisting beliefs,” he said.

During the H1N1 outbreak, the conservative media led by Fox News took a distinctly adversarial stand against the Obama Administration’s vaccination push. “Screw you,” Rush Limbaugh told his audience. “I am not going to take it, precisely because you’re now telling me I must.”

Fox’s Glenn Beck told his viewers, “You don’t know if it’s going to make things worse.”

Not involved directly in politics at the time, now President Donald Trump called into Fox News saying, “it’s going to go away” and “vaccines can be very dangerous.”

The information war against vaccinations was effective. However, it was the very viewers and listeners to the conservative talk shows who suffered the most. Baum’s researched revealed that “people in red states were indeed less likely to get vaccinated — and more likely to die of swine flu. As states become relatively more Republican, swine flu-related deaths rise.”

It is a story that may now be repeating itself with potentially far more deadly consequences for rural America for this virus is far more deadly than the H1N1 virus.

Though he was briefed in January on the serious implications for the United States as the coronavirus spread in China with deadly effectiveness Trump dismissed it. He called the mounting calls for action a “new hoax” aimed to bring him down. March 9 his avid Fox News supporter Sean Hannity said the aim of reporting on the coronavirus was to “…bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” Limbaugh claimed the virus was “no worse than a cold” and those reporting on it were trying to make the president look bad. Their messaging was effective with Trump’s base polarizing the nation on the issue of the coronavirus.

National polling on the public’s response to the measures that are now being taken to control the spread of the coronavirus show that we remain as divided as we were in 2009. “Democrats consistently express much more concern about it than Republicans do, and they are much more likely to say they have changed their personal behavior as a result,” Ron Brownstein writes in The Atlantic magazine.

Minnesota isn’t a “red state” but it is one that is split between red and blue with rural areas overwhelmingly red. Rural Minnesota also has a higher percentage of its population that is elderly. That makes us more susceptible to the coronavirus. Will a study in the coming years show that there was a higher death rate in rural areas of America because its residents were more likely to dismiss the warnings from medical experts?

“Does anyone know anyone who has the coronavirus? Not just heard about them but actually know them,” an internet meme dismissing the seriousness of the coronavirus says. “Statistically none of us are sick...yet concerts are canceled, tournaments are canceled and entire school districts shut down. Out of total irrational fear. If you have not previously feared the power of the media, you should be terrified of them now. They are exerting their power to shut down America.”

These sentences are from a story The Washington Post wrote about a rural Kansas small town community and some of its residents’ thoughts on the coronavirus. It hasn’t hit home for them yet, so it is nothing more than an over-hyped liberal media story with the singular goal of unseating President Trump. “I just wonder how much of this is being done because they want to besmirch our president,” one resident of the community told The Post.

In today’s coronavirus reality, who do we put our trust in? Is it the policy makers who shade everything with political calculation, or the scientists who study pandemics, those who know public health, and those who are racing to develop the vaccines that will protect us?

“Most Democrats (73%) believe scientists should take an active role in scientific policy debates. By contrast, a majority of Republicans (56%) say scientists should focus on establishing sound scientific facts and stay out of such policy debates,” a study by Pew Research study shows.
America was once the country that attracted and supported the best and brightest of scientists. No more. The anti-science mentality pervades the Trump’s administration’s agencies.

 “…this administration has already proven to be the most anti-science executive branch in modern history,” the Brookings Institute’s Scott Andes writes. “At almost every turn, Trump has chosen to sideline scientists, leave vacant scientific appointments, reduce or eliminate federal independent scientific boards, and appoint anti-science individuals to powerful positions.”

Though it is moving at a much slower pace, climate change is the tortoise in this story while the hare is the coronavirus as it blazes across the globe. It is the climate change that will be the deeper impact in the long run on every life in the world.

America was utterly unprepared for this virus and its impact. It will be the same with climate change unless we change our current direction. We can’t let political partisanship shape our response to the coronavirus, or the steps that we must take as a nation and community in the days ahead. We can’t let partisanship shape how we will face the challenges of climate change.

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