The Coronavirus Deniers and Their War on Expertise

Anything they don’t want to believe is simply discarded as partisan.

Back in 2012, Donald Trump tweeted this.

Paul Krugman is right to suggest that we might experience a bit of déjà vu when we watch how the president and his enablers are responding to the coronavirus.

Let me summarize the Trump administration/right-wing media view on the coronavirus: It’s a hoax, or anyway no big deal. Besides, trying to do anything about it would destroy the economy. And it’s China’s fault, which is why we should call it the “Chinese virus.”

Just as there are climate science deniers, there are a whole range of coronavirus deniers out there as well. They come in many different shapes and sizes, but the most common are those who simply deny the scope of the problem. While they accept that the virus exists, they tend to believe that Democrats, the media, or the “deep state” (pick your villain) are simply exaggerating the problem in order to make Trump look bad.

The more perverse of these folks started the Twitter hashtag, #FilmYourHospital. They take videos of the outside of hospitals and claim that the lack of activity indicates that the hype is all a hoax.

One of the most prominent coronavirus deniers is radio talk show host Bill Mitchell. His most recent schtick has been to rail against the “stay at home” orders being issued by governors.

But it was Mitchell who initiated the right wing attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci. It all started back on March 3rd.

Almost immediately Fauci was accused of being a Democratic plant. The idea that he was a member of the so-called “deep state” took hold and eventually an email from Fauci surfaced among those that had been released by WikiLeaks. In it, the doctor had praised Hillary Clinton for her testimony before the House Benghazi Committee. Now the deniers were off to the races. They were soon doing the same thing to Dr. Deborah Birx.

Isaac Stanley-Becker makes the important point about all of this (emphasis mine).

[T]he disregard for expert guidance being pushed by some conservative and libertarian voices goes further — aimed not simply at proving Fauci wrong but at painting him as an agent of the “deep state” that Trump has vowed to dismantle. The smear campaign taking root online, and laying the groundwork for Trump to cast aside the experts on his own coronavirus task force, relies centrally on the idea that there is no expertise that rises above partisanship, and that everyone has an agenda.

This is something we’ve seen over and over again from right wingers. Whenever someone says something they don’t like—especially if it challenges “dear leader”—all they have to do is find a remote connection to a Democrat (preferably Hillary Clinton), and the opposing opinion can be discarded as nothing more than partisanship. That is how the right is attempting to kill the whole notion of expertise—be it on anything from climate change to coronavirus. The mainstream media provides an assist to those efforts when they assume a “both sides” approach to every issue instead of prioritizing the truth.

Over the course of the last three months, Donald Trump has dallied in many of the opinions espoused by these coronavirus deniers. His decision to extend the guidelines calling for social distancing and other measures to mitigate the virus indicate that at this point, he’s still listening to the experts—even if it is merely for his own self-interest. But we’re not out of the woods yet. The deniers are waiting in the wings with their conspiracy theory guns loaded for the moment he grows impatient with the experts.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.