Seventy-five years ago this week, America celebrated the defeat of evil: Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. We emerged from victory as an emergent superpower after deploying 12 million American soldiers around the world and a sense of patriotic duty at home unseen in the history of a young nation. When historians write the history of this week, the week of May 4, 2020, they may similarly identify it as a proverbial “week that was.” This week, however, we have finally and perversely embraced a contagion that has remained largely latent—even in the American South—since the end of the American Civil War: a pride of ignorance.
This week’s events were stunning. It began with a strategic decision by our president. Yes, actually strategic, although flowing from a river of incompetence, rather than deliberative discourse, that finally breached the dam of decency. The calculation became clear with his sudden, albeit short-lived, termination of the Coronavirus Task Force; as a nation we are to ignore death in favor of commerce. The S&P 500 Index has prevailed over the daily toll of death. Trump and the Trumplicans have placed their electoral bet on increasing the flow of dollars in spite of a raging virus killing thousands every day. Our dance with the devil has begun. Grandma can die, we just want a day at the beach.
This week, America locked its lips around Trump’s gaspipe of deceit, allowing the destruction of American character to continue in an intoxicating haze of fear and distraction. The values that that guided us and kept our backs from breaking through the American Revolution, Civil War and two World Wars, have been flushed down the golden commode in the presidential residence. Trump’s attack on the EPA is two-thirds complete as the last third of provisions he is intent on destroying are teetering on the edge of a cliff. Don, Jr. can’t wait to give them a dutiful final shove. Next, William Barr, gaslight in-hand, wants us to believe that Michael Flynn’s guilty pleas were actually pleas to a crime that doesn’t exist, even while the federal judge presiding, Emmett Sullivan, described Flynn’s crimes in the realm of treason. Meanwhile, Trump has asked the Supreme Court to cover up his crimes revealed in the Mueller investigation by never lifting the blackouts laid down by Barr’s pen of redaction. Finally, the CDC’s new coronavirus guidelines will similarly never see the light of day as Trump buried them because of their onerous “prescriptions” (or proscriptions?) that offend the “economy and religion.” That’s right, the science of public health be damned.
America’s pride of ignorance, which first manifested as a legacy of loss in the South after the Civil War when education and hygiene became stigmatized as practices of an imperial union, is now spreading like wildfire across America, fanned by the belligerent breath of the orange orb in the Oval. “Open up!” is the cry wrapped in the faux-libertarian selfishness of “live free or die.” My rights are your death may be a more accurate characterization. American’s growing sense of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris are no match for the prospect of death. And it’s not just red states, it is blue as well. From Georgia to Colorado to California, we are gouging the eyes of science to save commerce and sate our pathos of greed. In my own county—Ouray County, Colorado—our leaders quickly acceded to the bellowing suffering of hotel owners and Jeep rental outfitters who rely on tourists from Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas where the viral curve looks more like the contrails of a rocketship reaching for the stars—all ordered without any consideration of science. Like many places in America, we set aside testing in favor of ignorance, lest empiricism might hinder our greed.
We have confounded the world, first with our tolerance of the most horrible human being to ever occupy the White House, and now with our heartfelt embrace of ignorance. We’ve sent allies scrambling to form new alliances, while adversaries lick their chops. America’s intellectual and moral capital are being squandered before our eyes. But, at least we get a day at the beach. Not the perilous beaches of Normandy that assured our safety and freedom, but the luxurious beaches of Laguna where our loathing of discipline and sacrifice can be expressed without the niggling voices of science.