I get why some people don’t get why 72 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed nearly a quarter of a million people in this country; it’s brought the U.S. economy to the brink of collapse; and the president is a lying, thieving, philandering sadist. How could so many Americans say: “Yeah, I’m good with that?”
I get why that’s hard to believe, but the thing we have to do, if we hope to move our country forward, is get over this disbelief. It’s time to believe millions favor or tolerate organic homegrown fascism. It’s time to believe millions voted against their material self-interests. It’s time to believe they will kill themselves before admitting a mistake. America is no more exceptional than any other nation. We can and will eat ourselves. I don’t mean to sound hopeless. I mean that we can’t solve the problem till we see it clearly.
There’s probably no better illustration of this than Jodi Doering’s interview on CNN this morning. Doering is a nurse in South Dakota. These days, she sees a lot of death. She said nearly all of her small town is now dead from the new coronavirus. She sees patients denying the reality of Covid-19 even as they’re immobile and dying from it.
People are still looking for something else, and they want a magic answer, and they won’t want to believe that Covid is real. … It wasn’t one particular patient. It’s a culmination of so many people. Their last dying words are, “This can’t be happening. This is not real.” When they should be spending time FaceTiming with their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred. It made me really sad. I just can’t believe those are going to be their last thoughts and words. … [italics are mine]
In the bigger picture, when you’re trying to reason with people, “Can I call your family, your kids, your wife, your friend, your brother,” and they say, “No, because I’m going to be fine,” (and they’re dying), “it just makes you sad and mad and frustrated, and then you know you’re going to come back and do it over again.
A South Dakota ER nurse @JodiDoering says her Covid-19 patients often “don’t want to believe that Covid is real.”
“Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’ And when they should be… Facetiming their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred.” pic.twitter.com/tgUgP6znAT
— New Day (@NewDay) November 16, 2020
When people would rather believe they’re dying from lung cancer than from Covid-19—that’s what Doering reported to CNN—what can you do as a nurse? Nothing, except get “sad and mad and frustrated.” What can you do as a citizen? Well, pretty much the same thing. You cannot expect cooperation from people who believe cooperation is defeat, who will hurt themselves to hurt you, and who deny reality as they lay dying. You cannot expect a free and equal exchange from them. You can’t expect democracy from them. All you can do is persuade as many people as you can to take the side of reason. That’s what Joe Biden did when he won more votes than anyone ever. That doesn’t mean the nation is ready for healing. It only means that for now all’s not lost.
It’s hard seeing fellow citizens as dangerous. That difficulty amounts to an incentive to find a reason, any reason, to explain why they’re killing themselves. Some might say, “They must have been duped—by Fox News, by Russian disinformation, or by Donald Trump.” Or: “These people are idiots. They don’t know what’s good for them. They can’t make rational choices.” There’s something to these, but only something. The best explanation is the plainest. This is who they are. To look for other answers, as Jodi Doering said, is to look for “magic answers.” They’re choosing their fates. Dying isn’t even the hard part. (Lung cancer is OK.) The hard part is conceding to the truth.
We have to rearrange our expectations. During the election, it was believed that voters would move toward Biden the more that Covid-19 and its economic fallout moved into their communities. It was believed imminent sickness, joblessness and/or death would open people’s eyes. Turns out, it had the opposite effect. According to last week’s analysis of election results by Buzzfeed, “COVID-19 deaths and unemployment had surprisingly little influence over the swings that happened at the county level. If anything, Trump did better in counties where more people have died of COVID-19.”
We have to rethink our political thinking, too. It’s often presumed Americans resist wearing face masks and other pandemic precautions due to the depth of their faith in individual liberty. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gave voice to this when she said recently, “My people are happy, and they’re happy, because they’re free.” Our heritage is rife with heroes choosing death over tyranny. “Live free or die,” for instance. See also: “Don’t tread on me.” But nowhere is there a hero choosing death over democracy.
We must reconsider the credit we give. In places like South Dakota, individual liberty is being perverted in the interest of the group, of the tribe, of the collective, so that individual life, far from being sacred, is expendable. This is the collectivism we must face. This is the alternative to democracy we must fight. Winning the presidency means there’s still hope. There’s work to be done but we must first believe the unbelievable.