This transformative year will be remembered for funerals attended via Zoom and for online shopping performed as a matter of self-preservation. Smiling politely at our fellow humans even as we dodge them on the sidewalk has also become a hallmark of 2020.
While the long-term effect of these new habits will likely prove benign, the same cannot be said for a very different kind of habit being spawned by this season of plague.
The malign new normal involves people fervently supporting indefensible ideas. Such ideas, no matter how transparently hollow, gain traction through social media, truculent repetition, and propagandistic news outlets. Still worse, and most evidently south of our border, venomous notions and conspiracy theories become aligned with a particular wing of the political spectrum. Which in turn heats the culture war from its traditional simmer to an alarming boil.
For example, in the U.S. (which was not long ago still regarded as the most advanced society on earth) we recently saw the advice to wear face masks turn into a debate driven by partisan passions!
Follow any American issue these days and you will collide with diehard militants arguing the idiotic side of it. Some denounce vaccination. Others deny climate change. Still others embrace prayer to fight virus. In the formerly great republic, zealots abound who would readily sell semi-automatic assault rifles to mental patients, gladly deprive a woman of power over her own body, and belligerently define liberty as the right to pack churches during a pandemic…
Anti-intellectualism and religious evangelism have always impaired American DNA, but today the country’s nutbars boast cable networks; they run structured movements; their messiah occupies the White House. Only wishful thinking can now confine these reactionary culture terrorists to the fringes – their antics are too often headlined into the mainstream as they march with illiterate signs and brandish weapons of war. These people would be cartoonish if they were not so numerous and malicious.
Who could have imagined even five years ago that a crisis in public health would create warring sides? Partisanship has become knee-jerk. Except now the combat is taking place between intelligence and ignorance. On a daily basis, common sense must grapple with sheer stupidity.
The COVID-19 outbreak has brought the phenomenon into sharp relief, deepening and accelerating the rift. The principal means of saving the economy clearly involves containment of the virus. Yet America hosts stunning crowds of flag-wavers who regard “returning to normal” as more critical than stemming the rate of infection – regardless of the potential sacrifice of lives.
It is beyond scary to acknowledge that a significant percentage of Americans are even now staying loyal to their dear leader in the Oval Office. Like him, they are opting to dismiss vast death as an acceptable cost of rapidly reopening the economy. After all, he and they argue, wars produce terrible casualty lists and in this war every citizen is a warrior.
The extent of injury to fundamental morality of this process of thought, this new abnormal, beggars the imagination.
Michael Carin’s recent book, Guilty Men, can be previewed at trumpguiltymen.com