Some 58% of Republicans–69% of those who voted for Donald Trump–believe the severity of the coronavirus pandemic is being exaggerated, and only 10% of those over 65 (the most vulnerable group) are worried about it, according to a new poll from Yahoo News/YouGov.
They also believe a vaccine will be available later this year. While these views mesh with those of Trump, they don’t align with the opinions of the top medical experts in this country.
The fact that rank-and-file Republicans routinely dismiss the work of our top scientists is no surprise when you consider that the Republican Party has consistently rejected climate change science, tried to cut spending on scientific and medical research, and lashed out at supporters of vaccinations and other proven public health policies to advance its social agenda.
Trump’s supporters have been enthusiastic purveyors of conspiracy theories and bogus science in an effort to deflect criticism from the administration’s slow response to the pandemic.
Senator Tom Cotton (R, Ark.) continues to promote a bogus theory that the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese bioweapons lab in Wuhan, the epicenter of the problem. Rep. Matt Gaetz showed up on the floor of the House in a gas mask to mock the concern over the the disease, and Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted a denial that he and Senator Ted Cruz, both being self quarantined, requested a meeting with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Trump administration has consistently tried to cut spending at the National Science Foundation and on medical research and disease prevention, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. When asked why he disbanded the White House pandemic office, Trump called it a “nasty question.”
While Republican legislators like to proclaim “I’m no scientist,” it is clear they have lined up against science in the debate over climate change. In an effort to limit if not end the debate in government circles, the administration has muzzled scientists at the EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Climate Assessment.
Anti-vaccination crusaders have found willing allies among Republican legislators at the state level. Democrats in six states–Colorado, Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, New York and Maine–introduced legislation after the 2019 measles outbreak to make it harder to get children exempted from vaccinations. They encountered Republican resistance in each state.
Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly countered with a bill that would make it illegal to hire, fire or “discriminate” against employees who refuse to get vaccinated. (The bill made no exceptions for hospitals.) Another measure would require school districts to tell parents how they can opt out of vaccinating their children.
Texas state Senator Jonathan Strickland accused a dean at the Baylor College of Medicine of “sorcery” and profiteering after he expressed concern over the rising number of Texas students who aren’t vaccinated. Arizona state Senator Kelly Townsend said mandatory vaccinations reflect “communist” doctrine because you have to “give up liberty, the very sovereignty of your body.”
Former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin revealed that he exposed his nine children to Chickenpox rather than have them vaccinated. (Bevin was so unpopular in the solidly Republican state that the Democrats managed to flip the governor’s seat in 2018.)
Some Republicans also take a dim view of our medical professionals. Washington state Senator Maureen Walsh opposed a bill that would give nurses uninterrupted breaks for meals and rest. “I would submit that these nurses probably do get breaks,” she said. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.” (She later apologized.)
In the view of some conservatives, the mandates of God trump science and common sense. Florida state Rep. Mike Hill said God told him to write an abortion bill that allowed no exceptions for rape or incest. “As plain as day, God spoke to me,” he said. The head of the Family Research Council, routinely courted by Republican candidates, said mass shootings are caused by “driving God from the public square,” and specifically teaching children about evolution.
Trump is the perfect leader of today’s Republican Party: It is known that he ignores the facts and dismisses the conclusions of experts when they don’t align with his view or thwart what he wants to do. People who are more comfortable with their prejudices and superstitions than they are with science will find a home in America’s “know nothing” party.