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Jodi Doering can’t believe her ears. The South Dakota nurse toils in an overcrowded hospital tending to Covid-19 victims who still insist their affliction is a hoax. “Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening; it is not real,’” Doering said Monday on CNN’s “New Day.”
Such is the power of an effort by President Donald Trump and conservative media to push an alternative reality in which the pandemic has disappeared and isn’t really all that dangerous anyway. Such bravado sees mask-warning as weak and slavish to the “liberal” prescriptions of elite scientists and doctors. Never mind that 11 million Americans have been infected with the virus, 70,000 are in hospital and the country is approaching a quarter of a million mostly avoidable deaths.
Trump is now treating the US election as he did the pandemic, denying the truth in insisting he won despite every factual, political, constitutional and legal metric showing he lost. But the great political illusionist knows his audience: Cultural and ideological myth-making can squeeze out truth, science and facts in modern politics — which means that even when he leaves the White House, his lie machine will still be a powerful force.
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, on a book tour for his new memoir, has warned that these gushers of falsehoods threaten to overwhelm the US political system, exacerbated by social media and politicians who will say anything to win power. “If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work,” Obama said in an interview with “The Atlantic.” “And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.”
But half the country will dismiss his warning out of hand, simply because it was Obama who said it. In fact, many Americans still insist the 44th President should never have occupied the Oval Office because of a nasty “Birther” conspiracy theory. The lie seemed absurd during Obama’s term, but was actually a blueprint for Trump’s misinformation presidency.