Why do so many Americans doubt the coronavirus? I think there are both admirable and repugnant traits within the American character that help to explain the phenomenon.
I don’t believe I am wrong in my observation that many of my fellow conservatives come across as “coronavirus doubters.” Someone has coined a clumsy phrase, “Coronavirus Truthers,” for those who think something is fishy about the pandemic and its lockdown.
No one is denying the fact of the virus’ existence and the horrific global death toll, but that is where the agreement seems to end. Some believe the threat has been exaggerated—maybe on purpose. Some think the globalist left-wingers are using the crisis to promote their agenda and that vaccinations made from aborted babies will be mandatory. Some take it further: The mandatory vaccines will include microchips so Big Brother will be able to track us. This will be the “mark of the beast” without which no one will be able to buy or sell.
Never one to waste a crisis, it’s a conspiracy of the Democrats, the left-wing loonies, the United Nations, and Rush Limbaugh’s “drive-by media” to induce a recession, crush President Trump, and (killing lots of birds with one stone) close down Christian churches and schools and wipe out American civil liberties in one fell swoop.
Some believe the virus did not originate from a Chinese woman eating a live bat (as if that wasn’t scary enough), but that it came from a bio-warfare lab in Wuhan. Among those who suspect the manufactured origin, some believe its escape was accidental. Others sniff out more nefarious sources and believe that it was released intentionally. China has launched its biowarfare weapon on the world.
All these theories—and more—are circulating amidst the genuine uncertainty about the lethal virus, but what interests me more is just why Americans, in particular, are so suspicious of the establishment narrative and are such rabid fans of conspiracy theories. I lived in England for twenty-five years, and it just isn’t the same there. Most Brits trust their government, shrug their shoulders at institutional incompetence, roll their eyes at corruption, and every once in a while get up enough energy to stage a protest, sign a petition, or take to rioting in the streets.
Why then do so many Americans doubt the coronavirus? I think there are both admirable and repugnant traits within the American character that help to explain the phenomenon. It is diplomatic, perhaps, to get the repugnant character traits out of the way first. The truth of the matter is many Americans are very badly educated. Furthermore, a certain strain of conservative American has been schooled to distrust educated “experts.”
Added to this squinty-eyed distrust is an isolationist attitude supported by the gigantic size of America. The country comprises a whole continent, and even in this age of a shrinking world, a huge number of Americans have not traveled far and are simply unaware of global issues. It must be admitted that, in addition to the distrust of education and experts, what often goes with the provincial attitudes are a distrust of foreigners.
Hit with a strain of flu that came from China via Italy and Europe, down-home Americans are suspicious and skeptical. The fact that the city slickers in New York got hit hard doesn’t surprise them, and they have a hunch that it’s not really going to be too bad down on Green Acres where the air is fresh and clean and there’s plenty of room.
If ignorance and isolation are combined with a feeling of being downtrodden and inferior, a real bitterness and low-level paranoia can develop that feeds the suspicion and conspiracy theories further.
There now, in a few paragraphs I have probably caused a fair bit of snorting and stomping in rage. So let me move on to the more admirable traits in the American character that I believe contribute to our national tendency toward, and our pastime of, composing and promoting conspiracy theories.
Who are we as a nation, and where did we come from? We are all descended from immigrants—our ancestors fled their terrible circumstances to find a better future in America’s promised land. Their terrible circumstances were almost always caused by a tyrannical ruling class of some kind. They may have fled the pogroms in Russian, the persecution of Catholics in Ireland, the hounding of Protestants in France, or they may have simply run from crushing poverty inflicted by greedy factory owners or obscenely rich aristocrats. Whoever and whatever their circumstances, they were the people with enough get up and go to get up and go, and woven into their experience and passed on to their progeny was a dislike and a distrust of the ruling class. Suspicion of the big guy, the big government, the establishment, the insiders, the experts, and the elite is written into the American genetic code. We’re born flying the flag that says, “Don’t Tread On Me.”
This “Show Me” man from Missouri is the typical American. He is down-to-earth, honest, hardworking, thrifty, and clear-eyed. His religion has taught him to believe in original sin, so on a good day he’ll trust, but verify. He checks his change and looks over his shoulder. He’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but first he’ll give you the doubt. He’s ready to look after his neighbor, but he’ll look after his own family first.
This independent, somewhat stubborn, entrepreneurial American spirit is admirable. It may cause us to be overly suspicious of the ruling class and educated experts. It may make us unduly cautious of foreigners, politicians, billionaires, and celebrities, but it is also this same spirit that has made America great.
This is the spirit of the Wright brothers who ignored the mockery to make an airplane fly. It is the stubborn Thomas Edison who understood a thousand failures to be the stepping stones to success. It is George Washington Carver digging out the gold of the humble peanut. It is the cheerful, hard work, and sacrifice of the GI’s who went to Europe twice to settle that sad continent’s bitter quarrels. It is the indomitable, incorrigible, and ubiquitous Yankee spirit that sees an opportunity, weighs up the risks, realizes they are insurmountable and says, “How hard can it be? Let’s do this!”
If I am right, then America’s answer to the coronavirus crisis is not to lapse into bitter recriminations, campaigns to apportion blame, and wild-eyed conspiracy theories, but to use that same energy to roll up our sleeves, see the opportunities at hand, weigh the risks in getting back to work safely, and do so with the same spirit, energy, and optimism that shows America at her very best.
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