The column “Reflections on 14 months of COVID-19”, published June 21, 2021, is an elegant example of the anti-intellectual pandemic sweeping our country and our world. It is characterized by dependence on narrative rather than facts. When the central narrative is challenged it’s practitioners cite additional narrative, rather than data, as proof. It is most frequently utilized by political agents posing as serious voices but without much interest in journalistic integrity.
In the example at hand, the author raises three tired narratives for which he does not provide hard proof. Firstly, that Trump mishandled the pandemic causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. That is a charge of historic gravity; show me the detailed proof – not more narrative please. He cites Woodward’s article but neglects to mention that Trump’s rhetoric was driven by the advice he received from public health leadership that dismissed the threat at the beginning. The historical record shows that the president followed the advice of Fauci/Birx, at al, both explicitly and completely.
Importantly, the mortality rate among most Western democracies (apples to apples) is essentially identical with the notable exception of Germany. What does the author believe Trump should have done differently?
Secondly, he says that reactions to the pandemic fell along partisan divides. There are 330 million Americans each of whom had a unique opinion. Proof again please – not your opinion. My friends and family of all political stripes had wildly different reactions. It sounds like confirmation-biased thinking to me.
Thirdly, that it was unfortunate that some questioned the “science” and “experts”. That’s what science does – it asks far more questions than it answers. The public should have been a part of that debate. The powerful who are still censoring open debate on social media should be wearing tin hats for life – ironically, they are the luddites but don’t realize it!
The author’s assertions suggest a misunderstanding of the complexity of not only SARS-CoV-2, but more importantly of human nature and interaction. Let me give you an example from the game of chess to illustrate. A chess board has 64 spaces on which 32 pieces move. One would think that would produce a finite number of variables. But check this out. After each player has moved one piece there are more than 400 potential board positions. After two moves there are 72,000 possibilities, after three moves more than 9 million and after four moves more than 288 billion possible board positions. No kiddin’ — pure math!
Consider the number of variables that heads of state, public health officials and individual citizens worldwide have faced in the last year. The potential outcomes are infinite. Any of us who would publicly purport to understand how changing a variable here or there might have changed outcomes would be engaging in fantasy.