#COVID-19: The American crisis of reason, critical thinking and intellectual curiosity

Thomas Paine in 1776 and 1777 wrote “The American Crisis,” which stated “these are the times that try men’s souls.” These are indeed the times that try the souls of every human being with a conscience and critical thinking skills on American soil.

Coronavirus is the defining crisis and issue of our lifetimes. It is far and away the biggest crisis this nation has faced since World War II. My assumption was this would be our era’s World War II, a chance to forge political unity and a new understanding between our people.

What I had hoped would be an opportunity for the United States to move past petty political squabbles and the ideological warfare of recent years, ( if you want to call it that because, I will again reiterate I do not consider Donald Trump a conservative) has instead become the greatest sign yet that the United States is descending into a farcical territory both politically and from a perspective of governance.

We have always seen a strain of anti-intellectualism and splendid isolation in American society. Separated by the oceans from the rest of the world and with less interaction to other major industrialized nations and cultures than most first world nations, the USA is unique. American culture has grown separately from much of the rest of the world because of geography.

However, that in a globalized world has now impacted the United States’ ability to compete as splendid ignorant isolationism and American exceptionalism runs amok.

The USA is on its way to becoming a failed state – a nation whose model of governing allowed it to thrive in the early 20th Century when nation-states were competitive with one another for primacy and decision-making could be more decentralized, but one which is completely unsuited for the 21st Century where cooperation between nation-states is robust, and efficient responses to crises is needed.

Little separates the United States from much of the developing world in its handling of COVID-19, while the major industrialized nations we like to compare ourselves to have ALL handled this crisis more efficiently, prudently and civilly than here.

What got us to this point?

Fake News, Cognitive Dissonance and Lack of Reason

COVID-19 deniers and self-styled economic experts have been wrong about EVERYTHING

When I began to sound the alarm bells about ominous trends in Florida the first week of June, I was respectful on Twitter of those who thought I was panicking or playing sensational alarmist. At the time Florida’s numbers weren’t particularly high, but I saw ominous signs in the data in terms of an uptick in percent of COVID-19 tests that were returning positive results as well as localized zip code clusters breaking out.

I conceded that my worst fears of March and April had not been realized in Florida (though it was far from the picnic which the critics claimed, using terms like “cold” and “mild flu” to describe March and April) and that perhaps my analysis was slightly off. However, I noted the European Union and United Kingdom had flattened their numbers, while Florida’s numbers were going up as result of not increased testing (the biggest myth of all among a litany of excuses) but increased community transmissions. The discussion was not respectful – it was akin to cyber bullying in many cases, but I played along because after all I want to try and foster discourse that respects all points of view.

By the following week, when it was obvious my premonitions had been correct and instead of conceding I was right, critics moved the goalposts. Then they did so again, and again, and again. My engagement with these critics hoping to make them understand 1) why COVID was the biggest challenge we have ever faced in our lifetimes and 2) why an economy cannot recover without consumer confidence fell on hostile ears. When coupled with pleases for folks to wear masks, I was at times told to “move back to India” (I was born in the US), “you are a confused immigrant who does not understand America” (again I was born in the US), “just stay home and let us live our lives,” delete my twitter account,” and “reveal who was paying me to spread fake news,” and called “Kung Flu Krishnaiyer in a tweet that also referred to me as a “curry eater.”) These are just a sampling of the level of pushback I got.

The bottom line is this – THOSE WHO HAVE PUSHED VARIOUS DENIAL THEORIES ON COVID-19 INCLUDING THE PRESIDENT, AND VARIOUS FOX NEWS COMMENTATORS HAVE BEEN WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING. THEY HAVE WITHOUT REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE PUT POLITICAL, THEIR OWN ECONOMIC WELFARE AND OWN SELFISH PURSUITS AHEAD OF THE PUBLIC GOOD.

What has become obvious is the critics of COVID-19 awareness cannot often think for themselves. They repeat discredited non-scientific theories, they rush to quick judgments (ie. if cases are really going up why aren’t deaths? This is all a hoax! Anyone who thinks logically realizes a long period elapses between become sick and dying), and they take any piece of questionable data and use it against the proponents or magnify the importance one scientific study that is out-of-line with 25 others. Most of these critics do not care about humanity, only whatever selfish pursuits they involve themselves in.

We face a crisis of reason, a crisis of trust in data and crisis of critical thinking. None of this will be solved overnight.

Social media companies have an obligation to the public health. Twitter and others have allowed prominent right-wing commentators to spread OUTRIGHT LIES about Coronavirus and ideas like “herd immunity,” and “masks causing breathing problems,” without any sort of disclaimer or clarification. This is where we are in America.

Reality TV, Sports and Personality-based politics

We have fostered an anti-intellectual culture in this country, one where cognitive dissonance among fringe elements on the right is encouraged by the types of entertainment Americans consume. Health guidelines about wearing masks and social distancing are not avoided in many places, but violations of these suggestions are often flaunted by those on the right. “Individualism,” and “freedom” apparently also involve the right to infect thy neighbor with a potentially fatal respiratory illness.

The obsession of Americans with celebrity stars lives, sexually explicit dramas and reality TV have all served to dumb down the citizenry in a way unbecoming of a great nation. Bread and Circuses it is once again.

For months we’ve heard “we need sports back,” in America.

The only people who NEED sports back are those who are employed in the industry. And like other transitions of the economy through the years those people can be retrained to do other work. Sports (outside of basketball and women’s soccer significantly) have played their own unique role in the elevation of Donald Trump, creating a bubble where people suspend reality, and condone both violence and aggressive bullying behavior on TV and social media. Sports has desensitized large elements of the US population to reality.

Sports has become squarely party of the problem in this country. In Basketball, the outspoken nature of the likes of LeBron James and Steve Kerr have long separated that sport from the rest – you can even informally compare basketball fans to that of other mainstream US sports and see a difference in intellectual curiosity. The same can be said for women’s soccer and the likes of Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach who have stood tall on issues of discrimination.

In fairness, hope is now visible though the Black Power/BLM display before last week’s Orlando-Miami Major League Soccer match and NASCAR’s strong stand on racism. Maybe sports can eventually be part of a solution?

One sport above all others has negatively impacted our nation in the opinion of this writer – American football. Whether it is desensitizing us to violence, bullying or the radicalism of coaches, football stands above all as a problem especially since it is so popular. Perhaps it would finally serve as a wake up call to President Trump and his followers if the NFL season and College Football were shelved for this year. But with Tommy Tuberville likely headed to the US Senate as a Trump acolyte, things may never change.

American football has also absorbed a population that should be paying more attention to actual facts, data and issues. It is the American version of Roman gladiator fights. Bread and Circuses.

You don’t need sports to be entertained -try reading a book for a change, you may learn something.

The celebrity culture has led directly to a politics based entirely on personality rather than ideology. Donald Trump’s electoral success was simply a culmination of the illness that ails American society, not some one-off diversion.

The Republicans

The GOP of 2020 has no resemblance to a mainstream or big tent political party. A political institution that has promoted isolationism, ethnocentrism and anti-intellectualism, most Republicans do not deserve after COVID-19 any more thought. Some like Charlie Baker and Larry Hogan remind us of a time when statesmen like Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits and Charles McMathias self-identified as members of the GOP.

But those days might as well have been 500 years ago at this point. It’s no coincidence two of the only worthwhile Republicans now, Hogan and Mitt Romney are sons of prominent moderate to liberal Republican leaders of yesteryear. Those without such esteemed lineage behave far more like Trump than they do like Romney.

The GOP no long can be viewed as serious political party.

The Democrats

Many Democrats with power like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer spent February in a self-imposed cocoon of impeachment and primaries when turning on BBC World News for as little as five minutes would have alerted them to the coming danger. I am honestly tired of Democrats claiming Donald Trump made them unaware of the dangers in February when they were so painfully and obviously disinterested in anything beyond impeachment and ensuring Bernie Sanders wasn’t nominated.

Thankfully, one Democrat who did see the danger coming from COVID as early as January was Joe Biden. Whether by brilliant design or dumb luck, he is the Democratic nominee for President, a saving grace for his party and this country in a sea of cognitive dissonance and death.

Biden is the most qualified major Presidential party nominee on paper since Hubert Humphrey in 1968, or perhaps even since Henry Clay in 1844. His Presidency would have given us the ability to hit the reset button – until COVID struck. The damage Donald Trump’s response to this pandemic has done to the United States’ global standing may be irreparable.

Now even in the event of a Biden victory, America faces a long road back to being accepted as a leader in the global community of nations.

Here in Florida, too many Democrats that govern at the local level have been slow or lax in taking strong action regarding Coronavirus. I suspect that the hospitality industry had pressured Governor DeSantis and local Democrats to reopen quickly and not shut back down when needed. Eventually we will know if this was, in fact the case. Because not only do Americans need sports to survive, but they need Disney World open, right?

Summary

America is in BAD SHAPE, however you cut it. In February I believed a Joe Biden victory might restore American greatness, but in fact it may only stop the bleeding. COVID-19 has exposed this nation for what it has become. Rather than the envy of the world, we’re a model other major industrialized nations will seek to avoid emulating.

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