This post originally appeared at greenenergytimes.org.
Denial of reality is dangerous. When it is institutionalized, it becomes dangerous to large numbers of people, sometimes focusing most heavily on those who support it.
Denial of science has become a policy of the Republican Party. And now, the people in Red states are starting to pay the price. The first proof of that is just appearing, as huge numbers of people in Red states get Covid-19.
I was shaken today (November 9) when I looked at yesterday’s Covid-19 figures. I use the Worldometers web site because it loads faster than the Johns Hopkins site and is easier to navigate. Things did not look good there.
It was when I looked at the US page with data on states that I saw things have been changing rapidly in ways I had only dimly anticipated. I was struck by a strange fact. The states that voted Republican in the election looked like they are being hit harder than those that voted Democrat.
I sorted the spreadsheet according the column “Tot Cases/ 1M pop.” After seeing New York at the top of that list for months, I was shocked to see that the state that has been hit hardest was North Dakota. The second state on the list was South Dakota. And I could see, state after state of those that have the highest number of cases per million population were the same ones that voted for Donald Trump.
The average in the spreadsheet was in the middle. There were 25 states worse than average and 25 better. I added a couple of new columns to a copy I made of the spreadsheet to show whether a state voted Republican or Democrat. It turned out that of the 25 that were worse than average, 19 voted for Trump, 4 voted for Biden, and 2 were still undecided. Similarly, of the 25 that were better than average, 19 voted for Biden, 4 voted for Trump, and 2 were still undecided.
Also, of the worst 13 states, all voted for Trump except Wisconsin, a battleground state where Trump had rallies. And many people at those rallies did not practice social distancing or wear face masks.
It turned out, to my surprise, that the fact that a state was considered a battleground was not as good at predicting whether the state was in the worst or better group as the state’s simple politics. If it was a battleground state, it was clearly more likely to be among the 25 worst hit. If it voted for Trump, it was nearly five times as likely to be in the worst 25.
Okay, it is time to add a real fact: THIS IS NOT A DRILL! We are not testing your credulity, yanking your chain, or playing a prank. We are not passing on conspiracy theories. You can look the numbers up for yourself. I have already given you one web site. The Johns Hopkins site is https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/.
The Covid-19 pandemic is real. It is making people sick, and it happens that it is going hardest after people in states that voted Republican. There is a reason for this, and clearly, it is because the people who voted Republican were members of a group whose leadership told them it was not necessary to protect themselves in a pandemic.
Here is an important piece of news: Covid-19 is killing people because they refused to protect themselves, and Climate Change will similarly kill people if they refuse to protect themselves.
I have been giving the question of denial a good deal of thought over the years, and I would like to share some of my conclusions. The cause of denial is really simple. It is that we become overwhelmed by an idea that is so terrible we simply cannot believe it, because doing so would be too painful. Reason would tell us it is a bad approach.
Expressions of denial are really common. One is, “I can’t believe it!” Another is “This can’t be happening!” We hear these words so often that we really might not think of what the person saying them is going through. If the matter being addressed is vital to a person, it could be dangerous, or even deadly.
How many of us have known people who had alcohol problems that they would not admit to? I had a great uncle who asserted that he was not an alcoholic as he prepared the second of two boilermakers he was having for breakfast. (No, I am not kidding.) Most of us have known people who said their driving was okay when it was clearly not. Many of us have known people who bought things they did not need at a time when the job was gone, the rent was overdue, and there was just enough room left on a credit card.
I would even guess that most of us have experienced denial. I am sure I have, and more than once, on issues that were really important.
The problem with the denialist approach to Covid-19 is that it endangers others, people we don’t know, and members of our own families. We have to do better. And unfortunately, the things that is about to wake us up – especially those who live in Red states – is that people we know and care about will be dying. The numbers of infections have been going up, the numbers of deaths will follow. And the fact that some of those areas are running out of hospital beds compounds the problem.
The particular problem in the Dakotas can probably be traced, at least in some part, to events like a rally Donald Trump held at Mount Rushmore. It takes time for the few new cases that were developed there to spread. Then it has to go to a second generation, and a third, and a fourth. If it grows by a factor of three in each generation, then a number of generations of virus transfers have to pass before the growth becomes statistically visible. Now it is visible.
Because there was a concerted effort by some Republican leaders, Donald Trump in particular, to get people not to wear masks, there were no breaks on the progress of the disease. Now the Red states are suffering, because people are getting sick. In the rather near future, people in those states will suffer more, as people die.
The disease is, of course, a phenomenon that is not exclusive to Red states. Right now, it is spreading in all states. But it is the Red states where it is much, much worse than it need be.
Denial is a problem in other ways. Institutional denial extends to the matter of climate change. We will look at that in January 2021. Stay tuned.