2020年3月31日 星期二

We have always been at war with the Chinese virus

Many Americans are already living Orwell’s nightmare.
Doug Mills/The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

It’s hard to feel any sympathy for Trish Regan, the Fox News host who was fired after a rant in which she called the coronavirus “yet another attempt to impeach the president.” We may never know how many Fox viewers became gravely ill or died because they ignored social distancing in response to people like Regan, who told them that the pandemic was a politically motivated hoax. But the number was surely significant.

The twist in the Regan story, however, is that what she said wasn’t significantly different from what her whole network had been saying for weeks. Her career-killing mistake wasn’t saying something false and evil, it was her timing. She apparently missed the abrupt turn in the party line by a few hours.

For Regan’s rant came just after Fox and right-wing media in general suddenly changed their line from “the pandemic is a liberal hoax” to “everyone must unify behind our great leader in his heroic struggle against the Chinese virus.” And for some reason Regan didn’t get the memo.

Actually, Regan wasn’t the only person who didn’t get the memo. A number of people on the religious right are still sticking with the virus-as-hoax story, notably Jerry Falwell Jr., who defied public health experts by reopening Liberty University — and promptly created his own personal virus hot spot. But most leading figures on the right have swerved on command.

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Needless to say, the mounting coronavirus death toll hasn’t produced any apologies from pundits who previously claimed that the virus was a hoax, let alone admissions that the terrible, horrible, no-good mainstream media were actually giving accurate information. Perhaps more surprisingly, as far as I know there haven’t been any howls of protest from Fox viewers, or Rush Limbaugh listeners, who are now being told something completely different from what they were hearing three weeks ago. Their trust in Fox, their disdain for The New York Times and The Washington Post, and, above all, their faith in Donald Trump are apparently unshaken.

The parallels with George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” are obvious. When Oceania suddenly shifts alliances, and its former ally Eastasia becomes an enemy, everyone knows what to believe: not only was the nation at war with Eastasia, it had always been at war with Eastasia. In Orwell’s vision, however, this mind-set was produced by a totalitarian state whose vigilant Thought Police stamp out any hint of independent thought. America isn’t a totalitarian state — not yet, anyway — yet there are tens of millions of American apparently willing to act and think as if the Thought Police were already up and running.

Orwell wrote a great essay a few years before “Nineteen Eighty-Four” titled “Looking Back on the Spanish War.” In it he wrote of his vision of a “nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.”

Well, a lot of Americans evidently already live in that nightmare world. And that scares me more than Covid-19.

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Quick Hits

Democracy effectively died in Hungary a while back, but the ruling party is exploiting the pandemic to go full totalitarian. Yes, it could happen here.

Laurie Garrett warned for years that something like this could happen. Her thoughts on America’s response.

The Republican about-face on deficits prefigured the sudden swerve on the coronavirus.

The economy is taking a hit. Unemployment might go as high as 32 percent.

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