On Sheltering in Place, or, The Unraveling of the Social Contract

hydrogen and stupidity

This follows up on my heretical thought and on Charlie Sykes’ musings on the unraveling of the social contract. I have four comments.

  1. Donald Rumsfeld said he had to fight the war in Iraq with the army he had, not the army he wished he had. By like token, I and my fellow ‘Mericans have to fight the virus with the army we have, not the army we wish we had.

As far myself, whenever I emerge from my foxhole, I treat everyone I meet as if I were an asymptomatic superspreader. And I regard everyone I encounter as if each of them was an asymptomatic superspreader.

For the time being, the governor of my state has said this is what I must do, and if I don’t, I am committing a misdemeanor. But I do not behave as I do because of what the governor of my stated has ordered, or because I think there’s a likelihood that Officer Hotshot will arrest me if I violate the order. No, I do it because I am a reasonable and prudent person.

Sykes reminds us that many of our fellow ‘Mericans are not reasonable and prudent people. That is true. But I am not sure what I am supposed to do with this information.

  1. Insofar as executive orders forbid the reopening of specified types of businesses, I suppose one can reasonably expect them to be enforced, as against the business owners.

Insofar as executive orders threaten to charge Sallie Sue here at Happy Acres with a misdemeanor when she goes to get her nails done, enforcement is, practically speaking, a toothless tiger.

Issuing toothless “orders” does not reinforce respect for the rule of law, and is, generally speaking, not a good idea.

  1. People behave irresponsibly for many reasons, including general perversity. But one reason, among many others, is that “no one can tell me what to do.” For the people motivated by that particular impetus toward bad behavior, removing the toothless legal enforcement threat might deprive them of an important mental excuse for bad behavior.
  2. In reality, guidance about responsible behavior in a time of pandemic rests not on legal authority but on medical and scientific authority.

There may soon come a time when we do better relying solely on strong medical and scientific authority, not legal authority.

If my doctor advises me that I need heart bypass surgery, no one would think to suggest that the governor should order me to follow medical advice, on pain of arrest. If I want to try out for my own special Darwin Award, I’m legally free to do that.

Trump’s Good Old Boys and the Virus

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Fox News, it is said, has turned on a dime, and stopped lying about the dangers of the virus. That was last weekend, about the same time when, according to my Alabama correspondent, the good old boys started mobbing the Piggly Wiggly stores.

Darwin AwardBut the graphic above, based on polling taken several days ago—just before Sean Hannity took a stroll down the road to Damascus—shows how far Trump will now have to go, to prevent massive numbers of his followers from engaging in behavior leading to the swift awarding of the Darwin Award.

On the face of things, one would suppose that the cognitive dissonance would be unbearably painful. But maybe, in order to feel cognitive dissonance, one has to have a certain level of cognitive firepower to begin with.

This may be the source of the maxim that “ignorance is bliss.”


A New Contender for the Darwin Award

Rep. Devin Nunes Contradicts Health Experts: “It’s a Great Time to Go Out”:

At a time when authorities around the country are pleading with people to stay home and not crowd inside restaurants and bars, Rep. Devin Nunes has other ideas. In an interview on Fox News on Sunday, the California lawmaker said people should take advantage of this time to go out and enjoy that places are empty. “If you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to go out and go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easy,” he said. “Let’s not hurt the working people in this country that are relying on wages and tips to keep their small business going.” Rather than go to the grocery store and spend thousands of dollars on food, “Go to your local pub,” Nunes said.

Nunes called on people to go to their “local pub” on the same day as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, went on all the major Sunday talk shows and called on people to stay home as possible. Fauci even suggested he could be willing to back a national lockdown if it helped people stay in their homes.

“In Spite of Everything, I Still Believe that People are Really Good at Heart”

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With Anne Frank’s words in mind, I made one of my periodic visits to FiveThirtyEight.com, to see how the Trumpster is doing this morning. The FiveThirtyEight folks, with their poll of polls, confirm what has been apparent for some days now: the Mueller report peeled away a few Trump supporters, but not enough to make a blip in the statistics. And in fact, his approval is trending up just a soupçon over the past days.

Why? It must have been the stock market—which was doing really well before Trump’s weekend tweets about China. We’ll see whether the bad market today moves him down by a fraction of one percent. I suspect it will.

In any event, we may count ourselves fortunate that there remains a 9.6 percent spread between Trump approvers and Trump disapprovers. That’s a little larger than the Democratic margin of victory among 2018 voters in races for the House of Representatives. Both the polls and the logic of events would predict a 2020 result much more like 2018 than 2016. Nevertheless, there remains a big “Democratic Debate Over Winning Back Trump’s Base.” Are some of them,in Anne Frank’s words, really good at heart, or are they all pretty much a lost cause?

Well, clearly some of them are not worth the effort. Read the first part of Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland. There you’ll meet Trevor, who is dying at the age of 41, who would probably live if his state had extended Medicaid, and who would rather die than live in a state where poor black people get help with their medical care. Trevor values his white “privilege” over his life.

I really don’t know what you can do with people like Trevor, except stand aside and let them win their Darwin Award.

But I have postulated that there is a group of people, comprising perhaps a quarter of Trump “supporters” and ten percent of the entire electorate, who “support” Trump because they think he is the instrument to advance their tax cuts, or their deregulation, or their desire to be free of black and brown people, or their love of fetuses.

I have argued that if, hypothetically, we substitute the goals of preventing climate change, creating a workable health care system, and addressing income inequality, we progressives might put up with a leader of defective moral character. In other words, balancing out important policy goals versus individual bad character, and choosing the leader of bad character for the sake of advancing goals, does not necessarily make you a “bad person.” It makes you a person who knows it’s sometimes necessary to pick the lesser of two evils.

But here is the problem for the Tax Cut People, the Fetus People, and the rest of the “pragmatic” Trump “supporters.” Or, rather, two problems. Karl Rove was really good at driving wedges into the body politic. Ditto, Donald Trump. But Rove was careful to drive in the wedge at a point where his side got 52 percent of the vote. The Donald, however, knows how to drive wedges into the spot where he gets 42 percent.

In the long term, and even in your medium term, you can’t keep your tax cuts and protect your fetuses unless you appeal to at least a bare majority of the voters. But Trump’s repellant horseshoe is not going to stop. So the Trump-“supporting” “pragmatists” have bet on the wrong damn horse.

And here’s the other problem. I suspect that a goodly number of the Trump pragmatists, not to mention most of the most deplorable one third of our fellow Mericans, would be just fine with overthrowing the constitutional republic and establishing a joint dictatorship of the Randy Racists and the Richie Riches.

A saner would-be tinhorn dictator might have achieved that objective. And, God knows, Trump is still trying. But if I were a Fetus Person or a Tax Cut Person, I wouldn’t bet on the end of the republic and the overthrow of majority rule–even if I thought that, in principle, a dictatorship would be fine and dandy.

These folks really would be a lot better off finding another Karl Rove.