As I mentioned yesterday…
every day this week, I will blog on different reasons why a growing number of Evangelical Christians are crossing party lines this election. Today’s post deals with the growing concern among Americans, including Evangelicals, that President Trump and his administration have repeatedly downplayed public health experts and public health measures during this global pandemic. Strangely enough, following public health guidelines has become a partisan issue. This growing fad among American government officials is alarming, and it begs the question “why?” As I did with the last post, I will intentionally pay close attention to the tone of my words while also keeping honesty and forthrightness at the center. I will also include source links throughout (click on the blue words) for you to fact-check if this is the first time you are hearing this.
Alright, deep breath…
Medical Science Matters
The Coronavirus pandemic has been hard on every American, but not all Americans have responded the same way. In particular, there were vastly different responses to the public health guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and our leading medical experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. While many Americans have viewed this moment in our history to rally together and demonstrate concern for our fellow Americans by social distancing and wearing masks, others saw these guidelines as a violation of their personal freedoms especially as states began mandating them in pubic spaces. Still some opposed state lockdowns, but approved of the other measures. Economic concern was felt nationwide, whether one approved of health measures or not. With at least 60% of American small businesses having to shut down permanently, this concern was not without warrant. Individuals and families simply wanted to know if they were going to make enough money to survive during a shutdown.
Public Outrage and Protests
In response, some Americans protested their state’s mandates. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID and the leading spokesman and proponent of public health measures (though never calling for a national shutdown), became the target of a number of these protests, including death threats. President Trump and members of Congress, like Congressman Jim Jordan and Senator Rand Paul, have repeatedly called into question Fauci’s recommendations over the last five months. The measures at the forefront of public outrage are mask mandates, state lockdowns, and school closures.
Public outrage or concern over public health measures is not exactly a new phenomenon in US history, but it seems to be on the rise over the last year during the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. Whether or not to even call it a “pandemic” as opposed to an “epidemic” or “health crisis” has been part of the outrage. President Trump was among those who downplayed the pandemic early on, calling it a “hoax” at a rally in South Carolina back in February. As mask wearing became a public health measure, he began publicly ridiculing those who wore them, and sent mixed messages between February and April as to whether he believed the virus to be deadly and how Americans should deal with it. It wasn’t until July of this year that Trump was seen publicly wearing a mask. In September, when the Bob Woodward tapes came out (audio recordings of interviews Bob Wood had with Trump spanning the months of January through August 2020), we heard for ourselves President Trump tell Woodward that he knew the Coronavirus was very deadly (as early as February 2020), but chose instead to publicly downplay the virus to the American people. Because Trump is the President of the United States and many Americans (especially in his political base) took his word as gold, it’s not hard to draw the link between his downplaying of the virus and its spread in the US by not urging Americans to take the pandemic seriously and follow public health measures. His rallies alone (between February and September of this year) were potential super spreaders because he and his staff did not mandate mask wearing and social distancing, and they allowed crowds to tightly pack together. Very few people wear masks at his rallies.
White House Superspreader Event
President Trump himself likely caught the virus during the public announcement of Amy Coney Barrett as his choice for the empty Supreme Court Justice seat at the White House Rose Garden lawn on September 26. Over 180 attendees came to the event, including a number of White officials and staffers, Congressmen, and a few well-known Christian pastors who sat side by side in chairs with hardly anyone wearing masks, and no one social distancing both during and after the ceremony. Among those who tested positive for Covid-19 following the event were former NJ Governor Chris Christie, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, Utah Senator Mike Lee, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, former WH Counselor Kellyanne Conway, First Lady Melania Trump, University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, Pastor Greg Laurie, Assistant Press Secretary Karoline Levitt, and Assistant Press Secretary Chad Gilmartin. Three very well-known Evangelical leaders attended and were among those who did not wear masks and social distance at the event as the video footage of the event reveals (Pastor Greg Laurie, Pastor Robert Morris and Evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham). Pastor Laurie tested positive for Covid-19 following event. Here’s a second, more detailed layout of the sitting arrangement.
Among the related issues about this pandemic has been a concern over how a significant portion of Americans are not listening to or respecting the advice of the medical community. With conspiracy theories about the pandemic on the rise over the last seven months, fact-checking becomes a must. But when and how can we appropriately make a distinction between fact based news and misinformation (or “fake news”)? It can be easy in our highly charged partisan environment to allow confirmation bias to rule our interpretations, rather than to take a step back and consider the source. That may be the best place to start: consider our sources. Instead of just listening to what others say about political issues or politicians in office, we would do ourselves and others a favor by checking primary sources.
Priorities of President Trump & Former Vice President Joe Biden
To understand where Donald Trump and Joe Biden stand on various issues and policies, it’s always better to listen to their own words rather than only listening to what news commentators say about them (YouTube has most of their rallies, interviews and news conferences). Fact-check their voting history on political issues can be another good option to consider (govtracks.us or justfacts.votesmart.org). For each of their policies and platforms, consider visiting their individual campaign websites and see what their policy positions actually are. In that vein, here’s President Trump’s campaign site and here’s former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign site. Also, here are the websites of the Republican Party Platform and the Democratic Party Platform.
A Trajectory of Non-Science Based Solutions
However you land politically, President Trump has taken it upon himself to give medical advice on subjects that he simply is unqualified to give. Trump is not a doctor, nor has he studied infectious diseases. In a recent rally he claimed that America is “rounding the bend” with regards to the Coronavirus pandemic. This information is the exact opposite of medical reports coming in nationwide.
It is becoming alarmingly apparent that if we continue to follow President Trump’s lead on the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, we will be putting the United States on a trajectory of sowing further public distrust in our medical professionals and their advice. This is one of the main reasons why a growing number of Evangelical Christians are lacking confidence in this administration’s handling of the pandemic. This is a why they are crossing party lines this election to cast their vote for Joe Biden, a Democrat. This does not mean they have given up on the GOP entirely, but it does mean they are putting country over politics and medical science over science fiction.
Who would you rather trust with your health concerns?
Doctors and medical health experts or the Trump administration?