It appears we’ve reached the throw-shit-at-a-wall-and-see-what-sticks phase of U.S. President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign messaging. On Sunday, somewhere between talking up the experimental drugs that supposedly cured his case of covid-19 and his toilet flushing bit, he attacked (????) Democratic nominee Joe Biden by saying, “He’ll listen to the scientists.”
More than 219,000 Americans are dead, hurricane season is still breaking records, and the West Coast is still on fire, all largely symptoms of ignoring the scientists. Drawing attention to the cause of your greatest failures seems like a pretty bad strategy to get people to vote for you. But the fact that Trump is trotting it out a little more than two weeks before the election’s final day of voting really does show the stakes and the descent of the Republican Party a little further toward death cult status.
Trump’s riff on Biden turning to scientists was part of a longer riff on the coronavirus and arguing that states should be opening up more and more now, even as the third wave of the virus begins. Last week, 17 states hit daily records and 40 states have seen a rise in hospitalizations, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. The reason for the rise is abject failure to listen to scientists on everything from testing to mask-wearing, save a few quacks that have the president’s ear.
While Trump’s riff was about coronavirus, it could just as easily have been about his climate policies. The Trump administration’s deregulatory frenzy has the climate on a collision course with disaster. The record wildfires and hurricane season — both signs of the climate crisis — are themselves symptoms of decades of science denial both in the U.S. and abroad. The inaction on climate has been reinforced by a steady drumbeat from conservative outlets and entrenched interests like Big Oil that want to preserve the status quo, and so they have resorted to misinformation and lies that have normalized science denial.
The Trump administration has simply taken that denial to new levels and used the denial to set policies. That’s in part because Trump is exceedingly narrow-minded and in part because ignoring science is the only way to further his and Republicans’ goal of concentrating power. Once those policies — like rolling back clean car standards or even fining polluters — become Republican orthodoxy, they become part of the culture war over science. Essentially, we’ve reached the point of ignoring science to poison the planet and own the libs. That, at its core, is why Trump’s pitch may resonate with his base even though it’s absolutely batshit as a proposition for how to govern.
It’s why a scientist running on the slogan “I believe in science” has a chance to flip a Republican-held seat and why Joe Biden can quote retweet an article with Trump’s “dig” that Biden would listen to scientists with a simple “...yes” and get 432,000+ likes.
Waiting for Trump or other Republicans to ever turn to science as a tool for policymaking was always a fool’s errand. But Trump’s naked pitch that using science to make rational decisions is a bad choice sharply illustrates the choice in front of voters and the two wildly divergent paths that ahead for the U.S., and indeed, the world.