When history students look back at this pandemic, they will be shocked at the willful ignorance of and disinformation spread by conservatives.  Despite almost 250,000 deaths, too many people do not believe the threat is real. They shun public measures to prevent the spread and flaunt their disdain for masks and social distancing. Their resistance is rooted in a distrust of the mainstream media, a contempt for experts, and the belief that government cannot make a difference in our lives. 

In a recent conversation, a friend who considers himself an “independent conservative” told me that he wears masks sometimes when he’s in a store but he doesn’t believe we can stop the spread of the virus. A twitter warrior who goes by the handle @covidtweets and identifies himself as college professor praised Oklahoma for not issuing a mask mandate. He tweeted, “BTW, kudos to OK Health Commissioner Frye for following evidence, not models: ‘… we had some information presented to us that looked at several different mitigation factors, and mask mandates were the one that made the least difference.’” 

However, the article to which he linked disputed his claim. “A nonprofit group called Prevent Epidemics recently published a report that showed coronavirus cases declined in Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas after mask mandates were put in place. The CDC found that in Arizona, after a mask mandate was instituted, COVID-19 cases dropped 75%. Last week’s epidemiology report showed that COVID spread more slowly in places in Oklahoma with mask mandates compared to places without a mandate.”

The same twitter warrior laid out the sentiment of so many conservatives when he wrote, “I have yet to see convincing evidence that something a government has done was instrumental in suppressing transmission (maybe except for tiny and/or island nations). The only proven way to be safe is take good care of your immune system.” He sounds like Herbert Hoover addressing the Great Depression.

In fact, government response has made all of the difference in outcomes. In North Carolina, conservatives urged Governor Roy Cooper to follow the examples of our Southern neighbors, Georgia and South Carolina, and loosen restrictions. He didn’t and our case and deaths rates are considerably lower than those states. A study at UNC-CH indicates that states governed by Democrats have contained the spread of COVID better than those governed by Republicans. In Sweden this week, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that awards the Nobel Prize for Physics and Chemistry says that masks help reduce the spread of the virus.

A speech by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito helps understand why conservatives are so ill-equipped to handle a national crisis like a pandemic. Alito slammed what he described as “rule by experts.” He shows skepticism for science and the people he considers elites—the doctors and scientists who know more about pandemics and climate change than most of us. Instead of attempting to mitigate the impact of those pending natural disasters, he, along with other conservatives, would leave them to the hand of God. In contrast, religious liberals believe that God would bless us with leaders and knowledge that could lead us through the crisis.

Republicans who claim to value freedom over masks would be wise to show the rest of America that they are responsible by taking precautions instead of eschewing them. Promoting maskless rallies and vowing to celebrate Thanksgiving with large gatherings reflects ignorance and ideological rigidity, not freedom. The former party of personal responsibility should lead by example instead of encouraging reckless behavior and promoting disinformation that may be costing lives. As one nurse in South Dakota told us, dying patients are denying the existence of COVID even as their lives slip away. In other words, disinformation and inaction is killing us. 

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