by Keaton Weiss
A recent Pew poll shows waning confidence in President Biden’s ability to “handle the public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak.” As shown below, Biden’s numbers on covid have plummeted more than 20 points in less than a year. Last March, 65% of Americans were optimistic that the new administration would effectively pull us through the pandemic – currently, only 44% feel that way. Most troublingly for Biden, the number of people who say they’re “very confident” in his handling of covid has decreased by more than half. A mere 15% of the public now expresses such a level of trust.
Down the home stretch of the 2020 campaign, a poll by the same organization showed Biden trouncing Donald Trump 57-40 on the issue of pandemic response. Given how unexpectedly close the race turned out to be, it can be reasonably assumed that the people’s relative confidence in Biden’s covid performance over Trump’s is what pushed him over the top and made him our 46th President.
Now, one year, several variants, and approximately half a million deaths later, the country is recognizing that their high hopes going into 2021 were likely misplaced, as the rosiest outlook on covid now seems to be that it will soon enter an endemic phase.
None of this is to say that covid’s resilience is the fault of the Biden administration. Even New Zealand, which virtually rid itself of coronavirus from May 2020 through July 2021, has seen a dramatic resurgence in cases these past six months. Rather, it seems that covid is an especially transmissible disease that simply can’t be eradicated entirely. Even vaccines, which have proven highly effective in preventing serious illness and death, do not stop the spread of the virus itself.
But regardless of whether or not Biden bears sole responsibility for rampant coronavirus, the political truth remains that he was elected largely based on the premise, and the promise, that he had a strategy to control the outbreak.
Now that he hasn’t delivered the results, the American people, including his own Democratic base (the same new Pew poll shows Biden’s overall approval rating at a miserable 68% among Democrat/lean Democrat voters), are quickly souring on him.
And so, the Biden administration is desperate for some explanation that neither implicates them nor paints too bleak a picture about how they’ll never be able to truly “control” the virus in a way that they signaled they could. Admitting fault or owning up to the fact that covid is here to stay in some form or another are both politically disastrous for a government already facing a dire confidence crisis.
In plain English, they need a scapegoat. They need to deflect the public’s frustration over covid’s staying power in a direction that both exonerates them from blame and creates the impression that a covid-free world is possible but for x. Finding a variable that satisfies those two conditions is necessary to keep their fragile legitimacy from collapsing altogether.
“Misinformation” – those who spread it, and those who fall for it – is the perfect culprit. Media figures who traffic in vaccine hesitancy and the dupes who listen to them are now in the crosshairs of the establishment. We’re supposed to believe that they’re the ones standing between the rest of us and a return to our normal pre-pandemic lives. The government and their media mouthpieces want us, the vaccinated majority among which, by the way, I count myself, to hold purveyors and consumers of misinformation responsible for the ongoing covid crisis.
If they can make this idea stick, they’ll be off the hook in two ways. First, the people will trust that Biden and his government have done all they can do, and that it’s now up to the unenlightened masses to cooperate and follow the plan. Second, and equally importantly, it will keep hope alive that a post-covid world is attainable.
Now to be clear, I would never argue that misinformation isn’t intrinsically bad, and that we as a society wouldn’t be better off without it. The question here is not whether misinformation is good or bad, but whether or not it’s the primary driver of coronavirus in 2022. My point is that if we’re to be convinced of the latter, we’re fooling ourselves into both excusing our leaders’ failures to manage it more effectively and believing that a small minority of our fellow citizens are responsible for its continued existence as a going concern.
This is precisely the delusion that the government, their media allies, and their most loyal supporters (ie, the 15% of Americans who still express strong confidence in Biden’s handing of covid) want to perpetuate. And of course, this is what the campaign to cancel Joe Rogan and shame his audience is really about.
The Biden administration recently urged Spotify to take further punitive action against Rogan, rendering obsolete the already ludicrous “private companies” defense put forward by liberals who suddenly forgot every critique of corporate power they ever heard. This of course came after Neil Young and a handful of other musicians pulled their catalogues off of the platform to protest Rogan’s podcast.
Beyond Rogan, we’ve also seen a barrage of attacks on the unvaccinated themselves – ie, those on the receiving end of misinformation. In September, Biden himself said his “patience [was] wearing thin” with unvaccinated people and declared covid a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In November, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell echoed many of these same sentiments in a viral Twitter thread. CNN’s Don Lemon called them “idiots.” Longtime Democratic strategist James Carville just this week called them “piece[s] of shit” who he wishes he could punch in the face with impunity. Perhaps most famously, Howard Stern railed against the unvaccinated on his show, saying, “Fuck them. Fuck their freedom. I want my freedom to live.” He added, “I want to get out of the house.”
Stern’s comments, more than any other’s, get to the crux of the matter. And again, just as it was necessary to clarify that misinformation is intrinsically bad, I should also state emphatically my belief that being vaccinated is intrinsically good. I am vaccinated and boosted, as is my wife, and we both mask up in public and limit our exposure to large crowds, seeing as we have twin three-year-olds who can’t be vaccinated yet. But just as in the misinformation example, the operative question is not whether vaccines are good or bad, but rather, are the unvaccinated to blame for people like Howard Stern being too afraid to leave their homes? Given the CDC’s confirmation that covid can still spread amongst vaccinated people and the record surge in cases this winter even in highly vaccinated population centers like New York City, it seems like the answer to this question is decidedly no.
And this, once again, explains the Biden White House’s great predicament. If they can’t effectively scapegoat podcasters and the public for their inability to beat covid, they’re left with two equally dismal political options: accept blame themselves, or tell the public to accept that covid is unbeatable and that concern over it is something we’re all going to have to learn to live with indefinitely.
Both would cause irreparable damage to the administration, the political system more broadly, the economy, and institutional trust, and so neither are acceptable. Instead, we’re all supposed to buy into the increasingly implausible narrative that Biden has done all he can, and that we can be rid of covid if we all just get our acts together.
Of course, canceling Joe Rogan won’t get us any closer to victory over coronavirus. Even if half of Joe Rogan’s listeners are unvaccinated, and all of his unvaccinated listeners are only unvaccinated because they listen to Joe Rogan – an extremely, comically generous assumption – that’s still only about 5 million people; roughly 1.5% of Americans, assuming (wrongfully of course) that all of his listeners live in the United States. More realistically, we can estimate that the number of unvaccinated Rogan subscribers who refuse the vaccine based solely on Rogan’s skepticism is at most a few thousand – not anywhere near enough to make a significant impact on covid cases.
For a third time now, I should clarify what might be to some a point of confusion. I personally wish Rogan were more encouraging of his listeners to get vaccinated, and I don’t think it is inherently good to understate the vaccine’s efficacy. Again, the question is not whether or not Rogan is doing his listeners a service by expressing vaccine hesitancy, but rather, is he to blame for the ongoing crisis? I don’t think an honest and reasonable person can make such a claim, and I also think, as outlined above, that the establishment has its own reasons for convincing us that Rogan and his audience are the real problem.
The main issue here is an extremely contagious virus that likely cannot be contained to the extent we all wish it could be. Given its ability to spread even among vaccinated people, an endemic phase is probably the best we can hope for at this point. This is likely true no matter who’s President. But Biden’s election was predicated upon the people’s belief that a complete return to normalcy was possible and that Biden was better suited to get us there than Trump. The only way for his administration to keep people under this impression is to direct their disappointment away from the government, and at each other.
In reality, no good will come from de-platforming podcasters or publicly fantasizing about punching unvaccinated people in the face and getting away with it. But to those attempting to cancel Rogan, doing good isn’t the point. The point is to convince those who still hold out hope for a successful Biden administration that they’re doing something to try and contain covid, and that it’s our fellow Americans, our “idiot” little people, whose ignorance and selfishness is preventing us from entering the illusory post-covid future.
It remains to be seen how long they can keep this ruse going, but the sooner we recognize it the better. Because while elimination of covid might not be possible, there are far more productive ways to mitigate the damage than to muzzle podcasters and ridicule their listeners. A Universal Basic Income to alleviate some the constant pressure most Americans feel to keep money coming in would be a great place to start. Medicare For All, which a recent report suggests would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives during the pandemic, is another achievable goal worth fighting for. Supporting union efforts so that workers can more forcefully demand safe working conditions is an obvious one. Expanded remote work availability to keep symptomatic people home when they might be carriers is another practical measure we can implement. Virtual learning as a contingency plan in case of further surges seems like a no-brainer. A four-day work week is worth considering. These are just a few examples of political battles whose victories would actually help usher in a new normal that is as safe, as comfortable, and as fulfilling as possible. The cancel crusade against “misinformation” is little more than short-term political damage control for a failing President and an illegitimate establishment. We shouldn’t partake in it.
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Photos: White House, Joe Rogan Experience