I spend a lot of time, as I’m guessing you may too, thinking about how we’re ever going to get out of this. Here’s a best-case scenario: Joe Biden gets elected and becomes president on Jan. 20. So we finally have a president who actually takes science seriously and doesn’t think he’s smarter than all the virologists. The virus is still spreading, people are still dying. There’s a vaccine coming, but we’re not sure yet how well it works. President Biden imposes a two-month lockdown, and the Democratic Congress passes enough money to keep the economy afloat.
But: Roughly 35 percent of the country refuses to go along. They’re told by their “news” sources that Biden is a Marxist, the vaccine is a fake, and Democrats are so obsessed with Trump hatred (which will not have abated a whit, in their telling) that they want people to die. In other words, the anti-science 35 percent, by not wearing masks and not taking the vaccine, can hold the other 65 percent hostage. Forever. Or at least until so many people die that they finally, grudgingly acknowledge reality. And that’s a best-case scenario.
It’s often said that the “two sides” live in their own bubbles. And there is some truth to that. But all such statements are irresponsibly misleading, because to speak of these bubbles and just leave it at that is to imply that the two ways of seeing the world exist in rough moral equivalence. The reality, of course, is very different.
In reality, one side defines freedom as the right to go out in public and make other people sick. And not just strangers, who might be liberals, so who cares. No—their own loved ones and friends. To these people, if a person doesn’t have the freedom to cough and be coughed on in the produce section or at a bar, and bring illness back home to their children and aging parents, then freedom doesn’t exist.
The other side defines freedom as a concept that combines rights with responsibilities. This side doesn’t think lying in your bed for a week with a 102-degree fever because some idiot who refused to wear his mask sneezed on you counts as freedom. This side recognizes and respects the age-old concept that the right of my fist to do as it pleases ends at your jaw. This side wears masks because its members understand that without civic responsibility, freedom quickly descends into chaos.
Freedom, to the first side, includes an economic element, in classic Milton Friedman style. The market decides. And if the market decides that millions of people should lose the small businesses that they’ve poured their lives into, or their jobs, that’s life.
The other side understands that the impersonal market doesn’t make these decisions. People do. People like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, who funneled half a trillion bailout dollars into a slush fund that gave up to $3 million to Jared Kushner and from which, for all we know, Trump himself may have benefited. This side thinks that losing your business or your job because politicians failed to act, be it out of ideological commitment to the free market or just plain incompetence, out of cupidity or stupidity, is an odd definition of freedom.
The first side thinks science is hogwash (except, of course, when they need it personally in their lives). Doctors and experts are overeducated, and secularists, and probably Democrats, and they have an agenda. They’re part of the whole conspiracy of relativism that has been turning the country away from God and Jesus since forever, or at least Thomas Scopes’ Monkey Trial.
The other side acknowledges that science makes errors, because scientists are human beings and human beings make mistakes; but it believes in science and values expertise, because expertise is earned through hours and years of study, and some experts are probably very religious and others probably aren’t, but that has nothing to do with the views they dispense.
In the first side’s bubble, journalism is a disreputable business, and facts aren’t real. When the media hype something like a video of a white police officer kneeling on an African American man’s neck for nearly nine minutes, or the protests in response to that video, they’re being politically correct.
In the other side’s bubble, journalism is an honorable profession, and a string of tragedies caught on video in which most of the people who end up dead just happen to be Black isn’t a politically correct coincidence but is, just maybe, a problem our society needs to grapple with.
The first side has a deeply cynical view of human nature, promoted by their media heroes, and of course their president. Everybody’s only in it for themselves. Everybody’s out to make a buck and screw the other guy. Everybody cuts corners. Everybody lies. Everybody has an ulterior motive they’re not telling you about.
The other side knows that there are such people in the world but understands that there are others kinds of people, too. The school teacher who probably could have been a lawyer if she’d chosen to but decided she wanted to teach and earns $45,000 a year is not in it for herself, and she sure doesn’t deserve to get sick trying to educate the children of irresponsible parents who think the virus is a hoax.
So yes, we do live in different bubbles. The first bubble is a place where every truth is turned on its head for reasons of political gain, and to stoke fear and rage.
The second bubble is called reality.
Donald Trump will leave office, we hope sooner rather than later. But the Trumpy bubble will carry on, and in Tom Cotton or Donald Junior or someone, it will find a new avatar. But on the plus side: There are more of us than them. Most people, whether they identify as “liberal” or not, believe in facts and science and justice and civic responsibility. We have to work and be vigilant, and of course we have to vote. But if we do, we’ll win, and at least the great march backwards will be over for a while.