Political Bullsh!t

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Conspiracies, COVID, and culture

Renée Graham writes for the Boston Globe that even with a year that has been unexpectedly filled with “frustration and fear” almost behind us and a dim immediate future that lies ahead, there are still reasons for hope.

If 2020 closed with very cautious optimism, 2021 is ending with the pandemic-driven uncertainties of what might lie ahead, especially with only 62 percent “fully vaccinated.” Let’s hope the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is strongly encouraging booster shots, finally abandons that now-outdated definition.

We shouldn’t be in this spot, yet we’re clinging to the idea that perhaps the worst of this pandemic lies behind us. (Unless every country worldwide has equal access to the vaccinations, this won’t end any time soon.) We are tired and demoralized by a virus that shows little mercy and too many people who are still opting for selfish ideology over the greater good.

Yet 2022 beckons and even dimming hope is still hope. It’s what has gotten us up each day to fashion new routines, carve out some solace, and not let our anxieties consume us even as we were making and remaking our lives as we went along.

Jose A. Del Real of the Washington Post reports from Dealey Plaza in Dallas, reflecting on the draw of conspiracy theories in the past and the present.

I have spent this year thinking and writing about the draw to conspiracy theories, the perverse comfort they provide and the damage they can cause. Today in the United States, we are living in an era of segregated belief, of divergent realities, at a time when social media has brought us nearer to one another than ever before. It is not just that there is disagreement. Certified and recertified elections are in dispute. Viruses and their lifesaving vaccines are in dispute. So often, facts themselves are in dispute. My focus has been on telling intimate stories about people navigating these conflicts within their families and communities.

Now I see a grander lesson about truth in Dealey Plaza, one I have been circling for years. That The Truth is not something merely to be found and disclosed, but rather that, in the broader sense, it is something that is negotiated, something that is mediated over time through credibility and trust. That, in the absence of those things, evidence can be so very easily overtaken by fantasy, and stay that way.

[…]

QAnon followers believe that former president Donald Trump spent his time as president battling a cabal of Satan-worshiping “deep state” Democrats who traffic children for sex, a paranoia that has often led to valuable resources being diverted away from real missing children cases. Since the 2020 election, they have also come to believe that Trump’s loss was the result of massive fraud, a disproved conspiracy theory that has in turn created a real threat to our democracy and elections. Going further than the 7 in 10 Republican voters who believe the same election conspiracy, Q followers also assure with prophetic zeal that Trump will be reinstated imminently. Mass arrests of the country’s corrupt elite and a “Great Awakening” will follow, they say.

That’s actually why I came here.

Stephen Collinson of CNN notes that the Biden Administration is shifting their public health messaging about the COVID-19 pandemic due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Blizzards of new public health guidance on how long people should isolate after positive tests and when they should get tested risk further confusing a public that has already seen reversals and changes in such information — a downside of the battle against a pathogen that always seems one step ahead of efforts to combat it.

But the evolving administration approach is also one that could eventually point to a sustainable path back to something closer to normality for many Americans once the winter surge abates — a future in which Covid-19 will always be in the background and not eradicated.

A palpable shift in policy toward the virus and public perceptions of its impact are occurring during a holiday season in which many people — including those who made rigorous efforts to avoid it until now — have been infected or seen loved ones or friends test positive. This new pandemic reality comes as Omicron, which is far more infectious, takes over, although the previous Delta wave still has some regions in its grip. But with the public desperate for deliverance from a crisis that has pounded the nation’s psyche for parts of three winters, it is looking like economic and societal factors, rather than just epidemiology, are important in shaping the US response to the virus.

Manuel Ansede writes for El País in English that it remains unknown whether the Omicron variant is a milder strain of COVID-19 than the original strain or the Delta variant.

When analyzed, it appears that the risk of the new variant is lower, but a study from Imperial College London published just before Christmas reveals that up to 40% of omicron cases could be people who have already had Covid-19, compared to 8% with delta. Both variants are highly contagious among the unvaccinated, but omicron is also capable of infecting a significantly larger number of people who already have good defenses, making it seem less serious.

The question is whether the new variant is in fact milder than previous ones. US biologist Marm Kilpatrick from the University of California puts it this way: “The short answer is that we don’t know yet.” The Imperial College report shows that the likelihood of ending up in hospital with omicron is up to 45% lower than with delta. However, without taking into account the effect of the higher number of mild cases resulting from reinfections, the authors of the report estimate that the probability of ending up in hospital with omicron could be only 2 to 35% lower than with delta. “This small difference in severity would be far outweighed by the large number of cases caused by omicron, which will result in many hospitalizations. If it really is milder, it’s not that much milder, so it’s not a reason to be complacent about the increase in cases of omicron,” Kilpatrick adds.

The problem is the sheer volume of the current wave. If the probability of ending up in hospital with omicron were even 50% lower than with delta, with cases doubling every two days, there would be the same number of Covid admissions within the space of two days, according to epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani, from Queen Mary University of London. And cases of omicron have indeed been doubling every two days in many countries. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated on December 22 that three billion people will be infected with the new variant in the next three months. If these estimates are confirmed, there will be as many cases in the next quarter as there have been over two years.

Damon Linker writes for The Week that political vulgarity and the ‘politics of degradation’ needs to stop.

It would be one thing if this demotic and venomous form of politics arose from parts of the rural heartland of the country and faced pushback from people in positions of authority in the Republican Party and conservative media personalities. But instead, these figures encourage it, in the hopes of riding the anger to higher ratings and electoral victories.

And what about those who should know better? The fact is that many conservative-minded pundits and analysts hesitate to condemn the rise of a form of gutter politics in which boors and bullies set the tone and are rewarded for injecting their poison into the body politic. The more high-minded ones, meanwhile, skirt the question of whether it’s bad to tell the president of the United States and those who voted for him to f–k off. Instead, they attempt to steer the conversation in the direction of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Of course, they’ll insist, Americans should be allowed to denounce and even insult the president!

Too bad no one is suggesting otherwise. The question isn’t whether people should be jailed for raising such a flag but whether it’s appropriate, or civically advisable, to do so — and also whether those who live in the vicinity of someone who displays one should express disapproval or turn a blind eye to it out of a desire to avoid a confrontation.

I probably have a dissenting POV about Linker’s essay but…really?

Universities teach classes about political rhetoric that insults.

Didn’t Julius Caesar get called…well, a “coc*suc*er?”

Didn’t a President of the United States get called a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”?

Linker writes that “I never once saw a ‘F–k Trump’ flag or yard sign.” I betcha he heard a song saying “F—k Donald Trump” at least once.

This type of political language isn’t new. Heck, Cicero got his head chopped off for going too far with political invective.

If Linker’s thesis dealt more with the idea that an era of heightened and very public political invective a sign of political instability (and he does write a little about that) then fine.

But the idea that vulgarity hasn’t been (or is rarely) a part of the political landscape? There are plenty of examples.

Michael Eric Dyson writes for The New York Times that activists should follow the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s example of advocacy for restorative justice.

If Archbishop Tutu’s theological genius and philosophical insight are to endure, we must find the foresight and courage to revive his moral passion for restorative justice, which may be our most sustainable model of social change.

Restorative justice might seem quaint, hokey or downright irrelevant to many Americans, including most social justice advocates. Many Black Lives Matter activists rightly think that true justice must include the full measure of punishment for those who deserve it — for instance, cops who kill unarmed Black people without justification.

[…]

Contemporary activists can benefit from Archbishop Tutu’s ideas about restorative justice and strengthen their quest for fundamental fairness. The goal of restorative justice, he said, is “the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships” and rehabilitating the victim and the perpetrator, with the latter “given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he has injured by his offense.” It’s not just about punishment.

And yet for some advocates of retributive justice, a wide array of circumstances warrant the greatest possible punishments these days.

Finally today, Sisonke Msimang writes for AlJazeera that there were- and are- “mixed feelings” about Tutu’s prioritization of reconciliation in South Africa.

Internationally, the TRC was widely acclaimed for prioritising reconciliation over revenge. At home, there were mixed feelings. On the one hand, the public hearings held by the commission modelled the kind of transparency that had never been seen before – apartheid thrived in the dark of course. On the other hand, Tutu’s insistence on forgiveness sometimes manifested as an institutional reluctance to pursue tougher forms of accountability than forgiveness.

As the TRC collected evidence of wrongdoings perpetrated under apartheid, Tutu wept and harangued and pleaded with witnesses, trying desperately to cajole them into admitting wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness. This was often charming and sometimes confounding.

In a now infamous series of exchanges, Tutu begged Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to apologise to Joyce Seipei, the mother of Stompie, a child she was alleged to have played a role in the killing of in the late 1980s. She apologised, though she was bitter about the exchange for years afterwards.

Today a generation of activists who know little else of Tutu and who hold up Madikizela-Mandela as their hero see Tutu as having been too hard on her. They are not wrong, of course. Still, Tutu was also scathing when it came to addressing former apartheid leaders, like FW De Klerk, who lied and withheld crucial information during their testimonies.

Everyone have a great day and a Happy New Year!



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