“The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.” — Rush Limbaugh
“One day, it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” — Donald Trump
“The risk to the average person does remain quite low” — Laura Ingraham
The American death toll from the novel coronavirus will soon pass 250,000. That’s a quarter of a million people lying with a Buick parked on their chests, swimming in their own sweat, feeble as an August breeze, head pounding like a bass drum in the devil’s rock band, dying.
And for some, denying it to the end. As Jodi Doering, an ER nurse in Woonsocket, South Dakota, puts it, “Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’”
“And when they should be spending time FaceTiming their families,” she adds, “they’re filled with anger and hatred. I just can’t believe that those are going to be their last thoughts and words.”
Doering was explaining to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota how she came to pen the tweet that made a small-town nurse internet famous. It was Saturday. She had the night off and was planning to spend it on her couch with her dog and some ice cream. But work kept intruding on her thoughts.
“I can’t help but think of the COVID patients the last few days,” she tweeted. “The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is going to ruin the USA. All while gasping for breath. ...They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real.”
She says patients insist they must have pneumonia. Even lung cancer. Anything but the disease they’ve been convinced does not exist.
“This can’t be happening,” they insist, even as it’s happening. “It’s not real.”
That level of denial is disheartening and appalling, yet it would surprise no one familiar with the four decades of scholarship documenting a glaring flaw in human reason. Meaning, our tendency to reject information that does not conform to what we want to believe. If you hold a premise to be true and the facts prove otherwise you’d think, logically, that this would cause you to modify or discard the premise. But people are actually more likely to modify or discard the facts.
This isn’t a partisan tendency, but a human one. It has, though, been encouraged, made a bedrock of the business model, by conservative political and media figures. They lie, they lie about the lies, then they lie about lying about lies, spinning elaborate webs of claptrap and hogwash, of utter, self-refuting nonsense, that people nonetheless believe, because at some fundamental level, they need to.
On a good day, that’s frustrating. On a day when the COVID-19 death toll spirals into the clouds and an ER nurse feels overwhelmed, it is infuriating. It makes you wonder how some people can live with themselves. Is it really worth a life to advance a political agenda? When people trust you for truth on matters critical to their survival, how can you look them in the eye and tell them lies?
Coronavirus deaths in South Dakota have jumped sharply since the beginning of the month. The state reports one of the highest per capita infection rates in the U.S. It is not incidental that Donald Trump won 62 percent of the vote there.
Meantime, sick people struggle to reconcile their suffering with the lies they’ve been told. “This can’t be happening,” they say. “It’s not real.” Then they curse, and die. And yet again, truth gets the final word.
As it always does.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. Readers may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.