Randy Alcorn

As America maintains, with persistent folly, its position as the world leader in COVID-19 infections and deaths, governors, both Democrats and Republicans, are now pleading for a coordinated national strategy to manage the pandemic.

Those nations that have been the most successful in quelling the virus have implemented such strategies — including the European Union’s 27 nations whose total population is not only greater than that of the United States but also more diverse.

The virus has been having a free-for-all in the “United” States as individual states compete with each other for essential medical supplies and pursue conflicting policies to combat the spread of the disease.

This sorry situation is because the federal government has been mostly missing in action under the bungling President Donald Trump, whose greatest efforts have been to deny, dismiss and discount the pandemic rather than heed science and unify the nation in a concerted effort to suppress it.

Meanwhile, here in Covid Corners, California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has adjusted his “dimmer switch” back down — turning the lights out for many small businesses — after cases of COVID-19 infections rocketed up in recent weeks, mostly, it appears, due to coronavirus protocol noncompliance as the state reopened.

And, who knows what else the insidious little virus is doing to spread itself? There is ever-changing data and messaging about how this disease works, spreads and how it will progress. Understandably, people are confused, anxious and emotionally fatigued by it all.

Hope is hard to come by.

Now, more than ever, the nation needs calm, competent, coherent leadership that focuses Americans on their common plight and purpose — on their unity rather than on their differences. We don’t have that with Trump. We have the diametric opposite.

Trump has openly disdained the pandemic, disregarded the science around it and pushed the public to do the same. Get back to work, open the schools — business as normal. Just live with the pandemic and accept the skyrocketing infections and overflowing hospitals.

His willful mishandling of the pandemic has made America more Third World than great. The fumbling, uncoordinated and grossly inadequate federal response escalated a bad situation into a national nightmare, making the United States the object of shocked pity around the world.

Consequently, many of our fellow citizens are losing their jobs, their businesses and their hope. Portions of American civilization, including some essential institutions, are in existential peril.

The nation will never be the same — maybe some good will come of it, but not before a hell of a lot of suffering.

The pandemic has made stark many of the nation’s festering faults, and has certainly proven the catastrophic danger of electing an egregiously unqualified person to the presidency. We have no national leadership, and we so desperately need it right now.

Trump in the White House is Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s greatest success in his crusade to undermine America.

For many of us, one of the most distressing and disappointing aspects of this current dark period in American history is the intransigently impaired intellects of a large minority of our fellow citizens. These people reject clearly observable facts and science if those contradict their beliefs or intrude into their fabricated reality.

They are Trump’s staunchest supporters, and for whose ardent adulation he tramples reason, decency and the nation’s general welfare.

In spite of Trump’s conspicuous ineptitude, mendacity and malevolent character — even as it jeopardizes public health and safety — about a third of the electorate, including more than 80 percent of Republicans, continue to support him.

How is that possible? The answer is “ideological idiocy,” what social scientists call “motivated reasoning,” which is the process of deciding what evidence to accept based on the preferred conclusions you want.

Ideological idiocy has plagued America for years now, but with the arrival of the COVID-19, it has become acutely dangerous. It is at the core of America’s inability to minimize the pandemic. The science-based protocols aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 have been undermined by obstinate political allegiance that considers compliance an ideological issue rather than a public health issue.

Denying or discounting the reality of how contagious, physically damaging and potentially lethal is the virus is like denying that fire is hot. You can deny that all you like, but if you hold your hand into an open flame you quickly become acquainted with reality.

It is tempting to attribute ideological idiocy to ignorant, poorly educated people — Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” — but a large study in 2015 found that ideological polarization actually increased with the education level of those people studied.

For instance, the probability that people identifying as conservative were climate science deniers was significantly higher if they were college educated. In fact, those conservatives scoring highest on cognitive sophistication tests or quantitative reasoning skills were the most inclined toward motivated reasoning about climate science.

Liberals were found to be susceptible to motivated reasoning as well. They were more likely to reject expert consensus or cogent arguments on safe storage of nuclear waste or the effects of concealed-carry gun laws that refuted standard liberal positions on these issues.

Adrian Bardon, a philosophy professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and author of The Truth About Denial, argues that because humans have evolved as tribal creatures they have an instinctive need for group identity, which requires assimilation of their group’s belief system — whether those beliefs are based on science or superstition, facts or fantasy.

Bardon says that group identity provides a person with sense of self, status and place in broader society. So much so that group members’ response to information that threatens the group’s worldview is reflexively defensive. Rationalizations and selective assessment of evidence allows them to credit information that supports their prejudices while finding reasons to repudiate what does not.

His observations are reinforced by Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York City, and author of Until The End Of Time. Greene contends that evolution, for the sake of group survival, explains the human tendency to believe without objective reasoning and in the absence of valid evidence.

While I appreciate the research by well credentialed academics, I don’t find that humans are inevitably locked into groupthink. Humanity’s greatest advances in science, technology, philosophy and more have come by people who have questioned conventional belief systems and pursued knowledge and discovery — Socrates, Archimedes, da Vinci, Galileo, Columbus, Einstein, to name just a handful of the thousands who have.

Although there are large numbers of highly polarized Americans entrenched in their informationally insulated ideological communities — confusing belief with knowledge and fantasy with fact — I suspect that most Americans are not ideological idiots, can think clearly and without consulting a catechism.

Unless there is a vaccine that inoculates against stupidity, ideological idiocy must be overcome by clearheaded Americans. It must be overwhelmed at the polls this November. Defeating the pandemic and rebuilding our country requires a national unity and commitment nearing that of winning World War II.

America needs leadership that appeals to the “unum” and not the “pluribus.”

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at randyaalcorn@gmail.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.