The Partisan Divide over COVID-19
Its General Characteristics, Root Causes and Implications
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The Partisan Divide over COVID-19
Its General Characteristics, Root Causes and Implications
History shows that many false narratives have prevailed over the true ones. Those who want the truth to prevail shall remember that merely speaking it - is not sufficient for its victory. To triumph the truth has to be supported by the measures capable of withstanding the mighty forces of lies and deception.
The remarkable divergence of opinions on COVID-19 between two ideological blocks Progressives and Conservatives - has led to creation of the two competing partisan narratives describing differently: the origin of COVID-19, its epidemiological significance, its treatment and its prevention. This distinct informational rift has been studied vigorously. However, most studies have focused on the narrow aspects of this ideological divide. Very few if any authors have attempted to analyze the two competing COVID-19 narratives - from the general perspective. The goal of this commentary is to initiate the process of bridging this analytical gap.
To fully comprehend the ideological divide over COVID-19 it is crucial to understand who are the producers and propagators of the two antagonistic narratives and who are the desired and actual consumers of those partisan opinions.
The purpose of this analysis is not to zealously argue which narrative is “true/right” or “false/wrong”. Instead, to help the readers in reaching their own conclusions this review will provide the objective description of the general characteristics, root causes and implications of the current partisan schism over COVID-19. Finally, the objective analysis of the possible reasons for the unexpected stalemate between the two opposing partisan blocks is provided.
Background of the Partisan Divide over COVID-19
The partisan divide over COVID-19 is taking place in a very complex socio-political landscape characterized by the politicization of medicine, political polarization and power asymmetry (Ref). This complex milieu and the describing it nomenclature are changing rapidly and can be confusing. To avoid misunderstanding, the brief description of the terminology and the background of the partisan debate over COVID-19 is provided below.
Definition of “Partisan”
The term “Partisan” is used here to denote the broad socio-ideological identity of the person and NOT a mere membership in the Democratic or Republican party. This is consistent with the current use in the sociological and political science literature:
According to the extensive political science studies term “partisan” is no longer a description to which one of two parties a person belongs or even of where individuals stand within the range of the ideological spectrum (Ref). Instead it is: a highly stable (Ref), emotionally charged (Ref), social identity (Ref) - describing the individuals’ social groupings and deeply held values (Ref).
Therefore the partisan nature of individuals does not simply assign those persons as voters for the one the other party. Instead, it foremost reflects the type of:
Definition and Role of “Progressives”
Definition of “Progressives”
The meaning of designation “Progressives” is debated frequently (Ref). However, for the purpose of this analysis it will be used to describe the coalition of the left wing factions which while diverse - are united by the belief in the absolute supremacy of the government. They see the government and not the alternative institutions (such as nuclear family, organized religion, etc.) - as the provider of the economic, social and cultural safety nets. Despite their inner heterogeneity the definition of Progressives used here - is relatively straightforward and corresponds with the typology used by the Pew Research Center (Ref).
Such defined Progressives are secular technocrats, believing in experts' infallibility and in centralized authority. They are collectivists and propound that “collective entitlements” trump all individual rights including property rights. They value a collective welfare over individual wellbeing and population health over single patient health. They consider themselves to be the members of the Reality Based Community (Ref), (Ref) that according to them is the noble antithesis of the deplorable Alternative Facts Community to which as Progressives claim - Conservatives belong (Ref).
Progressives used to be skeptical about the old corporate power but became the enthusiastic supporters of the corporations that embraced the progressive corporate models such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) programs (Ref).
Progressives get their general news from the legacy media which are controlled by their fellow Progressives. They get news about COVID-19 also from the legacy media (e.g. CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, Atlantic, etc.) and from the established peer reviewed scientific journals that are likewise run by the Left Wings partisans. They rarely if ever see any content from the right wing alternative media - unless they were directed to them by the Progressive outlets to “witness some offensive or bigoted right wing propaganda”. In terms of Social Media, Progressives dominated Twitter which was curated by their fellow Progressives. After the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk many Progressives left it - for the new platform Mastodon.
They are cultural modernists who are disdainful of American, and Western history, traditions and Victorian values - considering them to be backward and bigoted. Most prominent Progressive groups are atheists (Ref), (Ref). Those Progressives who are religiously observant (Ref) tend to belong to Progressive Congregations that espouse Progressive values and reject traditional religious orthodoxy. Consequently, they do not believe in the existence of the divine universal laws and religion based morality or ethics. Instead they are secular humanists (Ref). They are very permissive towards a cluster of issues that Conservatives find highly objectable such as: abortion (Ref), (Ref), LGBT promotion (Ref), same sex marriages (Ref), gender theory (Ref),(Ref), pediatric transgender care (Ref), euthanasia (Ref). They are open to novelty seeking (Ref), (Ref) and are for the fast expanding of the Overton window - a political science concept that represents the range of ideas the public is willing to accept at given time.
They are heavily invested in the performative activisms and virtue signaling. The ideological concept centered on exaltation of the oppressed - through social justice principle, identity politics, intersectionality and critical race theory known as “Wokeism” became the overarching philosophy of this societal segment (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref). As one of the Progressives stated: “Woke became almost a dirty word. Some use it in place of Politically Correct. This is wrong. To be woke means to become sensitive to social injustice by seeing it through the dense fog made by hateful bigots who were in charge way too long.” (Personal Communication)
Typology of Progressives
As noted above Progressive coalition is not monolithic. It is diverse and its factions disagree with each other about many issues. The stratification of Progressives is important but difficult since many of their subgroups overlap with each other in terms of philosophical disagreements and socio-economic status. Consequently, there are many types of classifications of Progressives depending upon the goals of the author. The adopted here categorization of Progressives is a fusion of the Pew Research Center Political Typology (Ref) and variety of other taxonomies (Ref), (Ref), (Ref),(Ref),(Ref),(Ref),(Ref), (Ref). This approach has been chosen since it is useful for the understanding the dynamics of the partisan divide over COVID-19. From this perspective, there are following main factions of Progressives:
Professional Managerial Class (PMC) (Ref), (Ref) also known as “Bobos = bohemian-bourgeois” (Ref), (Ref) or Brahmin Left (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref) or the “Progressive Left” (Ref):
Characteristics: It is the very liberal, most influential and powerful faction of Progressives. They are immensely educated not only in liberal arts and humanities (as Conservatives tend to imply) but also in STEM, medicine and law. Consequently, they are highly credentialed and occupy the top academic, governmental and legacy media posts. They were able to eliminate the conservative competitors from those positions almost entirely (Ref), (Ref). The rise of PMCs has been predicted by J. Burnham’s in his 1941 book “The Managerial Revolution” (Ref). Burnham postulated that American classic capitalistic system will be replaced by the managerial dictatorship. A regime dominated not by traditional capitalists but by a new class of the professional managers that will control the economy and the state apparatus despite the lack of ownership of any capital.
Significance: PMC is the most crucial group in the COVID-19 dispute because due to their professional status - they are the primary creators, promoters and the enthusiastic followers of the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative. According to Pew Research Center this group have been particularly preoccupied, compliant and cautious of the coronavirus pandemic: In August of 2021, 79% reported wearing a mask all or most of the time while in public. During the same period, 94% received all of the required COVID-19 vaccination shots – the highest percentage of any political faction (Ref).
Left Wing Precariat (LWP) or Outsider Left (Ref)
Characteristics: This group consist of the educated but downwardly mobile young people Those are frustrated and aggrieved, extremely liberal (Woke) young college graduates who are crippled by the students loans and who are under- or un-employed for two main reasons. First, because their liberal arts/humanities degrees are not sought out by the employers. Second, since some individuals with the STEM or medical/law degrees - due to their low competitiveness - can not find jobs in competitive markets . They are the products of the mechanism described in Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction which posits that America’s education system produces an excess of highly educated people who expect to achieve fast the PMC status. However, current constrained economic system is unable to offer them their desired jobs leaving them frustrated, angry and with the large loan debt (Ref), (Ref), (Ref).
Significance: Despite their precarious economic status and lack of managerial powers LWP is very significant and militant faction in the COVID-19 partisan conflict. Using military comparisons the PMCs are the officers and the Left Wing Precariat members are the foot soldiers in the COVID-19 partisan wars. Members of the Outsider Left may lack the gravitas and influence of the PMCs but they are well educated (many are even MDs, and PhDs), motivated (by anger), have a lot of free time on their hands (for street rallies and Social Media posts). Due to their unemployment in learned profession - they also seek the alternative sources of the income and prestige and the Progressive “COVID-19 anti-misinformation” activism offers both of those. Therefore, it is no surprising that the Left Wing Precariat became the formidable force in the ongoing partisan struggles over COVID-19. Many of members of Outsider Lefts became the social media “anti-misinformation” influencers and even started the grass root organizations that fight vigorously against the Conservative COVID-19 Narrative - which Progressives consider to be the lethal misinformation.
Other Left Wing Groups. Those groups have significant general socio-political significance however they will be mentioned here only cursory since their role in the COVID-19 Partisan debate is limited only to faithful compliance with the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative. They do not participate in creation or distribution of the Progressive COVID-19 narrative. Those groups include Establishment Liberals (Ref) and Democratic Mainstays (Ref).
Characteristics: This is a group of very very liberal individuals who are diverse in terms of age, race, ethnicity, education and economic status. They are much less educated and less powerful than PMCs but also more economically stable than Left Precariat, hence they are much less frustrated than the Outsider Left. Establishment liberals are the enthusiastic and uncritical supporters of the Democratic Party (Ref).
Significance: They are strong believers in the Progressive COVID-19 narrative and are very compliant with it’s mandates. Nearly (88%) of Established Left said they had received all of the necessary COVID-19 Vaccine shots as of August 2021, the second-highest share of any group after the Progressive Left (Ref).
Characteristics: Those are in general older, steadfast Democratic voters who while being economically liberal are also pro-military and unlike other liberals tend to be skeptical about unrestricted immigration and not convinced about the necessity of having some of the generous entitlements programs (Ref).
Significance: While still declaring to be compliant with the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative - they appears to be much less enthusiastic about it as compared to other left wing groups. Strikingly the vaccination rates for this group is not reported by PRC (Ref).
The Progressive COVID-19 Skeptics , also know as the “Unvaxxed Lefties”, “Crunchy Anti-Vaxxers” (Ref), (Ref), (Ref).
This small and currently rather insignificant category - which sounds like an oxymoron - is mentioned for the completeness. Those are otherwise Progressive individuals (frequently eco-vegans environmentalists - called “crunchy” in the urban slang) who reject the Progressive Covid-19 Narrative. It has to be remembered that historically, before COVID-19 - large part of the vaccine skeptics movement consisted of left wing leaning environmentalists (Ref).
Role of Progressives in the debate over COVID-19
Progressives Coalition wield enormous managerial and professional powers. They control almost exclusively: mighty administrative agencies (CDC, FDA, etc), the Academia (a traditional source of expertise) and legacy media (traditional source of information). For those reason Progressives have significant advantage over Conservatives in the partisan dispute over COVID-19.
Members of the leading faction of the Progressive Coalition - known as PMC are the main creators, promoters and enforcers the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative. PMCs used their immense managerial powers and the leverage of the Academic expertise to make the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative a Default National Pandemic Narrative (Ref), (Ref) despite the early opposition of Conservatives who do not have similar powers.
Constituents of the Left Wing Precariat who are the major allies of the PMC are vigorously promoting the Progressive Narrative at grass roots level and zealously combat any opposition to it. The other progressive groups embrace that narrative faithfully.
In terms of the attitudes towards COVID-19 Vaccinations: 68% of all types of Progressives report that it’s very important to get a coronavirus vaccine to be a good member of society. In a contrast only 22% of all types of Conservatives agrees with this statement according to 2022 Survey by the Pew Research Center (Ref).
Definition and Role of Conservatives
Definition of Conservatives
Unlike the relatively straightforward definition of Progressives - the definition of Conservatives is challenging (Ref), (Ref). Therefore, the use of this label here will be explained very carefully.
The term “Conservatives” will be applied in this analysis to the very specific subset of the right wing factions who are united by the preference for the limited role of government - but who also share additional specific views setting them apart from both Progressives and from other types of Right Wingers - such as RINOS, neocons, Conservatism, Inc. (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref). This definition is much more specific designation than the traditional moniker “Conservative Coalition” which is used in the Pew Research Center’s (PRC) typology (Ref).
Name “Conservatives” as used here - shares some similarities with PRC’s definitions of the “Faith and Flag Conservatives” (Ref) and “Populists Right” (Ref) but it is more broad than that. The group which will be denoted here as “Conservatives” believe that the alternatives to the government - such as nuclear family, faith based organizations, local benevolent associations and private small enterprises - shall be the providers of both the economic stability and the charity. They posit that human beings are flawed and not perfectible but yet their lives are of infinite worth. They are suspicious of centralized authority and skeptical about infallibility of secular experts. They believe in the individual rights and question the supremacy of the collective. They value single patient health over the notion of the population health.
Defined here Conservatives are cultural traditionalists who are proud of American, and Western history, traditions, patriotism and victorian values. Conservatives are deeply religious Christians and believe in the existence of the universal divine law and uphold Christianity based morality. Therefore they vigorously object to a cluster of issues that Progressives find acceptable or desirable, namely: abortion (Ref), LGBT promotion (Ref), (Ref) same sex marriages (Ref), gender theory (Ref),(Ref), pediatric transgender care (Ref), euthanasia (Ref). They are opposed to novelty seeking (Ref) and are against expanding the Overton window. They find many of the Progressive ideas to be illogical, immoral and detrimental.
Such Conservatives used to be supporters of the traditional corporations when those professed similar to them views. However, they became disillusioned with the corporate entities which adopted the mentioned above activist programs such as CSR, DEI and ESG (Ref). This is a contrast to the other Right Wingers (e.g. so called “Conservatives, Inc.”) who continue to support all corporations, regardless of their new progressive policies.
Conservatives watch the legacy media occasionally but they get most of their news including news about COVID-19 from their partisan media (used to be Fox News but this was replaced by Breitbart, NewsMax, DailyWire, Epoch Times, and various smaller right wing outfits etc.). RWUMC used also to relay on YouTube for their updates about COVID-19 but with cancelations of the rightwing channels (which were accused by Progressives of spreading COVID-19 misinformation) they moved into the alternative platforms such as Rumble and BitChute . Similarly, in terms of Social Media many moved from Twitter and Facebook into alternative platforms like Gab or TruthSocial. After the purchase of Tweeter by Elon Musk many have returned to Twitter. Most of Conservatives do not read regularly the established scientific peer reviewed journals in part because those journals have given a platform to Progressive virtue signaling by many prominent academicians. Most of Conservatives do not regularly read the established scientific peer reviewed journals in part because those journals have given a platform to Progressive virtue signaling by many prominent academicians. However, certain Conservatives do share on Social Media a variety of scientific articles written by Progressive Academicians. This happens only when Conservatives are told by their trusted Conservative Pundits - that such academic papers contradict the Progressive COVID-19 narrative. Unfortunately, in many cases those trusted Conservative Pundits are wrong. In fact, there is a recurrent pattern of viral sharing by Conservatives of the research papers written by Progressive Academicians - that allegedly contradict Progressive COVID-19 narrative. Such massive social media posting events are associated with the great excitement of Conservatives who believe that this time the truth has been finally revealed - only to be badly disappointed that this was not a case. The excitement subsides as fast as it has appeared - until the next virtually identical tsunami of viral posts and temporal excitement about the yet another allegedly groundbreaking paper. Such recurrent events can be called “Cyclic Excitement Events” (CEE). They likely represent the way of coping with insufferable and hopeless circumstances.
Most of the Conservatives claim that they wanted to be left alone and were not interested much in the performative activisms. However, with the increased “current thing activism” (Ref) by Progressives - the Conservative anti-progressive backlash protests became more visible (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref). As can be seen from the references - those Conservative counterprotests concentrated on the very specific areas involving Progressive initiatives concerning education (Critical Race Theory, LGBT promotion) and healthcare (pediatric transgender care) of children. As one of the conservatives put it: “conservatives are being activated by the radical indoctrination of children to distrust their parents and to disdain their heritage, about which they are kept ignorant, and by the sexualization at very young ages.” (Personal Communication).
Typology of Conservatives
The Classic Pew Research Center classification of the Right Wing Coalition describes four main categories of Right Wingers: Faith and Flag Conservatives , Committed Conservatives , Populist Right , Ambivalent Right . However, as noted above this classification cannot be used for the purposes of this analysis - since PRC definition of Right Wing Coalition does not overlap with the definition of Conservatives used here.
Keeping in mind that the definition of Conservatives as used here excludes Right Wing groups such as RINOS, Neocons, Conservatism, Inc. (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref) - the proposed here typology of Conservatives recognizes following groups which are significant for the COVID-19 debate:
Right Wing Upper Middle Class (RWUMC) also known as the Merchant Class (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref) or the BouBours= Bourgeois-Bourrin (French)= Boorish Bourgeoisie (Ref), (Ref)
Characteristics: This is the most wealthy faction of Conservatives. They are economically wealthy but lack the managerial powers and most of them don’t have advanced education and credentialing which Progressive PMC have.
Its members are mostly older (Baby Boomers generation), white, Christian conservatives, typically self-employed who make from $100K to $700K per year, but don’t have accumulated multimillion wealth like Elites. Most of them are employed in FFFIRE (Fossil Fuels, Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sector. RWUMC includes also conservative small business owners such as restaurants, shops owners, succesfull solo or small group physicians, independent contractors and self-employed tradesmen (such as plumbers, electricians, etc.). For this reason they derive a steady source of income from sectors which were not connected with the traditional manufacturing industry. Therefore the off-shoring of the manufacturing did not affected them badly as it did Right Wing Precariat.
Since they were independently wealthy - they were not concerned with economy until COVID-19. Their main concerns were related to what they see as the raging Progressive Cultural War which was unleashed upon them by PMCs. They consider themselves to be the staunch American Patriots and the embodiment of the “American Dream”. Many RWUMC members claim that “Progressives are America hating globalists who want to transform good old America that RWUMC knew and loved - into the Woke Trasngender, Critical Race Theory based dystopian hell”. For this reason RWUMC despise the PMCs. They read about PMCs in their partisan press and see them on national news - but most of the RWUMC are physically isolated from PMCs. They are either are not managed by PMCs (being self-employed) or do not realize that one day they maybe depended on them (e.g. as potential patients of the Progressive Academic physicians). RWUMC don’t have high opinion of Academia. This is mainly caused by the years of the Progressive Virtue signaling by the top Academicians - which was dully noted by the members of RWUMC. However, RWMUMC did nothing to prevent the dominance or Academia by the Progressives.
COVID-19 Pandemic associated policies such as lockdowns had a negative economic and psychological impact on many members of RWUMC. Many of them could not switch their operation into on-line model - due to the nature of their business. Some were unable to obtain the COVID-19 Relief Protection such as PPP loans (Ref), (Ref). This has shaken their economic status and increased further their anxiety about what they consider to be “the Progressive Government tyrannical interference with their ability to make living”.
Members of RWUMC are not activist leaders like PMCs.
They prefer to be passive sponsors - who would rather pay someone to do political job for them. Hence, they are generous donors to right wing politicians who frequently take their money but do not fulfill their promises. RWUMC don’t do “Current Thing crusades” etc partly because they don’t have time being busy running their businesses.
Vast majority of the RWUMC does not agree with the Progressive COVID-19 narrative. Members of this category feel they were hurt by it. Moreover, they were skeptical about the Progressive experts and administrators for a long time. At first glance the members of the RWUMC would appear to be the most important category of Conservatives in the COVID-19 dispute - due to their high economic status. However, unlike PMCs the members of RUMC do not control any powerful governmental agencies, do not dominate legacy press and are not in charge of Academia. Therefore they have no power over the traditional sources of administrative control/coercion, information flow and expertise. Despite their wealth RWUMC is virtually at mercy of the Progressive PMC as any other Conservative group. Interestingly, after COVID-19 related policies have hurt RWUMC, its members are trying to make an impact mostly by doing the same thing which they were doing in the past: donating generously to the right wing politicians but not making them accountable much for broken promises. Some try to become more involved but those are exceptions from the rule.
While there are no specific data about vaccination attitudes of the RWUMC some estimates can be made since this category includes large parts of the Faith and Flag Conservatives and Populist Right. According to Pew Research Center nearly four-in-ten of the Faith and Flag Conservatives and Populist Right (38-39%) said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine as of late August 2021 (Ref), (Ref). This is the smallest percentage than any other typology group. Since many of them are self-employed they are not being pressured by vaccination mandates like other Conservative groups.
Precarious Blue Collar Right, also known as “Real America” (Ref), “Gun and Religion Clingers (Ref), “Deplorables” (Ref), (Ref).
Characteristics: Members of this group are mostly white impoverished dwellers of the Rust Belt and rural areas. They have relatively low level of education and are financially constrained by the post off-shoring economy. Most meet the definition of the “working poor” (Ref). Those are un- and underemployed former factory workers, current service industry workers, poor farmers, sharecroppers, etc. They are economically precarious and feel culturally besieged in the Progressive Culture wars. Their philosophy is consistent with the described above general conservative principles. Many of them are proud people but are looked at with contempt by the over-educated PMCs who consider them to be “racists and bigots”. They are frequently snubbed behind their back by the RWUMC who consider them to be the “low class”. In turn, they are suspicious and frequently even hostile toward Academicians and representatives of other Institutions and Agencies of the Establishment.
Significance: As expected this group is extremely suspicious of the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative. The data on their attitudes toward vaccination are hard to find in part because they don’t like to participate in surveys. Unlike RWUMC they are not self-employed and therefore much more inclined to follow the mandates if non-compliance is associated with the possible loss of the employment. Despite their low socioeconomic and educational status they are significant group for several reasons:
They are voters. This obvious fact - which was pointed out by Michael Moore (Ref) was forgotten in the past by politicians on both sides of the isle - with bad consequences during elections.
They will do street protests. They are one of very few types of Right Wingers who will show up at during street demonstrations, as seen during the controversy about the removal of Confederate Monuments.
They are sizable group. There is still power in numbers and this category of Conservatives contains many members (Ref).
Prominent Conservative COVID-19 Skeptics (PCCS) (Ref)
Characteristics: This group has been created for the purpose of this analysis. It is unusual typological group from the perspective of the Sociology and Political Sciences. However, the unusual circumstances require the unusual approach.
The inclusion criteria for PCCS are broad and include include any Conservative who has been a vocal critic of the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative and who has achieved public visibility, notoriety or prominence through legacy, alternative or social media.
This group includes Medical Freedom Activists also known as Health Freedom Activists or Health Libertarians, etc (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), Dissident Physicians and Scientists, Pundits, Internet Influencers and Content Creators who question any aspect of the Progressive COVID-19 Narrative.
This is a very broad category, that includes individuals with various background, different level of education and credentialing. They produce presentations of various level of scientific quality. Their intentions cannot always be easily discerned and can vary from the very noble to very nefarious. This variability reflects lack of stringent vetting process and absence of quality control of the alternative conservative media.
As expected PCCS are perceived as heroes by the Conservative side (Ref) and are seen as villains by Progressives (Ref), (Ref), (Ref),
Significance: This is the most significant Conservative group for the COVID-19 dispute. As discussed Conservatives have virtually lost a control of Academia (a traditional source of expertise) which was captured by Progressives. For this reason vast majority of Conservatives do not trust current academicians and tend to reject their recommendations. Lack of the Conservative Academic Scholars created the vacuum of expertise for Conservative Public. That void is being filled now by PCCS. In addition to expertise, some of the PCCS are becoming the leaders for the RWUMC and Conservative Precariat a two prominent groups groups which lack strong leadership.
Conservatives who Deny the Conservative COVID-19 Narrative (Ref), (Ref)
The right wing groups such as Neocons, RINOs and Conservative, Inc. were not included under the umbrella term “Conservatives” since among other things - those groups frequently reject the Conservative COVID-19 narrative. However, there is subset of Conservatives who match the used here definition of Conservatives but who would also embrace the Progressive and not Conservative COVID-19 Narrative. some of the members of this subset are very prominent politically politicians (Ref) or conservative pundits (Ref). They are frequently treated as “heretics” by their fellow Conservatives, however depending on their place in the political hierarchy such “heresy” can be forgiven and explained away (Ref).
Other Conservative Groups. Just like in case of Progressives there are many other categories of Conservatives who are interesting subjects of sociological studies. They will not be discussed here since they do not play any role in the COVID-19 dispute.
Role of Conservatives in the partisan debate over COVID-19
The objective observer can conclude that Conservatives did not choose their role in the partisan debate over COVID-19 but that role was selected for them due to the external circumstances. As David Brooks wrote in his paper “How the Creative Class Broke America” (Ref):
Over the past five decades, the number of working-class and conservative voices in universities, the mainstream media, and other institutions of elite culture has shrunk to a sprinkling. When you tell a large chunk of the country that their voices are not worth hearing, they are going to react badly—and they have.
Indeed the role of Conservatives in this dispute over COVID-19 has to be by definition reactionary. Conservatives were not invited by their Progressive counterparts to any negotiations about the COVID-19 Narrative and associated with it policies. Instead the Progressives who had a tremendous power by controlling the mighty Agencies (CDC, FDA, etc.), mainstream media and Academia (i.e.: expertise) have created themselves the COVID-19 Narrative - without any consultations. Subsequently they expected Conservatives to be fully and enthusiastically compliant with it. And now Progressives are shocked that Conservatives refuse to do so.
Certainly such objective observer will acknowledge that Progressives deny vigorously that their Narrative contain any political bias. Furthermore they claim that Conservatives lacked the necessary expertise and the urgency of the pandemic necessitated taking decisive and prompt actions leaving no time for the debate.
Those arguments can be rebutted by stating that while all of this can be true - one can repeat after David Brooks: that if even the best experts will keep telling arrogantly to the large crowd - that they are just too important and too busy “saving the world” - to listen to the uneducated voices of the rabble, that crowd will lash out against them. “Saving the world” be damned. From all people, the erudite Progressive Academicians should understand that. It seems that they don’t.
In terms of the attitudes towards COVID-19 Vaccinations: only 22% of all types of Conservatives report that it’s very important to get a coronavirus vaccine to be a good member of society. In a contrast 68% of all types of Progressivesagrees with this statement according to 2022 Survey by the Pew Research Center (Ref)
Definition and Role of “Independents”:
The designation “Independents” is self explanatory. Those are individuals who are either disconnected from the two political blocks or who disagree so profoundly with both major worldviews that they cannot be a part of neither of them.
Independents either do not participate in politics or are Swing Voters (Ref). Pew research center uses the name “Stressed Sideliners” to describe this group (Ref). While being very small group Swing Voters they play crucial role in any almost equally divided democratic society. During the elections - their votes will ultimately decide which candidate will win by giving him the advantage over the opponent.
Polarization, Politicization and Power Asymmetry
As discussed previously (Ref) American public became increasingly polarized along the partisan line separating two main ideological mindsets. Differences between Conservatives and Progressives became so deep that they are no longer members of the same nation - who simply disagree on policy matters. The national unity is gone. Instead, there are many hostile tribes assembled against each other in two adversarial nations or “blocs”.
Those two camps have the opposing cultural, economic, religious and moral views. Due to their irreconcilable differences the majority of members of those two groups live within well demarcated communities - where they are surrounded by people who share their political views. They read same newspapers, watch same news programs, belong to the same Social Media groups, going to same churches or social gatherings. In other words they live inside their own echo chambers. This almost perfect separation from each other - give them the impression that their group “has to be in majority” and hence “it has to be right”. They rarely interact with the members of the opposite party and they do not want to.
In the era of radical political polarization the partisan antipathies became more intense than ever (Ref), (Ref), (Ref). Both sociological research and tacit experience shows that members of two opposing blocks shows not only disdain for each other but pure animalistic hatred. Ironically, there are two conflicting explanation for this severe mutual hostility:
Accurate vision of the opponent: Progressives and Conservatives hate each other simply because their actual world views are irreconcilably contradictory to each other. They have different moral frameworks (Ref). What one side loves the other hates. Consequently they have to hate each other. There is no way around it.
Biased vision of the opponent: Progressives and Conservatives hate each other since they do not interact with each other in real life. Therefore they see other side through the distorting lens of the hyper-partisan press (the “outrage industry”) and hyper-partisan social media echo-chambers. Hence they are misled to believe that the most extreme ideas of the opposite block is the mainstream of that party. This is hypothesis promoted by V. A. Parker et al. (Ref), (Ref):
Progressives and Conservatives are locked in their partisan bubbles which are psychological and physical. Few Conservatives who are still present in the Progressive communities (e.g. in Academia) are “the endangered species” there (Ref) and they do not identify themselves as Conservatives to avoid conflicts. Hence, the Progressives and Conservatives do not hold civil informal debates in everyday life. Formal debates on Academic Campuses are blocked by the Progressive (Ref). In such settings, the Progressives form their very negative opinions about Conservatives through:
the prism of the Progressive partisan press that just like the Conservative partisan press has been dubbed the outrage industry (Ref), (Ref).
the magnifying lens of the frantic street protests ranging from the angry shouting matches to the riotous physical violence between two ideological blocks.
amplification of this already substantial negativity by the echo chambers of the hyper-partisan social media.
In result the general opinion of Progressives about Conservatives can be summarized by the tittle of the 2021 Washington Post article by R. Roberts: “Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ speech shocked voters five years ago - but some feel it was prescient” (Ref). At the same time Conservative impression of Conservatives can be reduced to the pity statement, which is also a title of the book written by a prominent conservative: “Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder” (Ref).
In the context relevant to COVID-19 dispute:
Progressives believe that Conservatives:
have a different moral framework than Progressives which makes them react differently to COVID-19 (Ref)
are irrationally less concerned about COVID-19, while being irrationally over-concerned about irrelevant (for Progressives) issues (Ref)
are prone to misperception (developing opinions that are inconsistent with the evidence, such as the acceptance of false claims and the rejection of true claims) (Ref), (Ref)
are fanatical religious fundamentalists and therefore susceptible to fake news (Ref)
reject authority of scientific experts (Ref), (Ref) and attack them violently (Ref)
prone to monological belief systems where belief in one conspiracy correlates with belief in others (Ref), (Ref), (Ref)
are exploited by grifters, charlatans and demagogues due to the above reasons (Ref), (Ref), (Ref)
Conservatives believe that Progressives cannot be trusted on COVID-19 because they are :
The General Characteristics of the Divide
Fact that there are significant differences in the perception of COVID-19 pandemic between Progressives and Conservatives is obvious to any perceptive observer. This remarkable divergence of opinions is the subject of numerous research papers and political commentaries (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref). However, most authors have focused on the narrow aspects of this partisan divide such as its impact on compliance with social distancing mandates (Ref), on mortality (Ref), on vaccination (Ref), or on treatment (Ref). Very few if any commenters attempted to analyze the two competing COVID-19 narratives - from the more broad perspective.
The goal of this commentary is to initiate the process of bridging this analytical gap. However, the purpose of this analysis is not to zealously argue which narrative is “true/right” or “false/wrong”. Instead, to help the readers in reaching their own conclusions - we will strive to provide as objective as possible description of the general characteristics of the current partisan schism over COVID-19. This will be followed by the careful examinations of each of two partisan narratives. Finally, the root causes and implications of this ideological rift will be discussed.
Table 1 summarizes the difference of opinions about essential aspects of COVID-19 Pandemic between Progressives and Conservatives. Those condensed data represent the simplified synthesis of the views expressed by the members of those two political faction. Not every singe progressive or conservative asserts the described here impressions. Nevertheless, this compilation reflect accurately the current patterns of thinking about COVID-19 among Progressives and Conservatives. Lets’ review this table line by line and discuss the significance of those differences:
There are several striking conclusions which come to mind after reviewing the content of the Table 1 in the context of the status of the current political landscape:
First, that the differences of opinions between two opposing partisan blocks are extreme and rigid.
Second, that those differences are virtually irreconcilable and not negotiable.
Third, that there is a clear power asymmetry between those two hostile parties. The power of Progressives is stronger than Conservatives since the Left Wing controls legacy media, powerful administrative agencies (CDC, FDA, etc) and the Academia (which is a traditional source of expertise).
Fourth, that there is an unexpected stalemate between those two factions despite the clear imbalance of power.
Extremal and rigid nature of both partisan opinions
The difference of opinions due to the political views existed even in the by-gone era of near universal comity and compromise (Ref). However, those differences were rarely extreme. They were limited to certain peculiar details while the general concepts were shared by the vast majority within the the large identity group such as the nation. The huge conceptual discrepancies existed between different nations, religions and cultures but they were rarely present within those groups. Not so long time ago - before 1990s, the worldviews of the Republicans and Democrats were very similar at their cores and differed only regarding the specific interpretations of the same common principles (Ref), (Ref).
This is not a case with the way in which Conservatives and Progressives perceive the essential aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The assertions about COVID-19 made by Conservatives and Progressives are not even the ends of the same continuum. There is no continuum between the notion that the COVID-19 virus is “the natural phenomenon” and the claim that it is “a man-made creation”. There is no common core here. Such extremely different views appears to be originating from the two different distant universes - not from the inside of the same nation.
Moreover, in case of the opinions that could have some common ground (e.g. issue of treatment) the compromise is still impossible due to the unyielding rigidity with which both blocks uphold their positions. There is simply no place in this debate - for giving any concessions to the other side or even for the admission of uncertainty. Each group is convinced that it knows the absolute truth and that the other side is absolutely wrong and that it is driven by the ulterior motives.
Vast majority of the researchers on both sides are not interested in performing the unbiased investigation to discover the objective truth. Rather they are busy collecting the data and facts that can be presented as evidence supporting their preconceived notions. To be fair, it has to be noted that such attitude of many conservative researchers is reactive, defensive and caused by frustration. Such Conservatives are responding with the resentment - to the initial Left Wing Narrative which was created with much bigger resources and which is enforced more strongly than Conservative narrative can be. As noted, Progressives have much more power than Conservatives - because Left wing is in control of mighty administrative institutions and Academia. It is a known fact, that victims of the bullying ultimately start using the aggressive tactics used by the bullies to fight back.
Regrettably, neither party is willing to concede that due to the limitations of modern science it is very difficult to absolutely prove or to definitely disprove the majority of the current partisan opinions on COVID-19. In fact, the only common ground between those two warring faction is the erroneous belief that the “infallible scientific proof” can be produced. And that such unquestionable magical proof can miraculously change the mind of the other side.
Such notion is fallacious because, term “scientific proof” is a misconception. The scientific research does not generally provide a definite yes-or-no answer for the specific practical questions (Ref) (Ref). There is no ultimate/infallible proof in science. There is only the preponderance of evidence. Each new piece of information (evidence) - generated by the research simply tilts the balance of possible conclusions - in one direction or in the other. Moreover, this tilt is a subject to change. The evidence may evolve and consequently the conclusions may change. As summarized by H. Baron (Ref):
“Science involves the conception and construction of refutable hypotheses, and their testing by repeatable experiments, followed by publication of the results. Thus, science is uncertain, tentative, probabilistic and universal. Every scientific statement remains tentative forever.“
This traditional concept of science is lost in the heat of the politically charged raging partisan conflict.
The Progressive Narrative about COVID-19
Table 1 demonstrates the Progressive Narrative about COVID-19 consists of the series of largely plausible, mundane, robust and ultimately reassuring views, which are homogenous and standardized but also contain some distinct incoherencies.
The essence of this reassuring Progressive Narrative may be summarized as follows:
A natural disaster (animal to human transmission of deadly virus causing pandemic) has spontaneously occurred just like many other times in the past. This is a very serious global emergency which requires extraordinary measures. Fortunately, the competent and benevolent government will keep everybody safe - as long as they will strictly follow the governmental orders based upon the scientific opinion of the best experts and disregard the misinformation propagated by the dangerous charlatans - such as the ineffective and harmful treatments (HCQ, IVM). The ultimate solution to this crisis is the mass vaccination campaign using novel but safe and effective vaccines.
Moreover, either by the accident or by design those views are very profitable for their major donors and powerful allies. Those views are consistent with Progressive ideology, benefit its major sponsors and resonate well with the Progressive base - but can be also attractive for certain types of independents.
Most importantly the Progressive Narrative can be easily enforced and standardized since the Left Wing controls legacy media, powerful administrative agencies (CDC, FDA, etc) and the Academia (which is a traditional source of expertise). Therefore, those views are overall homogeneous since their distribution is centralized with CDC and FDA serving as clearing houses making those views homogeneous.
As expected the opinions of Progressives are the almost perfect antitheses of the ideas expressed by the Conservatives. The most surprising part is that despite having the tremendous power advantage - the Progressives were unable to quash the opposition of much weaker Conservatives. Instead of the easy victory the Left Wing continues to struggle in this conflict being locked in the unexpected stalemate.
Plausibility and Robustness
It is very clear lookin at the inventory of the Progressive opinions on COVID-19 that virtually all of their assertions are very probable and mundane in its nature and hence very easy to be accepted by the people who tend to be wary of extra-ordinary claims and who rely on Ockham Razor for the assessment of the competing claims. Naturally fact that one hypothesis or solution is more probable than the others does not make them objectively true and right. This paradox has been elegantly summarized by HL Mencken who stated: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem: neat, plausible, and wrong.” Nevertheless neat and plausible solutions are favored by the people who constitute the base of the Progressive camp and by many independents who rely on similar reasoning.
The Progressive researchers claim that they arrived to those neat and plausible conclusion by performing the unbiased research. The Progressive base is eager to believe their experts and the plausibility of those conclusions is making such acceptance even easier and hence more robust. Naturally, the Conservative base will be skeptical of those opinions for the reasons described below. However, Conservatives will have very hard time trying to persuade the Progressives that they were misled by their experts. This will be a difficult task not only due to partisan groupthink of the Left Wingers but also because of this built-in robustness of the Progressive Narrative.
There are some clear incoherences within the Progressive narrative. For instance, the indulgence was given for the violation of social distancing to the BLM rallies. This incongruity revealed the strong political bias of Progressives, despite their claims to the contrary. Presence of such an obvious cognitive dissonance is one of the few weakness in the otherwise robust Progressive narrative. It is a flaw which can be exploited by their enemies. However any damage it caused - was compensated by the enthusiasm with which the Progressive base has received such an ideology driven allowance.
Bad Optics of Profitability for Major Donors
The biggest liability of the Progressive Narrative is that the policies which were enacted based upon the Progressive assertions were enormously beneficial for the major progressive donors. Lockdown mandates benefited greatly several progressively aligned large corporations such as Amazon, Walmart, UberEats, Fedex, UPS while destroying numerous small and predominantly conservative local businesses. The Progressive Narrative by emphasizing the purported inefficacy and dangers of the repurposed drugs (e.g. HCQ, IVM) and promoting the asserted effectiveness and safety of vaccines and novel antiviral drugs created the financial boon for the pharmaceutical companies - that happened to be major donors for Progressives.
The correlation between the mandates modeled upon the Progressive Narrative and the enrichment of the major progressive donors is irrefutable. Correlation does not imply causation and those scenarios could happen by the pure accidents. Still existence of such convenient correlation is problematic for the Progressives. Indeed the accusations that the Progressive Narrative was deliberately designed to cause those profits - even at costs of harming the public were and are being made by the Conservatives. However, as with many aspects of this partisan debate - effectively proving or disproving those accusations is extremely difficult. The innocent coincidences do happen. But so do the corruption and conspiracies. Producing the smoking gun type of evidence demonstrating that corruption and conspiracy played a role here is immensely difficult for Conservatives. Yet, Progressives also face a tough if not impossible task of convincing very suspicious Conservatives that no impropriety took place. The important two question here are:
Given the discussed below power advantage of Progressives - should they even care about proving that the Conservative accusations against them are false?
Would providing such a proof help the Progressives to break the unexpected stalemate in which they are still locked in?
Progressive Power Advantage
As mentioned before, Progressives have a significant power advantage over Conservatives, because the Left Wing:
dominates the legacy media (mainstream press, TV networks, largest social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube and until recently Tweeter),
exerts virtually unchallenged control over the powerful federal health agencies (CDC, FDA, HHS, etc) and
reigns supreme over the Academia, which is still considered to be a source of the most credible expertise by the large part of the public.
So far Conservatives were able to make a dent in the Left’s dominance over the mass media by creating several alternative media outlets and platforms. However, the Progressives continue to maintain their strong hold over the governmental health agencies and are the unquestionable Masters of the traditional Academia.
One can argue that Progressives feel particularly empowered in the partisan dispute over COVID-19 - since they have still the immense authority of the official Academia behind them. They have been reigning over the Academe for a long time and have successfully purged almost all conservative competitors from it (Ref). The few openly conservative academicians who dared to stay in the Ivory Tower are under immense pressure, which sometimes leads to the tragedy (Ref), (Ref), (Ref).
Many progressive academic scientists have conveniently forgotten that belief in “infallible scientific proof” is a fallacy and they keep feeding public with deceptive phrases such as: “The science is settled”, “This definitive study provides incontrovertible proof of ”, “The ultimate scientific consensus has been reached”. They do accept that the conclusions can change - but only if the change is in favor of their politically biased opinion . They resist any changes that contradict their preferred political narrative.
Large number of progressives - both scientists and laypeople became convinced that they are the only legitimate “owners” of the “true science” - since their side controls almost exclusively all the scientific institutions. Some progressive scientists went so far as equating themselves with the Science (Ref) in a way eerily similar to the Roman Emperors who have claimed to be gods (Ref). Other very partisan progressive scientists have been writing the alarmist papers propounding that any opposition to the partisan actions of the progressive activist scientists is equivalent to the barbaric “anti-science aggression” (Ref), (Ref). All of this politicization of the science is naturally contradictory to the traditional concept of science. As discussed above science is supposed to be apolitical and unifying not politicized and divisive.
Unfortunately, the pervasiveness and pace of politicization, polarization and power asymmetry has increased expotentially during COVID-19 pandemic. The temptation to never let a good crisis go to waste was just too big for the progressive politicians and supporting them medical experts. At the beginning of the pandemic the high ranking medical officials have suspended the “patients decision sharing” principle which they promoted vigorously before. They have switched to the paternalistic mode by treating the public and especially its conservative part as the obnoxious, unwise and reckless teenagers. Those leaders saw themselves as the “prudent adults” who in order to protect the silly younglings have to lie, coerce and discipline them.
While making their recommendations during the peak of the COVID-19 national emergency numerous progressive medical experts did not shy from flaunting their partisanship and ideological bias. That attitude was not new. Any objective observer would note the following dynamics occurring between the Academic leadership and the conservative part of the general public. For years before the pandemic the luminaries of the Left Wing controlled Academia were preoccupied with progressive virtue signaling. They were making politically biased statements in the mass media and were writing the progressive agenda promoting papers in the formerly apolitical scientific journals. They appear to be oblivious the fact that such pervading left wing activism was inevitably alienating the part of the public that professed the conservative philosophy.
Consequently, over the years the conservative public have been exposed to the politically biased opinions made by those prominent progressive Academic Leaders. Those opinions were frequently contradictory to the most basic conservative tenets. They negated the dear to conservatives traditions and were inconsistent with what conservatives considered to be “common sense and logic”. Moreover, those opinions were expressed ex cathedra and with the arrogance and disdain towards any persons who would profess the right wing ideology.
In the view of such a hostile dynamics - it would be illogical to expect that the conservative public which was offended, bewildered and belittled by progressive academic leaders would respond with the trust and confidence towards them. Naturally the opposite has happened. This distrust in academic scientists among conservatives that predated the COVID-19 pandemic has been further augmented by their blatant partisan bias displayed during this massive epidemiological disaster (Ref). Amazingly, the same left wing scientists who have been antagonizing the conservative public for years by contentious progressive activism and who doubled down on it during pandemic - appeared to be shocked that conservatives public is not trusting them and refusing to follow their recommendations.
There is a virtual tsunami of scientific papers that bemoans the “irrational” distrust of conservatives in the “Science”. The progressive Academicians proclaim with disdain that conservatives instead of embracing the information produced by the Progressive Academia prefer to believe the ludicrous and dangerous misinformation which is being spread by the charlatans, quacks and grifters. They and attribute this to low level of education, subpar intelligence and bigoted fanaticism of conservatives. In other words, the Academic Leaders instead of initiating the respectful dialogue with conservative public - keep insulting its members only to be appalled that majority of conservatives distrust the academia more and more.
Fact that such leaders are in charge of modern Academia is truly regrettable. It has to be acknowledged that despite its infiltration by the partisan politics, vast majority of the medical academic departments are still putting the emphasis on apolitical excellence. Medical Schools are still characterized by having a highly competitive environment. It is painful to see so many talented, hardworking and very well trained scientists, clinicians and academic educators - who are being seduced or coerced by the the crude partisan ideology. The ordeal of the scientists who simply love to do sciences and not to spread any type of ideology is insufferable. The conservative public may be not awarer that many medical departments are not yet converted into the progressive cult houses. Politics is rarely if ever discussed during lab meetings, case conferences, journal clubs and Grand Rounds - unless this is mandated by the Progressive leadership. The frontline academic researchers unlike their top leaders - spend most of their time mastering new research techniques, conducting complex research studies, reviewing scientific papers of their peers, discussing difficult clinical cases and performing other purely apolitical scientific or clinical tasks. Many resent the encroachment of partisanship which compel them to virtue signal the political views in which they have no interest since their main goal is in advancing science and refining their scholarship.
The Conservative Narrative about COVID-19
The Conservatives COVID-19 Narrative is almost perfect antitheses of the ideas expressed by the Progressives. Table 1 demonstrates that Conservatives hold a series of the fixed, overall alarmistic, sometimes implausible and controvertible opinions about COVID-19.
The essence of this alarmist Conservative Narrative may be summarized as follows:
A man-made catastrophe (either accidental due to negligence or deliberate due to malice release of bioweapon causing pandemic) has occurred. This is a planed world wide emergency event (“pandemic”) prepared and executed by the powerful conspiracy. This event is used as the excuse - to enslave and “cull” a world population and to make profit for the evil pharmaceutical corporations. The government and its experts cannot be trusted since they plays an essential part in this sinister plan. The governmental orders has to be disregarded and opposed because those are dangerous. Safe and effective treatments (HCQ, IVM) are being suppressed by the government since they interfere with the profit of the evil corporations and with execution of the evil plan. The vaccines pushed by the government are neither safe nor effective. They cause great harm but they are part of the sinister plan of enslavement, culling off the world population and profit makers for the big pharmaceutical corporations.
Despite of its sensational tone, in general those views resonate well with the embraced by Conservatives philosophy of Medical Freedom (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref). Moreover either by the accident or by design - they promote the financial profit of many Conservative allies, while being detrimental for business of major donors of Progressives.
Alarmism, Implausibility and Monological Reasoning
When examined without the proper context of power asymmetry (Ref)- many alarmist opinions contained in the Conservative COVID-19 can be characterized as illogical, implausible and farfetched. Such uncanny claims evoke the reflexive aversion in individuals who prefer the multilogical way of thinking (Ref) (Ref). Such persons tend to analyze the problem using many frames of reference to establish the set of initial hypotheses. Subsequently they apply the Ockham Razor to eliminate less probable explanations. However, the more outlandish the assertion is - the more it is accepted by the people who are prone to monological reasoning i.e.: thinking that is conducted exclusively within one frame of reference (Ref), (Ref), (Ref), (Ref).
The objective observer has to conclude that many of claims in this narrative can be characterized as a part of the monological belief systems which constitute the core of so called conspiracy theories (Ref), (Ref), (Ref). The term “conspiracy theory” is often used as a pejorative label - since according to conventional wisdom the devotees of such theories are uneducated, unreasonable, paranoid and delusional individuals. A logical discussion with some conspiracy theory enthusiasts is indeed impossible since many of them are neither reasonable nor persuadable interlocutors (Ref). However, some author point out that conspiracy beliefs are not necessarily reflective of intellectual or characterological flaws. They can be driven by reaction to maltreatment, anxiety induced by the apparent threat and feelings of powerlessness (Ref) (Ref). Such believes can be developed by the most reasonable, educated and logical individual who was subjected to severe psychological stress. Therefore, when one examines the alarmistic nature of the Conservative COVID-19 Narrative in the context of the power asymmetry (Ref) - it will make perfect sense. The proclivity towards being a conspiracy theorist should be expected in anyone who is facing the existential threat. This is true especially after that person was previously ignored, belittled, harassed and med feel defenseless.
Moreover, as history shows many outwardly farfetched conspiracy theories have been proven right. Unfortunately, the mere fact that the theory seems to be implausible does not make it so. For all those reason the objective observer shall conclude that Conservative Narrative cannot be dismissed - without the thorough and objective investigation. The problem is who would be qualified to perform such an impartial investigation in the world of the severe partisan polarization and power asymmetry? Is there an objective and fair third party who can be trusted by the both sides and most importantly - whose final judgment would be respected by them. Sadly the answer to this question is - that there is probably no one like that. And this situation will continue as long as the political polarization will last.
So what is happening instead of such an ideal arbitration? How are the Conservatives trying to prove to their opponents and to themselves that their Narrative is the true and the correct one? The answer to those queries is not very satisfactory as well. It appears that so far Conservatives are using two imperfect but apparently only available to them approaches:
Review of academic publication. As discussed above, conservatives neglected academia and lost it to Progressives who currently control it exclusively. Interestingly, despite knowledge about this many conservatives - dissident scientists and laypeople alike continue to desperately search for the evidence which would back their Conservative Narrative in the publication produced by the Progressive leadership controlled Academia. There is a clear cognitive dissonance here. It is rather illogical to simultaneously claim that the traditional academia is absolutely corrupted, biased and falsifies data all the time - yet keep looking for the evidence which would support conservative believes in the work produced by the said partisan Progressive Academia. However, this is exactly what is happening.
Reliance on own experts. The other approach used by Conservatives is the reliance on the work of their own researchers - who are frequently less qualified and always much less equiped than Academic Researchers (Table 2). This aproach has low chance for the success either.
Not So Unexpected Stalemate
As discussed above - despite having the tremendous power advantage the Progressives were unable to swiftly crush the opposition of much weaker Conservatives. Instead of the logical easy and fast victory the Left Wing continues to struggle in this partisan dispute over COVID-19 being locked in the unexpected stalemate.
This situation maybe however much less counterintuitive that it would appear on the surface. An objective observer can hypothesize that such Stalemate is actually very desirable for many participants of this debate. It provides attractive source of employment and prestige for the members the unemployed Progressive Precariat. With the total victory of Progressive Narrative - the Progressive Anti-Misinformation Activists would have to return to their former status of the unemployed and irrelevant losers. To be fair a very similar end could await many Conservative COVID-19 pundits, influencers and activists as well. Hence it may be not that surprising that this unexpected stalemate continues. Current stalemate is very frustrating for many, but it is also the money and prestige maker for others.
It is important to remember the history lessons:
Every Empire needs barbaric enemies to justify its existence and prosperity of its leaders: when one enemy is defeated or simply disappears, it creates a dangerous vacuum. Therefore it is better for the empire to keep the known enemy alive to justify the high pay for Generals of the Imperial Legions who “bravely defend the imperial population from the barbaric hordes”.
Perhaps in the current historical chess game of the partisan narratives - with the managed Stalemate - the Conservatives are playing the role of the Barbarians for the modern day Romans (PMCs) echoing the ironic message of the Constantine Cavafy famous poem: “Waiting for the Barbarians” (Ref).
A novel coronavirus designated as SARS-CoV-2 has suddenly emerged at the end of the year 2019 causing the global pandemic of the serious illness named COVID-19. This pandemic has been occurring in a complex political settings characterized by the politicization of medicine, severe political polarization, and power asymmetry (Ref). According to Pew Research Center the U.S. is one of the most divided countries regarding the views on this pandemic (Ref).
The remarkable divergence of opinions on COVID-19 between the two main ideological blocks – resulted in creation of the two competing narratives describing differently: the epidemiological significance of COVID-19, its treatment and prevention.
One of those two narratives - endorsed by the Progressive coalition has been proclaimed to be the default national standard. This has occurred due to the fact that the ideological Progressive block promoting this narrative has a full control over the mighty governmental agencies (e.g. CDC, FDA), Academia (traditional source of expertise), legacy press (traditional method of delivering information). The opposing Conservative block refused to accept the Progressive Narrative as a default narrative and continues to promote its own version. Despite having substantial power advantage over the Conservative Block - the Progressive coalition was unable to so far to decisively prevail in this dispute. This stalemate continues unresolved since so far there is no arbitration mechanism which could resolve this conflict.
Selected References and Suggested Further Readings
Pew Research Center. (2021, November 9). The Political Typology: In polarized era, deep divisions persist within coalitions of both Democrats and Republicans. Pew Research Center Report. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/11/09/beyond-red-vs-blue-the-political-typology-2/
Campbell, A. et al. The American Voter (University of Chicago Press, 1960). https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/A/bo24047989.html
Converse, E. "The nature of belief systems in mass publics (1964)." Critical review 18.1-3 (2006): 1-74. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233246628_The_Nature_of_Belief_Systems_in_Mass_Publics
Iyengar, S, Westwood, SJ. Fear and loathing across party lines: New evidence on group polarization. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 59, 690–707 (2015). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajps.12152
D. P. Green, B. Palmquist, E. Schickler, Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters (Yale Univ. Press, 2004). https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300101560/partisan-hearts-and-minds/
L. Mason, Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became our Identity(University of Chicago Press, 2018). https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/U/bo27527354.html
J. R. Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992).
G. S. Lenz, Follow the Leader?: How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Policies and Performance (University of Chicago Press, 2013).
M. Levendusky, How Partisan Media Polarize America(University of Chicago Press, 2013).
C. H. Achen, L. M. Bartels, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections do not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton Univ. Press, 2017), vol. 4.
M. F. Margolis, M. W. Sances, Partisan differences in nonpartisan activity: The case of charitable giving. Polit. Behav. 39, 839–864 (2017).
M. A. Baum, Red state, blue state, flu state: Media self-selection and partisan gaps in swine flu vaccinations. J. Health Polit. Policy Law 36, 1021–1059 (2011).
Geoffrey Layman, Thomas Carsey, and Juliana Menasce Horowitz, “Party Polarization in American Politics: Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences,” The Annual Review of Political Science 9 (2006), 83-110.
Parker, Victoria A., et al. “The Ties That Blind: Misperceptions of the Opponent Fringe and the Miscalibration of Political Contempt.” PsyArXiv, 1 Oct. 2021. Web. https://psyarxiv.com/cr23g/