The pharmacist in Wisconsin who destroyed 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine did so because he believed they would “alter human DNA,” reflecting a popular conspiracy theory on Facebook that has absolutely no basis in fact.
Science, religion, and conspiracy theories are all, essentially the same thing: systems or attempts to explain the unknown, to make sense out of things beyond our senses or immediate, touchable reality. Thus, our vulnerability to conspiracy theories and con artists like Trump.
It’s impossible for any individual to know or understand everything. We believe electrons make our computers work, but for all but a few scientists who’ve actually seen and measured electrons, it’s only a belief. We must trust their word.
This is why trust is central to science, and why scientific norms and institutions require multiple layers and dimensions of confirmation before things are asserted as true or even probable.
It’s also why trust is so vital for religion, and why we’re so horrified by situations like Jim Jones, Jerry Falwell Jr., and child-abusing priests. To commit to a religion or existential belief system requires trust, and these are all examples of betrayal of that trust.
This is why we’re so vulnerable to con artists like Trump and corrupted institutions like the GOP. Based on trust built by past “good faith” politicians like Eisenhower, in 1980 Reagan began pushing scams like trickle-down and the “voter fraud” excuse for voter suppression. He betrayed our trust.
The average person has no way of knowing if “voter fraud” is real; science says it’s so rare it’s inconsequential. But for 40 years the GOP has pushed this conspiracy theory to justify blocking tens of millions of Americans’ right to vote. They betray the people’s trust.
The average person can’t confirm the reality of climate change through their own senses, so the GOP has, for 40 years, asserted that this solid but relatively complex and multi-factored science is simply a conspiracy theory itself. They betray the people’s trust.
Observational economics, a science, shows higher minimum wages, high taxes on corporations and the very rich, and worker protections all strengthen an economy (like 1950–1980). But for 40 years the GOP pushed “supply side economics,” a fantasy that is easily disproven as economic science. They betray the public’s trust.
News was once more like science: observations and data points, multiple confirmations, answers to skeptical challenges. Now there’s an entire ecosystem pushing rightwing lies and calling them truth, from Fox News to rightwing radio to political operatives on Facebook. They betray the public’s trust.
Americans are used to believing that our Presidents speak truth. Ronald Reagan, both George Bush’s and Donald Trump have all lied to use that trust to enrich themselves and their billionaire friends, poison our planet, and enhance their party’s power by turning us against each other. Reagan and both Bush’s even lied us into unnecessary wars. They betrayed the people’s trust.
Most things in our lives rely on trust, from relationships to taking medication to relying on our car’s gas gauge. Trump and the Republican party have exploited our innate instinct and need to trust and turned it against us.
Those like the Wisconsin pharmacist who believed these conspiracy theories are victims just as much as the rest of us who must rely on our nation’s political, economic and social systems. Without trust, none of these systems can work effectively or efficiently for all.
Corrupting these systems, Republicans betrayed our trust and have brought our democratic republic to the verge of authoritarian oligarchy. America is not yet irredeemable, but history tells us that conspiracy theories, like Hitler‘s “We were stabbed in the back,” often lead countries to terrible ends when they’re widely believed.
More than even science or religion, a democratic republican form of government cannot exist without trust.
Every democratic republic that has fallen in the last two thousand years, including the Roman Republic, was first weakened by demagogic politicians sowing distrust in government itself the way Trump and his collaborators within the GOP are doing right now. This is how republics die.
If America doesn’t call this out clearly and without compromise, and impose severe consequences on these seditious traitors, the next Republican president will be even worse.
This is why it’s so important not just to hold Trump to account for his criminal activities prior to the presidency, but for all the lies he and his collaborators have told since he became president.
As we saw after World War II with the Nuremberg trials, and as South Africa showed the world, until there is accountability there is not a widespread and shared understanding of reality. Accountability restores trust.
America has been attacked from within. The values on which this country was established have been twisted, perverted and turned against its people with everything from voter fraud lies to climate change lies to, now, coronavirus lies. The result has been more American deaths then in World War II, and a dramatic weakening of our civic institutions.
Today, the biggest betrayal of Americans’ trust since the Civil War, Donald Trump and his co-conspirators are attempting to reverse the outcome of our 2020 presidential election.
The only way to restore public trust is to hold Trump, his funders, and the media companies that have knowingly amplified provable lies to account.
Whether America decides to do this through a truth and reconciliation commission, public trials, congressional investigations, or all three, it must be done.
If Trump and his allies get away with their many attempts to damage or destroy the American republic, and this current attempt to overthrow the outcome of a national national election, the next coup — probably leading to the end of the American experiment — is inevitable.