The Coronavirus Is Immune to Lies

Richard Feynman

W.J. Astore

Investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, physicist Richard Feynman reached a famous conclusion: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

The COVID-19 virus is not going to be fooled with lies.  It’s not going to be fooled by a denial of medical science.  You can’t “spin” the virus away with false information and happy talk.  And this is precisely why President Trump (and indeed many other politicians) is uniquely unqualified to handle this crisis.

Trump is the man who sold us a fake university.  Trump is the man who’s lied roughly 13 times a day since becoming president.  Trump is a fantasist, a fabulist, a con man, a used car salesman, a huckster, an entertainer, take your pick.  And he’s good at it.  It’s a skill that got him to the White House.  But it’s not a skill that works against the coronavirus.

The other day, I was listening to an interview with Noam Chomsky, and he made the point that Trump is a master propagandist.  His skill is his shamelessness and sheer extent of his lying.  Trump floods the market with lies, so much so that many people, and especially those sympathetic to him, lose the ability to tell truth from lies, fact from fiction.  Politically, this helps Trump; but in meeting this medical crisis, it’s a skill that may cost America tens of thousands of lives, and, in worst-case scenarios, perhaps a million or more.

Living by the light of lies is a surefire way to get burned.  Last night, I was reading Norman Mailer and came across this invaluable insight:

“Fascism is not a way of life but a murderous mode of deadening reality by smothering it with lies.”

The more lies we tell, the more we open ourselves to fascism.  Mailer uses the word meretricious, which combines vulgarity with falseness and insincerity, and he proceeds to denounce our culture, our art, as sickening us because of its ugly dishonesty.  (And Mailer was saying this in the early 1960s!)

Again, lies will not defeat COVID-19; they will only speed its spread through America.  Lies will only kill us while smothering democracy.

Feynman was right: “Nature cannot be fooled.”  So too was Mailer: As a leader, if you think you can deaden the reality of a pandemic with lies, you’re not thinking at all.  You’re acting murderously instead.

Update (3/25): Our Dear Leader has decreed America will be open for business again by Easter. Don’t worry: the final decision will be based “on facts.”

They really felt they needed to add that coda: based on facts. And they did, because most of the Trump presidency has been based on lies.

Maybe my title should have been “The Coronavirus Feeds on Lies.” And we are giving it plenty to feed on.

Update (3/26): If America reopens by Easter with crowded churches and the like, prepare for lots of dead people, as this article and graph show (courtesy of the New York Times):

lead-comparison-Artboard_1 (1)
Social distancing for 14 days leads to 128 million total infections in the USA by October (curve on left).  Social distancing for two months leads to 14 million total infections (curve on right).  Trump appears to prefer the curve on the left in the name of boosting our economy.  Which result would you choose as the leader of America?

16 thoughts on “The Coronavirus Is Immune to Lies

  1. I have always called Trump a used building salesman. That’s like a used car salesman on a grand scale. Bush II was a duffus; Clinton, a good ol’ boy; Obama, a family man, Carter, a Christian; Bush I, a patrician: etc.


  2. A Phoenix-area man has died and his wife was in critical condition after the couple took chloroquine phosphate, an additive used to clean fish tanks that is also found in an anti-malaria medication touted by Donald Trump as a treatment for Covid-19.

    Banner Health said on Monday the couple in their 60s got sick within half an hour of ingesting the additive. The man could not be resuscitated at hospital but the woman was able to throw up much of the chemical.

    “Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure,” the woman told NBC.

    She said her advice would be: “Don’t take anything. Don’t believe anything. Don’t believe anything that the president says and his people … call your doctor.”

    At a news conference last week, Trump falsely stated that the Food and Drug Administration had just approved the use of an anti-malaria medication called chloroquine to treat patients infected with coronavirus.

    Chloroquine is obtained by prescription, and Banner Health is urging medical providers against prescribing it to people who are not hospitalised.

    The difference between the fish tank cleaning additive the couple took and the drug used to treat malaria is the way they are formulated.
    If Trump would have said that garlic prevents Corona Virus, we would have the Trumpters walking around with garlic around their necks and garlic shortage.


    1. Quite. Self-medication with anything more potent than camomile or aspirin is not very clever, doing it with a potentially lethal drug (not to mention fishtank cleaner with a similar name !) is outright stupid and Trump bears a huge responsibility for keeping on touting (hydro-) chloroquine :
      In Jordan the authorities at least seem to use it only for people so sick that they have nothing to lose :

      While I’ve been following the epidemic since its start in Wuhan, when it was already clear that it is exceptionally contagious, I admit that now I increasingly feel like I’m watching a sci-fi movie or got caught in a time warp machine which propelled me in some distant future. Britain now is also paying the price for Boris initially having laughed it off. Kindred spirit with Trump, equally immature, in spite of his much better education.


      1. Garlic acts as a natural “broad-spectrum antibiotic” in our digestive tracts. Thus, overindulgence could actually be harmful, by killing some of the benign bacteria that aid us in digestion. However, the jury is still out on whether wearing a garland of garlic around the neck really repels Dracula!


  3. And read on the The Intercept the FDA has granted Gilead “orphan status” for its antiviral drug remdesivir. That means they can charge what they want for it and only the few will be able to afford it. Or until they can extort the federal government to pay for everyone. Capitalism certainly works – for the few.


    1. I had seen Gilead in a small headline other day but didn’t click on it to pursue details. As far as I know there’s no PROVEN pharmaceutical cure for the current virus plagueing the planet. NY Times has article today stating there are over 6800 viruses that Science has ID’d…and maybe TRILLIONS more yet to be discovered!! An international–and free of “nationalist” bias–team needs to work to identify exactly how this “bug” got transferred to humans. Snakes, bats and Pangolins have all been mentioned as possible animal origins. Science is one of my great passions and I’m personally very curious about this situation.


  4. “There’s something about Texas politicians.” Something in the air or water down there, perhaps? That former largest of states currently “boasts” a Lt. Governor who’s urging the cessation of containment efforts in the name of restarting the nation’s economy. Just brilliant, eh? Mark Twain was fond of pointing out that “A lie can travel halfway around the world before truth can even get out of bed.”


  5. It’s worth reinforcing that Mailer was observing in the 1960s what has become endemic in the 21st century. There are no reliable measures of just how far from reality we are now, but the tone and character of it have become so brazen it boggles the mind. Knowing that some large percentage of utterances issuing from the bully pulpit of the executive office is garbage, I can’t help but to wonder why anyone even bothers turning their attention there for valuable information — except that the value lies in its crazy ability to attract the ratings and clicks that have transformed the news world. Stop shoving the microphone in his face and unfollow his Twitter feed! It’s a wasteland.

    The larger erosion of trust, authority, and expertise in the culture is something I’ve been blogging about for years under the phrase “epistemological crisis.” The long and short of it is that we have abandoned proper critical thought and instead opened up everything to individual interpretation a/k/a radical relativism. We’ve dissolved reality in favor of ideation, often driven by magical thinking and an abiding desire for (illusory) certainty that used to be supplied by faith. So while I agree with your fretting about the liar-in-chief, it’s part of a much larger landscape we can’t escape.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “….I can’t help but to wonder why anyone even bothers turning their attention there [ie: D.Trump] for valuable information…”

      Yes, Brutus, I strongly agree with your above statement. In a way, I can’t even really get mad at Trump because at the end of the day, he didn’t elect himself, there was plenty of history of his sleazy background, he was an obvious opportunist (switching party allegiances) so you couldn’t take any of his ‘positions’ seriously, and — the major one for me — he was in NO way subtle about this! Christ, he was so over-the-top in his emotional appeals that it harkened-back to a George Wallace with his rhetoric. He had even been in a WWE ‘professional’ wrestling match. The fact that about 48% of voters couldn’t/wouldn’t see him as a 3rd rate bullshitter, THAT’S what angers/ worries me and is ultimately the basic problem in this country.


      1. A goodly number of state legislatures have passed bills calling for winner of popular vote to get all delegates from that state. An open question for me is: is there a means available for this to be overruled on Federal level? I mean, hell, we can’t be having a dangerous outbreak of “democratic” processes on top of the virus outbreak, right??


  6. Our Dear Leader has decreed America will be open for business again by Easter. Don’t worry: the final decision will be based “on facts.”

    They really felt they needed to add that coda: based on facts. And they did, because most of the Trump presidency has been based on lies.

    Maybe my title should have been “The Coronavirus Feeds on Lies.” And we are giving it plenty to feed on.


    1. Trump, for a “genius businessman,” is remarkably ignorant about real-world economics. But it’s started to penetrate his rock-hard noggin that the economy really is going down the tubes, so he’s desperate to return us to “normalcy.” The upsloping curves of new cases in many parts of the country dump cold water on DJT’s Easter dreams. Easter Sunday is barely more than two weeks away, after all. Lots and lots of cold water!


    2. Mi scusi, Professore … but what kind of facts will we be talking about: “factual facts” or “alternative facts”? Well, I think we all know the answer to that one, but one has to ask.
      (“Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.” – Perry Mason, Henry Drummond, Jack McCoy)


      1. The enclosure of “on facts” in quotation marks–by Jove, like I just typed it–indicated Mr. Astore’s intention to cast doubt (understatement, of course!) on Trump’s statement. As we must do with all his statements, even though a broken (analog) clock is right twice a day. When he was able to lay off China briefly, Fearless Leader characterized the virus as “an invisible enemy.” Yes, as with all pathogens, that is true. Bottom line: Nobody, but nobody, can predict when we will return to “normalcy,” which is bad enough in and of itself. But we CAN be confident it won’t happen by Easter Sunday, which is barely over two weeks down the road. Orthodox Easter? Nope, won’t happen by then either!


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