Nature Cannot Be Fooled — Nor Conned

W.J. Astore

News that President Trump has COVID-19 and must be hospitalized highlights Richard Feynman’s famous observation that, whether you’re dealing with technology or science or medicine, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled. Many Republicans have been proud to act carelessly, refusing to wear masks or even claiming the virus is a hoax. Trump, for example, enjoyed making fun of Joe Biden and his propensity for mask-wearing; he further claimed the virus would simply disappear.

Trump’s illness is a sobering reminder — and we shouldn’t have needed one — to take medical warnings seriously.

Here’s what I wrote back in March:

The Coronavirus Is Immune to Lies

richard-feynman-1
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.

10 thoughts on “Nature Cannot Be Fooled — Nor Conned

  1. Like the expression/claim “beat the odds” – not possible. You ARE (always) the odds, no matter what part of the odds you fall into. If a 999,999 people failed to win the sweepstakes and you won, you didn’t beat the odds, you simply made the odds 1 in 1,000,000.
    If you got away with not being killed so far after going home drunk from the bar the last 20 years you didn’t beat the odds, you simply lucked out because someone else in that batch did get killed.
    If you haven’t gotten sick with COVID there are a lot of reasons and most of them also carry “so far” as the condition. You may never get sick, or you may die tomorrow, but someone is getting sick regardless.

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  2. Right after the “debate,” Biden campaign started running an ad on CNN online showing Joe in his “big mask” (mocked by Trump Tue. night), accompanied by two words: “TOUGH. READY.” I thought it was a blunder, the mask not radiating “toughness” but sensible caution (which his opponent eschewed, of course). In retrospect, with Trump’s diagnosis, I see the ad as brilliant!!

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    1. Trump met with donors in NJ literally mere hours before he was diagnosed. In theory, to please their idol, the donors declined to wear masks. “Ye shall reap as ye have sown.”

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  3. given T3 [the tangerine turd] is a con-artist and media-junkie ‘ne plus ultra’, one should not hold her/his breath for his imminent death. his subreptitious [a more nocent pejorative than surreptitious] pronouncement that he and his brummagem wife have tested positive for covid-19 is yet another T3 scam. i presage that he and melania will emerge from the hospital, all smiles, brimming w/ confidence and blooming health, to prove to his base that he’s as strong and fit as a young bull, that his covid-19 faticinations have been proved accurate [“see? nothing to worry about; it’s just a mild flu”], and that his self-proclaimed status as “the world’s most stable genius” should now manumit the electorate to re-consign ‘his holiness’ to the post of soi-disant ‘leader of the free world’! one must give credit where due: the orange snake-oil salesman is fully cognizant of how gullible and how deficient in analytical lucubrations the US electorate is. his putative covid-19 infectious state also liberates him to slither away, snake that he is, from the next prearranged debate w/ biden. i suspect he fears his uncontrollable rantings and ravings might have a deleterious impact on his
    precious ratings, particularly among swing-state voters.

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    1. Personally, I have no doubt that this illness is for real. Trump is foul but not a total fool. He would not subject himself to the embarrassment of being felled by the disease he downplayed for so long as a stunt to avoid another “debate,” or to seek sympathy. There is a real possibility he won’t survive this, but I want him to stay alive long enough to see himself defeated at the polls, by a big enough margin [unfortunately, I have no real confidence in this outcome!] that all his tricks can’t reverse the results.

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  4. indeed greglaxer! we can only tremble at the spectre of shenanigans that will unfold over the next several weeks, perhaps months, if the repugs’ supreme court befouls the election process beyond early november. i speculate your prescience will prove accurate. however, the dumpster is such a gifted conman, my pavlovian reaction is to believe NOTHING he vomits from his maculating mouth; his spewing vomitus stains everything.

    i should apologize for being so uncharitable, but i’m befuddled as to whom the apology should be delivered… ivana? marla? melania? ivanka? eric? don jr.? tiffany? barron? his tarts and bimbos?… some of whom might find ‘our dear leader’ as repugnant as i do.

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    1. I have opined publicly elsewhere that Judge Barrett may well have triggered this outbreak. She admitted to having had the virus over the summer, and may still be capable of contaminating others. The President of Notre Dame, where she teaches, is also down with the virus. I believe he/she (I really don’t know) accompanied Judge Barrett to DC to “make the rounds” after the announcement.

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    1. I don’t plan on reading Ms. Trump’s book, but I do know she was quoted as indicating we shouldn’t expect Trump to “get any better,” or words to that effect. Since my position from Day One has been that he is mentally deranged (literally), I have to share that opinion. His mental state is surely on a one-way downhill slope of decline.

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