Trump’s legacy: more Americans now think it is right to harass and threaten scientists

By Rosa Rubicondior | 2 August 2022
Rosa Rubicondior Blog

Thirty-four percent of Americans also think violent action against the government is sometimes justified. (Credit: Twitter / screengrab)

One of the more enduring and insidious legacies of the disastrous single-term US president, Donald J. Trump, is that distrusting public Health Officials who tried to explain the science behind the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures to mitigate it, and by extension, all scientists, to the extent of harassing them, attacking them, and even making death threats against them when they deliver unwelcome news, has now become acceptable to a significant proportion of American adults.

That proportion appears to be growing according to an investigation by scientists from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, the University of Colorado, Aurora, Colorado, USA, the Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA and the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, Ithaca, New York, USA. Their findings are published open access in the online Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Open Network.

What stand out here is the extent to which Donald Trump’s anti-science policies, firstly with climate change denial, removing environmental protections and tearing up the Paris Accord for no better reason than that Barak Obama had signed America up to it. Then his panicky response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when he realised he was out of his depth with the science and at a loss to know what to do about it, but was psychologically incapable of accepting that the scientist advising him really did know more than he did and understood the seriousness of the situation better than him, so he opted to do what he had done with climate change – he minimised the threat and blamed others.

His supporters in the evangelical churches and the white supremacist far right, who together dominate the Republican Party, dutifully toed the party line and the right-wing disinformation media and the conspiracy theorists duly came up with reasons to rubbish the scientists as being part of some wackadoodle conspiracy involving satanic child abusers, the Democratic Party and China, and even went so far as to demand their arrest and execution. All in a desperate attempt to save the flagging Trump presidency as the death toll mounted.

So, Trump’s legacy now is a dangerous combination of a large, vociferously anti-science section of between a quarter and a fifth the US adult population and a scientific community intimidated into keeping quiet at a time when scientific advice, informed decisions and radical action are needed to combat climate change and to prepare for the next inevitable pandemic. Both are going to need the support of the electorate and not the current situation where a militant Trumpanzee cult of scientifically illiterate extremists are prepared to use violence and intimidation to frustrate any actions and to rubbish the scientific advice, supported by a lunatic fringe of Talibangelical preachers and Talivangelists who would like nothing better than the destruction of American democracy.

Rosa Rubicondior (a pseudonym) is a retired data analyst, biologist, blogger, author and atheist.

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