In the days leading into the holiday, there almost felt like a calm. Perhaps it was both the anticipation of Thanksgiving, as well as the sadness that many families could not all be together.
Gov. Phil Scott has asked Vermonters to trust that safe distancing, banning unnecessary travel, wearing masks, among other guidelines, will slow the increase in COVID cases statewide. President-elect Joe Biden also has made similar overtures in the hopes that, as a nation, we can regain control of the pandemic.
But trust is a lot to ask right now.
Llewellyn King, a executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, sent around a column this week pointing out just how difficult times have become.
“There is a trust deficit in this country, and it may kill a lot of us,” he wrote. “We haven’t been trusting for a long time, but distrust reached its zenith during and after the recent election. The election, still contested, brought with it a massive overhang of distrust. Indeed, the past four years have been marked by wide distrust.”
That, King says, has led to a distrust of our leaders and experts. And he — among a chorus of health experts — is worried about what that means for the coming months.
“Distrusting the election results isn’t fatal. But distrusting the experts on the need to get vaccinated for COVID-19 is. Yet there are reports that as many as 50% of Americans won’t get the vaccine when it is available. That is lethal and a true threat to national security, the economy, our way of life, everything,” he writes. “If we don’t get our jabs, we will continue to die from coronavirus at an alarming rate. Over 258,000 Americans have perished and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects 298,000 deaths by mid-December.”
He points to history to make his point.
In the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, there was wide distrusting among Americans. “We distrusted what we were told by the military, what we were told by President Lyndon Johnson and then by President Richard Nixon,” King writes.
“We also distrusted the experts. Just about all experts on all subjects, from nuclear power safety to the environmental impact of the Concorde supersonic passenger jet. … Beyond Vietnam, distrust was fed by the unfolding evidence that we had been the victims of systemic lying. This led to big social realignments, as seen in the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the environmental movement. These betrayals exacerbated our natural American distrust of officialdom,” he writes.
The establishment and its experts had been caught lying about the war and about other things. It was a decade that detonated trust, shredded belief in expertise, and left many of us feeling that we might as well make it up as we went along.
“Now the trust deficit is back,” King writes.
He points to the president and the members of the current spokespeople in his administration, and their propensity to put forth “alternative facts,” but also puts blame squarely on Senate Republicans “and their disinclination to check the president, even verbally.”
King is not wrong: The trust deficit has divided us.
“Seventy-three million did vote for Trump and many of those believe what, most dangerously, he has said about the pandemic,” King writes.
That is a serious problem moving forward.
Many Americans do not believe because of myths about COVID propagandized by this administration, the pandemic is as bad as the mainstream media has made it out to be. In fact, many still believe it is a hoax, despite the massive death count around the United States and across the globe.
“We have been waiting for a medical breakthrough to repel and conquer COVID-19 and it looks as though that is at hand with the arrival of not one but three vaccines, the first of which should be available in about three weeks to the most vulnerable populations. The development of these vaccines represents a stupendous medical effort: the Manhattan Project of medicine,” King notes. “But it will all be in vain if Americans don’t trust the authorities and don’t get vaccinated. It looks as though, according to surveys, 50% of the population will get vaccinated. The rest will choose to believe in medical fictions like herd immunity — a pernicious idea that eventually we will all be immune by living with COVID-19. It should be noted that this didn’t happen with other infectious diseases like bubonic plague, smallpox, polio, even the flu.”
Many medical experts have, in recent weeks as word that vaccines are in the works, put the odds on who will get vaccinated a little better than 50%. They conclude that a third will get vaccinated, one third will wait to see the results among those who got vaccinated early, and one third won’t get vaccinated, believing that the disease has been hyped and that it isn’t as serious as the often-castigated media says.
Given the fragility of our economy, here in Vermont and elsewhere, we cannot afford to distrust information about vaccines. For sure, we need the proper approvals from the Food and Drug Administration and health care professionals. But when the time comes, we will need to take the proper steps toward putting an end to this pandemic.
“Without near universal vaccination, the coronavirus will be around for years. The superhuman effort to get a vaccine will have been partially in vain. The silver bullet will be tarnished,” King concludes.
That is too high of a price.