Last Monday, two events began shaping the future of the United States. Both offer reason to hope—and agonize.

In New York, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center received the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination against COVID-19. Across the nation, the Electoral College met to officially determine our next president. 

The first of the COVID vaccines is getting into arms and none too soon. This brightens the light at the end of the tunnel, although the tunnel may present us with twists and turns. 

Electors acknowledged the will of their state’s—and Washington, D.C.’s—voters, making made Joe Biden the official winner, 306 to 232. Biden won the “meaningless” popular vote by seven million. 

These two events may temper our national nightmare but won’t end it. Truth, fact, and reason remain under assault. These attacks will continue, undermining many Americans’ trust in each other and in our form of government.

We have here a reality conundrum. In the U.S., the pandemic has taken 310,000 lives, yet tens of millions of Americans resist vaccination. Many continue to scoff that COVID-19 is just another flu or support the scientific ignorance advocated by Donald Trump who on March 7, when asked about the virus and after having previously been briefed about its seriousness, said, “I’m not concerned at all.”

Such clinging to make-believe reflects cult-like thinking, the deification of a leader whose every pronouncement, no matter how incredulous, is taken as valid. Offering no proof, in imitation of Republican lawyers appealing to courts and being rejected outright, they uphold Trump’s assertions that he won re-election in a “landslide.”  

It comes as no surprise that on November 18, (among others) reported on a Gallup poll revealing that 58 percent of Americans are willing to be vaccinated. That’s up from 50 percent in September. But it leaves 42 percent of Americans unwilling—some members of wary minority communities, others with political agendas. Herd immunity may be difficult to achieve.

Why so much suspicion? Trump didn’t invent the use of conspiracy theories but leveraged it to win the 2016 election. After, he continued denouncing the Deep State, Hillary Clinton, the mainstream media and for all I know, the Tooth Fairy. Trumpists drank the Kool-Aid.

Living in fantasyland cuts two ways. To gain political advantage, Trump spurred on vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed. The name raised flags. Would government agencies, researchers and manufacturers follow sound scientific principles? They seem to have done so. 

But Trump’s nonsense and blatant lies gave his followers every reason to not believe in the vaccines’ efficacy. Akin to the boy who cried wolf, he espoused finding a solution to the pandemic while undercutting the people supervising the process and ignoring the ongoing tragedy suffered by the nation. Why trust a vaccine? 

In November, 80 million Biden voters put the nation on the road back to a healthy sense of reality, but that road will be long and fraught with obstacles. 

The prophet Jeremiah rails against deliberate ignorance. “Hear this, O foolish people, / Devoid of intelligence, / That have eyes but can’t see, / That have ears but can’t hear!” (Jeremiah 5:21).

Maintaining faith that eyes and ears will recognize reality in a nation where QAnon holds no little sway poses a challenge.

The post will be off the next two weeks and return on January 8. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate this festive holiday. Happy New Year to all.

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  1. David Newman on December 18, 2020 at 11:13 am

    There’s so much good stuff here, but I want to focus on one thing — resistance to vaccines. There are at least two major themes here that have little or nothing to do with each other. One is the anti-vaxxer phenomenon, which is a cult-like, anti-scientific movement that is vicious and highly resistant to facts. Except for people who might be on the fringes, there is literally no public health messaging that will reach them because they have chosen not to be reached. As Paul Simon wrote, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”.

    The second is minority — and particularly African-American — mistrust of the medical establishment. This strain of resistance is highly fact-based, rooted in the sad history of abuses of that community by the medical establishment. There is an excellent article in the Lancet by Kimberly Manning, an African-American physician who participated in one of the vaccine trials, about her complicated feelings about being in the trials. (I can’t embed the link in this comment, but I can provide it to anyone who wants it.)

    Those communities are reachable, assuming we marshal the right messengers with the right message, which raises an interesting question: should people who are listened to in the Black community, but aren’t otherwise high priority for receiving a vaccine, be permitted to jump the line as part of the messaging campaign? I’m thinking Beyoncé, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Patrick Mahomes, etc. If each of them displaces one person who is more “entitled” to receive the vaccine, but encourages thousands of people to receive it, is that a socially beneficial trade-off? I’d be curious to hear your Jewish take on this.

    Shabbat shalom,

    • David Perlstein on December 18, 2020 at 11:22 am

      Great comments, David. My response to African-American celebrities “jumping the line” is this:

      Yes—as long as they appear in public-service announcements telling the Black community that vaccination is a good thing and they’re walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

      A Jewish take: The concept of pikuach nefesh places the first priority on saving/preserving human life. There could be a good discussion on one life being “sacrificed,” though this would not not necessarily be the case. Who knows who will come down with the virus? And the Talmud teaches that one has a duty to save one’s own life because another person’s blood is “no redder than yours.” To my knowledge, the Talmud does not condemn someone for sacrificing their own life for the wellbeing of others. My pal Howie Schnabolk, a Medevac pilot in Vietnam, did so.

      In sum, I would encourage influencers to get the shots, speak out and make a major impact on their ethnic communities.

  2. Joan Sutton on December 18, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    It is tragic to see our nation so divided and in such a ridiculous way: Reality vs. Alternate Reality. What softens brains to the point that it is no longer clear what reality is real? trump is a master of creating alternate facts and getting them believed by millions. But not even the hallucination magician donald could set his own “reality” against the truth of Covid. And that is what lost him the election. If there is a silver living to this plague, it is, for me, the fact that it lost donald trump the presidency.

    • David Perlstein on December 18, 2020 at 12:44 pm

      Trump is a major proponent of the Big Lie, Joan. Always has been. A blot on this nation. As I wrote, he didn’t invent the use of conspiracy theories, just used them and well—to a point. Bringing an entire nation back to a common reality will require much effort.

  3. Penelope De Paoli on December 18, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    I am so sick of the ignorance level of the supporters of the man I term IQ45. At this point, if they don’t want to get vaccinated, so be it. It may be time to let Darwin be proven true.

    On the other hand, the black community is justified in being suspicious given the history of uninformed testing. Hopefully righteous leaders will step forward and demonstrate their faith in the system today.

    • David Perlstein on December 18, 2020 at 12:42 pm

      IQ45 is a good term, Penny. Wish I thought of that. David Newman’s comment highlights the important of ethnic influencers stepping up—and being offered that opportunity.

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