Friday, April 16, 2021

Long Trump syndrome

Andrew Koppelman

Some parts of the Republican Party might appear to have suffered only mild cases of Trumpism, emphasizing the traditional conservative parts of his program while staying away from his racism, cruelty, and constant lying.  Yet even these seemingly asymptomatic carriers exhibit signs of continuing damage that manifests in surprising ways.

 Consider the Wall Street Journal’s recent decision to publish a piece by a psychiatry resident, expatiating on an unfounded theory that there is really no such thing as “long Covid,” the widespread phenomenon in which Covid-19 patients keep experiencing terrible symptoms for months.  All of these patients, the writer claims, are merely imagining their symptoms: they need psychiatric care, not medical treatment.

 There is, as it happens, no scientific basis for the claim, which is easily debunked.  Yet the infection that really needs explaining here is the continuing damage that has been done to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.  It has always been a respectable voice of American conservatism, careful to get its facts right.  It has been appropriately contemptuous of claims that vaccines cause autism, or quacks who offer juice supplements as cancer cures.

 Yet a barely-qualified psychiatrist gets one of America’s most prominent journalistic platforms to peddle this junk science.  How could that happen?

 An obvious answer is Trump’s bizarre decision, early in the epidemic, to minimize the significance of the disease, attack measures to control its spread, lie about the dangers (which, we now know, he understood perfectly well), and discourage mask-wearing.  That made Covid a partisan issue.  If you take the disease seriously, you’re a lefty.  If it bothers you that more than half a million Americans are dead, you’re one of those Chardonnay-sipping socialists.  Denial is a way to signal Republican loyalty. The long-Covid denying psychiatrist is a Canadian who probably wants nothing to do with Trump, but that does not change the fact that his ill-informed opinion has been exploited for political purposes in the U.S.

 The Wall Street Journal piece is evidence that the infection has spread to surprising places, and survives Trump’s presidency.  Long Covid is terrible.  But long Trumpism may be even worse.

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