February 29, 2020

Will Mike Pence Pray Away the Coronavirus?

virus

A major global pandemic is a scary prospect, and it is hard to imagine anyone being reassured by the news that Vice President Mike Pence will be coordinating the U.S. response to coronavirus. The man has a long history of health-related science denial, and I agree with those pointing out that he has to be one of the last people who should be trusted with this responsibility. At least President Donald Trump would know how to create a vaccine since he almost certainly knows more about viruses than all the doctors and scientists (like he knows more about how to defeat ISIS than all the U.S. generals).

Perhaps putting Pence in charge of this was a deliberate poke in the eye of the reality-based community. I tend to assume that Trump is smarter than many on the left want to acknowledge and that he makes moves like this with some strategy in mind. In this particular case, he had to have known that there would be a massive outcry over Pence's suitability for the job. My guess is that he recognized he would benefit with his base by accusing Democrats of politicizing the virus scare. The notion of a president putting his own re-election ahead of public health and welfare might have seemed far-fetched a few years ago, but it doesn't now.

Just because some of us have had fun joking about how Pence will pray away the virus and/or blame it on "teh gay" doesn't mean we aren't worried. I think this is an example of using laughter to cope with our anxiety, and I see little wrong with that. Many of us would be worried about a global pandemic regardless of who is in the White House because we have some good reasons to believe that our local, state, and federal governments are not particularly well-prepared to handle even far milder disasters effectively. I remember how President George W. Bush handled Hurricane Katrina, and I doubt he would have done much better with a novel virus.

For atheists, there is something about a science-denier being put in charge of something that requires science that is not going to sit well. Many of us felt similarly with the appointment of an Education Secretary who was openly hostile to public education, but I think it seems even worse when public health is on the line. It is almost like being compelled to seek medical attention from a homeopathic practitioner who doesn't believe in "traditional medicine."

Maybe Pence will surprise us by realizing that he doesn't know what he doesn't know and deciding to lean on people with the requisite expertise. Yeah, I don't think that seems likely either. But at this point, I'm not terribly eager to sink into despair. I might try to cling to that hope for at least a couple more days. Besides, I feel like I might be coming down with a bug.