Listen: How the Coronavirus Is Scrambling Our Politics

The pandemic meets the culture war.

On this episode of Social Distance, McKay Coppins, an Atlantic staff writer, explains why some Americans seem to be skeptical of the science around the coronavirus, and how simple advice like avoiding handshakes plays into old ideological divides. Plus, he tells us about the cans stockpiled in his garage.

Listen to the episode here:

Here are some highlights from the interview:

  • “I’ve been following pretty closely the broader Trump messaging apparatus, like the Trump campaign and the White House, but also the broad coalition of conservative media that’s pushing his messages. And for the most part, with just a couple breaks of sanity, they have been either downplaying the pandemic or kind of finding political scapegoats to save the president. And so if you turn on Fox News or you listen to right-wing talk radio, you’re hearing every day this drumbeat of We need to reopen the economy. And if we’re thinking about this as a war, we should let the elderly sacrifice themselves so that we can get the economy back up and running. And that message is constant in conservative media.”
  • “A lot of the polling so far shows that the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats at least say that they’re honoring social distancing—that they’re trying to follow the best practices and being responsible. This is more happening on, I think, the fringes. But I think it’s possible that it becomes more mainstream.”
  • “This is not the first nonpolitical thing that has become politicized and polarized in American life. I mean, everything, to a certain extent, has become part of this political tribalism. Broadly speaking, there are these two political coalitions in America that have arranged themselves not just by what ideological beliefs they have, but by what kind of TV they watch, what kind of music they will listen to, the geographic areas where they cluster, and what kind of food they eat. There’s all kinds of other social signifiers that are associated with these two political coalitions. And it’s easy to see, even if it shouldn’t be, how something as nonpolitical and nonpartisan as social distancing, not getting sick from a pathogen that’s spreading throughout the country, could become politicized.”