Republicans can try to run from science, but they can’t hide

Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared together on May 20, 2020, at Beth’s Burger Bar in Orlando. Credit: White House photo/D. Myles Cullen

Donald Trump and his government minions don’t know nothing about no damn science and boy, are they proud of it.

Rudy Giuliani went on Fox last month to sneer at contact tracing to track the virus, wondering why, since obesity, cancer, and heart disease also kill you dead, we don’t contact trace for those bad boys.

Spokesmodel Laura Ingraham, evidently unaware of what “contagious” means, agreed.

Trump says he doesn’t know Dr. Rick Bright, the whistleblowing immunologist who called the administration’s response to COVID-19 “slow” and “chaotic,” but he’s certain that Bright is merely trying to cause trouble — another disgruntled egghead using so-called “knowledge” to keep America from being great again.

Ron DeSantis never heard of Dr. Rebekah Jones, the expert who put together the Florida Department of Health’s much-admired virus dashboard.

But that didn’t stop him from firing her and shrugging it off as a “non-issue,” so trivial that when reporters — AKA Enemies of the People — insisted on asking questions about her, he fled his own presser.

Jones says she was told to manipulate information to minimize the seriousness of the virus and facilitate re-opening the state.

DeSantis denies this, initially saying she was relieved of her duties because she was “tired” and needed a break.

Upon further reflection he decided she was “insubordinate” and “disruptive.”

Then he threw a positively Trumpian tantrum, claiming Dr. Jones was canned because she’s a stone cold sexual-harassing criminal and not even a “real” scientist because her college degrees are in loser subjects such as “journalism” and “geography.

Perhaps he thinks geography is memorizing state capitals and learning the major mountain ranges of Asia, instead of a sophisticated, data-driven discipline.

And given the prevaricating, disinformation-happy, and obscurantist nature of the DeSantis administration, it may take some time for the full story about Jones (who does, in fact, face a count of cyber-stalking but not the sexual harassment DeSantis claimed) to emerge.

Anyway, what’s important here is: Why are Republicans so threatened by experts and expertise?

You’d think somebody with a Ph.D. stomped their pet gerbil back when they were little and traumatized them for life.

Any hopes that DeSantis would not ape his Orange Master dissolved on March 11 when he assured Florida that our coronavirus cases were due to people traveling to unsavory places such as New York, and all we had to do was shut the barn door and keep these weirdos out.

Never mind that on March 10, Dr. Anthony Fauci specifically warned that Floridians were spreading the virus all by themselves.

But who are you going to believe, the guy who graduated first in his class from Cornell med school and has been running the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, or the guy who wouldn’t tell Floridians to stay at home until Donald Trump gave him permission?

We now know some Floridians exhibited symptoms of the coronavirus in early January 2020 — which is, oddly enough, part of the data set DeSantis and his DOH wanted Rebekah Jones to deep-six on the DOH site. Information that would be helpful to our understanding of when and how the virus spread throughout the state.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised: After all, DeSantis has become a Trump impersonator, harrumphing, bloviating, and self-congratulating while spewing information that may or may not be supported by facts.

Don’t get me wrong: DeSantis has not (yet) recommended ingesting bleach, but he has asserted that anyone with “COVID-19 antibodies” is immune from the virus and he has spent your money bringing 1 million doses of hydroxychloroquine (Trump’s snake oil du jour) to Florida.

Doctors say we don’t yet know if, and for how long, antibodies might protect you.

As for hydroxychloroquine: It’s great for lupus and malaria, but it is not FDA-approved for coronavirus; indeed, it could kill you, (there’s a reason they do all that testing, people); moreover, there’s no evidence it magically protects you from getting the virus.

Wouldn’t it be great if the governor would, 1. Listen to the people who actually know what they’re talking about; and, 2. Wear a damn mask?

There he is hanging with Human Cauliflower V.P. Mike Pence in Orlando, neither of them socially-distancing, neither of them wearing a mask while grabbing a burger.

Of course, this is Florida, and Florida has a long, flavor-packed history of science-deniers.

You’ve heard of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tenn., famously prosecuted by William Jennings Bryan? That was 1925. But in 1923, Florida Man Bryan (he lived in Miami) convinced the Florida Legislature to pass a resolution against the teaching of evolution.

A century later, we’re still fighting over Darwin: Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-CSA, will never give up trying to force Florida schools to teach “alternatives” (which most of us would call “utter crap”) to natural selection, the Big Bang theory, and global climate change.

At his press conferences, Trump snarls at, talks over, and shuts down anyone who asks about scientific studies that contradict his fanciful musings.

DeSantis is not much different: Red-faced and finger-jabbing, he bellows that he has the “best facts;” if you didn’t get your unemployment money, it’s your fault; and journalists who reported models warning that if Floridians didn’t stay home and observe precautions, the state could suffer thousands more deaths, were pushing a “partisan narrative.”

The governor is probably well-protected from getting the virus.

But he’s clearly come down with a bad case of the logic-killing, knowledge-resistant, journalist-insulting Trump flu.

Pray for him, y’all — and us, too.

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.