Skepticism

Why So Many Americans Believe Obvious Lies About Liberal States

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Transcript:

As you all know, we are in the darkest, stupidest timeline, so it’s hard to say “here’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” However, I can say, “Here’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard someone I know say they believe:” the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, secretly traveled from our state to Montana to spend a weekend on vacation at his wife’s horse ranch. The assertion apparently comes from a Facebook post by Frontline America, a Christian conservative conspiracy theory page run by a man named Ben Bergquam, who thinks being gay is a sin and liberalism is a “plague.” Bergquam wrote, “While California is dying, not because of COVID, but because of the Newsom/Democrat lockdown, I hear Gavin is vacationing in Stevensville, MT! Can anyone confirm? If you are in the Stevensville area or know anyone who is, please have them video tape confirmation and share their videos on this page.”

Someone almost immediately provided the requested proof. Let’s take a look.

Oh! Sorry, that’s a photo of Donald Trump, president of the United States, traveling to his golf course in Virginia on the weekend that the US closed in on 100,000 Americans dead from coronavirus. There are no photos of Newsom vacationing in Montana, because it didn’t happen. There are no photos, no reports from people in Stevensville, no plane tickets or whistleblowing aides, because Newsom remained in Napa Valley, where he delivered a press conference on the day after he was supposedly 1,000 miles away in Bumfuck Montana.

I was alarmed that someone could seriously believe something so fucking stupid despite a complete lack of evidence. Like, this is what happens when we fail to teach kids critical thinking, and fail to encourage it in adults. People rushed to believe this because they desperately want to believe several things:

1.) That “liberal” politicians (but not conservative) are lying hypocrites

2.) That coronavirus is not a big deal

3.) That quarantine is just an excuse to, for some reason, tank the economy

And

4.) That “liberal” states like California are actual hell holes

I half agree with #1: the overwhelming majority of politicians are lying hypocrites, whether they’re liberal, conservative, or other. We should never trust a politician further than we can throw him, we should never put a politician on a pedestal, and we should never forget that politicians work for us, their constituents. Come to think of it, we should never let them forget that last bit, either. But yeah, politicians suck and some of them, like Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings, have in fact violated quarantine. Of course, he’s a public persona so he was immediately spotted and literally everyone in the world knew about it.

#2 and #3, it’s not a big deal and quarantine is a tyrannical anti-trump anti-economy measure, I’ve already addressed in detail. Coronavirus is a very big deal because the US as a whole didn’t address it quickly and competently, which has now led to what is surely much more than 100,000 American deaths as of this recording. Areas like mine here in the San Francisco Bay Area who sheltered in place early have seen the completely not-shocking result of fewer deaths per 100,000 people and hospitals that remained operational throughout the pandemic. We can even look at the numbers statewide, despite LA lagging behind the Bay Area and getting hit hard, and see what has happened: as of this recording, California has had 247 cases per 100,000 people while Mississippi, whose governor offered prayer instead of shelter in place, has had nearly twice as many at 461 cases per 100,000 people. California has seen 10 deaths for every 100,000 people. Mississippi? 22. More than twice as many. (Note that all these numbers are fucked and we don’t really know how many cases we have — these are just “known” and “reported” cases currently on record.

Montana, where Newsom was supposedly vacationing, actually sided with the “liberals,” by which I mean they listened to scientific experts and sheltered in place early, even though they have a very low population density. Thanks to that early intervention, they’ve seen fewer than 500 cases total, and only 17 known deaths. The person who told me about the conspiracy theory said Newsom went there because they’re not under lockdown. First of all, no one is under lockdown — that’s when you cannot leave your home for any reason. Second of all, Montana is sheltering in place and, just like California, they’re now slowly loosening restrictions.

So obviously it’s a stupid conspiracy theory that makes absolutely no sense when you think about it for longer than 3 seconds. The governor can’t leave the state without alerting the Lieutenant governor, and shouldn’t leave at all in the midst of a crisis, so the stakes would be very high for him to travel 1,000 miles each way just to visit Montana, and a LOT of people would have to be involved unless he just….drove his own car there secretly in the middle of the night, for some reason.

But I guarantee this ridiculous theory got so much traction because of point number 4: the desire to believe that liberal states are shitholes. When suburban and rural Trump supporters think about “quarantine in California” they picture some kind of dystopian nightmare, because that’s what Fox News and other conservatives have told them. Allow me to put the lie to that: quarantining in California, specifically in the Bay Area, is fucking great. Like, a literal dream come true for me. In tomorrow’s video, I’ll talk a bit about what sheltering in place is actually like, and why conservatives are so eager to make people think California is a terrible place to live.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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4 Comments

  1. Somehow I don’t feel like this answered the question at all. It feels more like some kind of straw man built on outliers. Or public shaming. It doesn’t really explain why people believe what they do, but if I believe what you’re saying it’s because they’re just bad people.

    Side note: Google image search results for “shameful straw men” are surprisingly tame.

  2. “Areas like mine here in the San Francisco Bay Area who sheltered in place early have seen the completely not-shocking result of fewer deaths per 100,000 people”

    Yes exactly. They found the same thing in Europe too, as this graph shows:
    https://twitter.com/PatriciaSpeirs/status/1266876920400171009

    Plus, you are right that “lockdown” is used too loosely, in Germany for instance, they could go out, but were not supposed to congregate. “Shelter in place” is much more accurate.

  3. Another thing – with the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 States or cities that went back to” business as usua”l too soon fared worse economically than those who addressed the health problem first. This point cannot be made strongly enough.

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