Seiler: Double-reverse vaccine psychology

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Last weekend, I rode my bike from Albany to Valatie along the Empire State Trail, which might stand as one of the best pieces of new state infrastructure championed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — so don’t say I never said anything nice about the man. As I cooled myself with a tasty beverage at Reifenberg Brewing, I checked my phone and discovered that my email was cluttered with more xenophobic racism than a year’s worth of Father Coughlin sermons.

Sweating into my IPA, I read that Jews have for years been conspiring to use immigration to remake the demographics of the U.S. and Europe in order to reduce white majorities. As a member of the media, I was accused of participating — wittingly or otherwise — in this effort. There was more bad typing than I had seen since high school.

These were, of course, responses to an editorial that had appeared in this fine publication on Sept. 17, criticizing U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik for playing footsie with white-supremacist “replacement theory” in a campaign ad that claimed Democrats are attempting to stage a “permanent election insurrection” by giving the vote to millions of undocumented immigrants. These ugly emails, of course, tended to confirm the thesis of the editorial: It’s kind of hard for a politician to deny they’re engaging in dog-whistle racist rhetoric when they are surrounded by a flea-bitten pack of baying, adoring racists. 

This has not been a good week for hard-right conservative rhetoric, and not just in Arizona, where the Cyber Ninjas’ snakebit election audit and hand recount revealed that Joe Biden actually had a slightly wider margin of victory over Donald Trump than the previous vote tally had shown.

The preliminary results were released Friday. Trump had released a statement on Thursday night that said “everybody will be watching Arizona tomorrow to see what the highly respected auditors and Arizona State Senate found out regarding the so-called Election!” When the first stories hit, he took it down.

Undeterred, Trump on Friday put out another statement, this time falsely claiming that the audit had found “significant and undeniable evidence of FRAUD!” That notion was rejected by a spokesman for the Cyber Ninjas themselves. And when Trump has lost the Cyber Ninjas — a firm so enamored of conspiracy theories that I’m almost hurt I didn’t get an email about the Stefanik editorial from them — he has well and truly lost.

All of these examples are classic examples of BS, a category of rhetoric that has been with us for centuries but received its first thoughtful analysis by the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt in a slender 2005 treatise titled “On Bull__.” Frankfurt drew the distinction between a slinger of BS and a liar: A liar recognizes that there is a thing called truth and tries to hide it, while a BS artist doesn’t really care if what he’s saying is true or not — what matters is whether it serves his purpose. And the minute it stops serving his purpose, he just deletes it and says something else.

Can BS ever be a force for good, beyond mere entertainment value? For a test, let’s turn to the writings of John Nolte, a member of Breitbart’s stable of fast-typing commentators. On Sept. 18, Nolte wrote of his belief that COVID-19 vaccines are “a miracle and a lifesaver” — he actually refers to them collectively as “the Trump vaccine,” prompting the question of whether Pfizer is Trumpier than Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — but “masks are stupid.” 

And then, the change-up: Nolte wraps up his list of beliefs by stating, “The organized left is deliberately putting unvaccinated Trump supporters in an impossible position where they can either NOT get a life-saving vaccine or CAN feel like cucks caving to the ugliest, smuggest bullies in the world. … The left’s morality is guided only by that which furthers their fascist agenda, and so using reverse psychology to trick Trump supporters NOT to get a life-saving vaccine is, to them, a moral good. The more of us who die, the better.”

One imagines a meeting of the Organized Left in their underground lair, laying out their master plan. Does it have holes in it? Sure. It’s unfortunate for these conspirators that the vaccines were invented while Trump was in office, and bruited by the man himself as his great parting gift to the nation. It’s also too bad that Trump himself got the jab early on, though he played into the left’s hands by keeping awfully quiet about it.

The central problem with Nolte’s analysis is that people on the left, as well as a lot of people on the right, don’t want Trump supporters to get the vaccine merely to save their lives. They want those people to get the shot to save the lives of people all along the political spectrum by putting a stake through the heart of the pandemic, and maybe healing the world economy and making it possible to go to a packed movie theater again someday. 

So to John Nolte and his readers, I say this: Sure, whatever — save your life and really own the libs. Imagine you’re making George Soros cry as you roll up your sleeve. If it takes BS to get you to the clinic, fine.

  

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