What Comes After Pandemic Denialism

Two themes Defoe revisits over and over again in THE JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR: 1) The deaths are under-counted, and 2) The endemic and the newly poor–the hundreds of thousands of servants, craftsmen, service workers, and other laborers who were left high and dry by the halt of the economy–are compelled to become the pandemic’s front-line workers, guarding the houses where infected people and their households are confined, collecting and burying the bodies, and delivering food and care to the sick and dying (unwittingly spreading the contagion as they do so). The main reason the poor didn’t rise up and sack London, Defoe says, is because so many of them were sick and so many died. Also (no small thing) because of charity.

History should teach us that economies and societies are fairly resilient and extremely forgetful. Bombed out cities come back to life as soon as the fighting stops; plague survivors go back to making, buying, selling, and reproducing themselves without a pause, even when there is no vaccine and the contagion is likely to return. The poor, who bear the greatest burden, make this possible, though their own stories are rarely told.

Keeping all that in mind, it’s not as bizarre as it seems at first glance that so many MAGA people are in denial, insisting that the virus is a Chinese super-weapon, a Democratic hoax, or that its victims are either pretending to be dead or deserve to be. They do the same thing whenever there is a mass-killing, and as the oceans rise. They want the story to be about them and their victimization.

Though people tell me that there won’t be another New York, now that people in red states are crowding into churches and beauty parlors and bars, they will surely start to die in numbers that they can’t deny. When that happens, they will switch from denying that the the black, brown, poor, and old in the blue cities are suffering and start blaming them for their own.

And so you arrive at the ultimate logic of ultra-nationalist populism–the “other” becomes an infestation, a germ, and racism a matter of hygiene.

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