Because of four years’ epic mistakes and mishandling of crises, Joe Biden’s to do list is large. But I’m guardedly optimistic. At long last, we’ll have an overarching, national plan to slow the spread of COVID-19, one which entails federal mandates for mask-wearing and social distancing and aggressively uses the Defense Production Act to cover shortages of critical drugs and personal protective equipment. With once-assured serum reserves seeming a sham, coronavirus vaccine supply chains need immediate resilience, and hospitals, overwhelmed by infection rates, are in dire need of sedatives and neuromuscular blocking agents to help intubated patients on ventilatory support. There are shortages of bronchodilators to open airways, opioids for sedation and pain control, and antibiotics for pneumonia and other secondary bacterial infections resulting from COVID-19. I expect Biden’s team to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions enough to significantly lessen our impacts on global warming and climate change, and to achieve carbon-free energy production by 2035. Pandemic-related drops in CO2 showed us it’s doable. Biden’s promise of a public healthcare option, while incremental, should at least guarantee Medicare-for-All, the ultimate goal. By infusing Medicare with exemplary elements of other countries’ universal plans, Biden’s public option will outcompete and eventually exclude private, profit-driven insurers, thereby making healthcare affordable, efficient, and producing better outcomes.
While these undertakings seem daunting, the only quixotic challenge facing the new President is healing the nation. Lacking factual common ground, no unifying alphabet or words exist with which to exchange dialogue. The U.S. is cloven into sharply bipolar moral and epistemic universes. Observable facts and irrefutable truths are evident, but many, blinded by willful and politicized assaults on reality, see only hoaxes. The U.S. is destined to surpass 500,000 dead from SARS-CoV-2 with newer, potentially more virulent strains evolving. Despite cooling effects of La Nina, 2020 tied with 2016 for hottest years on record. In fact, ten of the warmest years ever recorded have occurred since 2005. For at least 35 years, correlations between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and rising planetary temperatures, wildfires, droughts, floods, extinctions and violent storms have been indubitable. If Americans can’t agree on the pandemic, human-induced climate change, and bona fide election results, there’s no hope for us as a nation or society. Reactionary forces are too easily excited. The U.S. political duopoly is mostly to blame, but mainstream media give outlying, marginal opinions and minority views unjustified credence, false equivalences which taught “balance” instead of truth-sharing and neutrality instead of correctness. Deceptions and conspiracy theories became siren songs for chat rooms. Before tendencies like “apophenia” and “pareidolia” were defined, empirical philosopher David Hume warned against inferring causation from patterns. But, as animals, we look for them like herring gulls, ducks and goslings studied in the 1950s by Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz. Americans deny facts and believe off the wall conspiracy theories because conspiracies, like worshipping gods, connect random events into patterns infused with intention and design. Confirmation and hindsight biases affect every conspiratorial belief, and science is the best tool yet devised for sifting through them and determining reality. In this age of targeted digital disinformation, America will continue to split apart until truth is paramount, opinions are subordinate to expertise, and science is the only accepted means of reinforcing or extinguishing assumptions.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ethologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.