Since the pandemic started, we have been told that masks were useless and that they were imperative; that protests were disastrous super-spreader events and that they were safe and necessary; that the lab-leak theory was racist, conspiracist nonsense and that it was the most plausible explanation; that any vaccine that was developed while Donald Trump was president was likely to be rushed and dangerous and that to refuse to take such a vaccine is death-cult-like behavior. It is true, of course, that “science” doesn’t care about any of this vacillation — SARS-CoV-2 will ravage your unvaccinated body without the slightest care for why you declined to protect yourself from it. It is also true, though, that when diametrically opposed theories are sold to the public under science’s auspices, people will quickly switch off. Figures such as Graham can snark as much as they wish about the beautiful immutability of the truth, but the reality is that, outside of a few kooks, the many Americans at whom those barbs are aimed are not really rejecting “science” so much as they are rejecting the people who have glued themselves to it as a means by which to accumulate more power.
That rejection is likely to survive the end of the pandemic. Indeed, if this trend continues, it will take a long time for American progressivism to recover from the fallout. In its Wilsonian form, progressivism is a system in which the elected branches attempt to permanently outsource many of the country’s key political decisions to an ostensibly disinterested technocracy. When that technocracy is trusted, as it was for a while in the early 20th century and again in the 1950s and early to mid 1960s, those attempts enjoy a sufficient degree of support. When that technocracy is not trusted, as was the case after the fall of Robert McNamara and during the malaise-ridden 1970s, those attempts create a mighty backlash. In the long run, progressivism will always fail, because it is incompatible with human nature and because it is simply not possible to abolish politics, but it can work for a short while, providing that its technocrats have the discipline to prioritize science as a neutral process over “science” as a deceptive buzzword. Unfortunately for today’s progressives, the technocrats of this era chose precisely the opposite course.