Meanwhile, the people who are following the rules — who do trust the scientific consensus — look on with terror as any semblance of a national public health plan collapses, as states reopen even where coronavirus infections are rising and people are forced back to work whether they feel safe or not.
The only tool ordinary people have to try to combat this deadly entropy is public shame, and so there’s been an enormous amount of it, both online and off. “The Social Media Shame Machine Is In Overdrive Right Now,” said a BuzzFeed headline. Indignant people are posting photographs of neighbors violating social distancing guidelines and flooding the police with tips. The mayor of Providence has urged residents to “socially shame” anyone not wearing a mask or gathering in large groups. “What is clear is that people across Tampa Bay are watching each other in ways that range from vigilant to possibly obsessive,” said a piece in the Tampa Bay Times.
Donald Trump has polarized the response to the coronavirus so that compliance with public health directives is coded as progressive, and defiance is conservative. But people on the left used to know that when it comes to public health, shaming is generally an ineffective strategy.