The dynamics of internet and social-media based disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy theorizing are similar in the election-law domain and the pandemic/vaccination domain. Although this story involves the issue of vaccinations, the structure of the argument reveals much about our current political moment more generally.
John Nolte, a regular writer and editor-at-large at Breitbart, begins by hammering away at how effective the vaccines are and at the much higher death rates among the unvaccinated, who are disproportionately located in counties that voted for Donald Trump. His opening comments sound much like what liberal journalists would write on these issues:
Watch the DEATH RATE because the DEATH RATE makes it very clear that the vaccine not only works, it works like a miracle. The left is all safe and vaccinated, while too many on the right are not. And now we’re the ones who are dying:
Conservative communities, on the other hand, have been walloped by the highly contagious Delta variant. (You can find data for hundreds of counties here.)
Since Delta began circulating widely in the U.S., Covid has exacted a horrific death toll on red America: In counties where Donald Trump received at least 70 percent of the vote, the virus has killed about 47 out of every 100,000 people since the end of June, according to Charles Gaba, a health care analyst. In counties where Trump won less than 32 percent of the vote, the number is about 10 out of 100,000.
And the gap will probably keep growing[.]
But then, Nolte goes on to argue that this is the fault of liberals, for trying to humiliate the unvaccinated into getting vaccinated. And he thinks liberals are doing this precisely because they actually do not want unvaccinated people to get vaccinated:
Unless you believe Trump-leaning counties are lying about their death rates, the numbers are indisputable. On top of that, the overall death rate between those who are vaccinated and those who are not is staggering. The CDC says that discrepancy is as high as 99 percent.
Gee, why do you think no one ever talks about that? Why do you think that instead of using a staggering fact like Ninety-nine percent of the people dying are unvaccinated, all we’re hearing is, The unvaccinated are stupid! and Haha, Trump people are dying! and You diseased pieces of shit should not be allowed in polite society!? That’s all we are hearing because people like Don Lemon and Howard Stern and Joe Biden and Joe Scarborough and the Washington Post and MSNBC and the rest of these fascists want you dead, want to back you into a psychological corner where you feel like an asshole for caving to people who hate you, who shame you, who dehumanize you if you take a life-saving vaccine…(bold added)
You are being manipulated by people who fucking hate you into taking a chance with a virus made in China over a vaccine made in America by the Trump administration.
The piece ends with the following line:
I am opposed to mandates of any kind. It’s your choice. But if you really want to own the libs, defy them and get vaccinated.
There’ s much that could be unpacked here. Perhaps Nolte is reflecting the psychology of many of his readers: they do feel shamed into getting vaccinated and are refusing out of defiance. Many pollsters and public-health officials have certainly warned that trying to shame people into getting vaccinated is not effective (leaving aside whether that’s an accurate way to characterize what any of the people Nolte names are doing). But that’s a far cry from taking the view that those who do so are choosing that strategy precisely because they know it will make people less likely to get vaccinated.
There’s also the question whether Nolte actually believes what his text argues or instead believes this way of presenting things is the most effective way to get his readers to do what he wants, which is to get vaccinated. By turning vaccination into a way to “own the libs,” he’s trying to invert the entire cultural understanding of vaccination that has played such a large role to this point.
I think this piece exemplifies much about our current moment.