Propaganda and Fatality Rates

The Trump Administration is full of propagandists, and the only way Trump can possibly win in November is through propaganda. Trump doesn’t have to do very much to keep the 40% of U.S. Americans who apparently would not care if he exchanged his suit and long red ties for a white robe and pointy white hood, but he will have to convince a few more people beyond his base to vote for him as well as suppress the votes of those who oppose him if he hopes for a second term.

Here is where the propaganda comes in. To attract a few more people beyond the 40% who will vote for him even if he raised the confederate flag over the White House until the November election and changed the national anthem to “I Wish I Was in Dixie,” Trump and his propagandists must get people to believe that Trump has COVID-19 under control (note Trump almost exclusively calls it the “China Virus” now to fuel the racism and xenophobia of his base and keep them energized) and that the economy will recover quickly. Their current tactic is to cherry pick from the data about the pandemic and paint it in the most positive of all possible ways.

Over the past three weeks or so, the cherry-picked numbers they are highlighting lead them to make the misleading claim that the United States “has the lowest fatality rate in the world” when it comes to the virus. Here is what they are doing and why it is so misleading, disingenuous, and simply not helpful in understanding the current status of the pandemic in the United States. When Trump and his allies state boldly that “we have the lowest fatality rate in the world,” they are using the number of fatalities per cases to make this claim and conveniently leave out that we have one of the highest per capita fatality rates and the highest gross number of fatalities in the world.

Here is what makes this claim truly unhelpful in addressing the current crisis we are facing. While it is true that our fatality per case rate has fallen significantly especially over the past month, the Trump Administration does not address the main reason for this decline – the fact that we have an out of control outbreak across large swaths of the country leading to the highest number of new cases by far than during in any other time of the pandemic. So with many more cases, even though the number of deaths has been increasing again over the past couple of weeks, the number of deaths per cases has fallen dramatically.

And here is the most dishonest part of the current claim that the United States “has the lowest fatality rate in the world” – the deaths we are seeing now are for the most part deaths of persons who contracted the virus many weeks ago. Cases lag testing, hospitalizations lag identification of cases, and deaths lag hospitalizations. The fact is that we do not yet know what the true fatality rate per number of cases will be until all of these current new cases run their course.

One can hope and even expect that the fatality rate per number of cases in the United States will continue to be lower than it was earlier in the pandemic given that many of the cases now are younger people and our treatment methods are improving. It might even be so low that we will continue to have the lowest fatality rate per number of cases in the world, but we cannot overlook the fact that unlike so many of our peers, in the United States the virus is out of control, and the end result is that we have and we will continue to have many more deaths per capita than almost all of our peer nations.

All of this is a much more complex picture than the rosy “we have the lowest fatality rate in the world” picture being painted by Trump and his associates, and this is because they are not concerned about transparency and the truth; rather they only care about what will get Trump re-elected. In summary, their propaganda is meant to energize their racist and xenophobic base by blaming China and to calm the fears of their wealthy supporters by claiming the virus is not a long term threat to the economy by highlighting only the data that support their narrative that the virus is under control and the economy is surging back.

If you combine this propaganda about COVID-19 with the propaganda against mail in ballots and the propaganda that our cities are cesspools of violence that only Trump can control; you see the path (narrow as it may be) that Trump and his associates are taking towards the election. This propaganda and the very real and systematic efforts to suppress and split the votes of those who oppose Trump in November continue to be existential threats to our democracy.

About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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