When a friend and a declared leftist Kristjan warned in his videos on social media in February that wearing a mask helps to prevent infection with the new coronavirus, but the government claims the masks don’t help because they don’t have them in stock, most of us just shrugged. There were also those who smiled scornfully at seemingly another of the many conspiracy theories and exaggerations that arose at the start of the epidemic, when we didn’t yet know the new coronavirus well enough and didn’t take it seriously enough.
A month later, it turned out that Kristjan was right. Wearing masks helps prevent the spread of new coronavirus infections. Kristjan saw through the untruth of the then Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, which was the last nail in the coffin of the leftist Kristjan. After the disappointment about the “betrayal of the nation” of the then Prime Minister, Kristjan became a right-winger, and on the other hand, more and more people began to resist wearing masks and following other recommended measures to curb the epidemic.
In Slovenia, we went through three phases of events, which triggered a wave of dissatisfaction among citizens over measures to curb the epidemic and the trend of non-compliance. The first event where the discipline of citizens in complying with state-recommended measures began to break was the unprotected walk of President Pahor and Minister Tonin with an equally unprotected accompanying delegation along the southern Slovenian border, while the entire country was quarantined due to the “deadly” virus.
This was also the moment when the right-wing political pole – otherwise the breeding ground for many populist conspiracy theories – became serious about complying with preventive measures and also began advocating physical distancing, wearing masks and using the #Ostanizdrav app. Also, the right-wingers are likely to support vaccination against covid-19 if this is an official government policy. They would, of course, resist all of the above if the left were in power.
The second event was the cycling protests in Ljubljana, where prominent representatives of the political left did not appear with masks on and didn’t comply with the recommended physical distancing. It is true that we had a good epidemiological picture in May and June, but in the light of preventing the second wave of the epidemic, they still acted irresponsibly, especially considering the generally confused communication of government officials and the consequent confusion of citizens.
Not only at protests, but also on other public occasions, the left did not follow the recommended measures, like their ideologically related Democrats in the United States did, for example. The current second wave, which is mostly the result of a mass holidaying of Slovenes (and other foreign citizens) on the Croatian coast, is not so much a problem here. It is problematic that with these actions, left-wing politicians and other public opinion makers on the left have contributed to the legitimization and popularization of anti-masking and non-compliance with other recommended measures among the population, which is becoming increasingly popular.
Such conditions in the field of public opinion enabled a third important series of events, namely viral videos and media appearances of various celebrities who feel called to become influencers in the fight against measures to prevent the spread of new coronavirus infections. These influencers are trying to tell people that the new coronavirus is a conspiracy and that it is right not to wear masks. The motivation of these influencers is, of course, not concern for the health of their fellow citizens, but mostly self-promotion, and sometimes such appearances are also part of new strategies in the permanent political struggle.
The political field has thus been transformed in such a way that supporting or opposing measures to contain the new coronavirus has become a fundamental strategy in communication between politicians and political parties with their citizens, and a new version of political identification of citizens has been built around supporting or opposing measures. But a comparative analysis between countries shows that these are not universal positions based on deep-seated ideological divisions, where it is clear that the left is supporting one thing and the right supports the other, and these positions are fixed in all countries.
Protests against measures to curb the new coronavirus epidemic are taking place or have taken place in virtually all countries, regardless of which side is in power. The left protested against right-wing governments, claiming that they were practicing fascism with their anti-covid measures, and in countries with left-wing governments, the right also protested, also saying that the government was practicing fascism by limiting their freedom. The views of politicians, as well as some citizens, on the new coronavirus and preventive measures are thus not based on the findings and recommendations of science but are formed on the basis of strategic political goals. It’s about one ideology: the ideology of winning!
In a society that has become obsessed with winning, political governance is also adapted to one main goal – to retain / gain power in all possible ways, to win the next election campaign, whenever it is. It is necessary to take every opportunity for micro wins, to attack opponents, to improve the chances of winning elections, which are always waiting right around the corner. But winning can sometimes come at a high price.
There are few people who are as obsessed with winning as Donald Trump. But the US has the opposite situation as most countries in Europe – the US government has been more or less indifferent from the beginning to the threat of the virus, wearing masks and taking other precautionary measures, making the liberal opposition a vocal advocate of all precautionary measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. By consistently wearing masks and physically distancing themselves in public, they also encourage their supporters to do so.
President Trump, on the other hand, has argued for months that the new coronavirus is not a serious health threat, that it will soon disappear, that wearing masks is for the weak. He also did not wear a mask and did not adhere to physical distance, and this also applies to participants in his pre-election rallies, which Trump’s campaign organized regardless of the security standards despite being aware of the health threat. Among other things, Trump’s poor response to the new coronavirus epidemic will cost him the victory in this election, and his campaign strategy has almost cost him his life.
Trump and some members of his core team have, understandably, contracted a new coronavirus disease. No one in Trump’s circle is likely to die, as they have access to the best medical care in the world. However, this does not apply to all Trump supporters who, misled about the threat of a new coronavirus, became infected at Trump rallies and spread the infection – these people do not necessarily have access to the best health services or are enormously expensive for them.
So it’s no surprise that there are more than 7 million new coronavirus infections and more than 200,000 victims of the new coronavirus disease in the US. Scientists have calculated that the death toll in the U.S. would be lower for more than a half if President Trump declared the epidemic at the right time and called for masks to be worn and other measures to be followed. Such a response would be responsible, but not necessarily strategic for his election victory. The saddest part of this story, however, is that the election campaign that contributed to the deaths of more than 100,000 Americans will not even be successful. But hey, it is what it is, and it is never too late to learn from this experience and change our behaviour.