Play along with me here: picture this “alternate history” and describe, if you can, where you and the country would be today….
Recall that throughout the summer and early fall of 2020, President Donald Trump reminded voters that he was pushing for a vaccine to fight COVID-19, that American companies were working overtime to create and test this vaccine, and that it would be available before the end of the year—if possible, even by election day. This is not alternate history—President Trump repeatedly said such things during the campaign.
But imagine, now, that when the voters were counted, President Trump defeated Candidate Biden and won reelection. Complaints and challenges come, of course, from Biden’s supporters. Allegations are raised that, in half a dozen states, ballots were set aside as irregular and suspicious and were not counted. Voices call for investigations, and many Democrats refuse to concede the election (including Candidate Biden himself). But the election results are certified. On January 20, 2021, Donald Trump takes the oath of office and begins his second term.
Imagine now that the vaccine is distributed in exactly the same way as it was in our real history. The number of bad reactions to the vaccine is identical. The course of the disease and its variant strains is identical. But President Trump continues to claim credit for production of the vaccine, and many people even refer to it as “the Trump vaccine.”
Many Americans take the vaccine, just as they did with Biden in the White House. Many Americans refuse the vaccine, just as they did with Biden in the White House. Many Americans hope for victory over COVID through the Trump vaccine; many Americans warn of the risk of an insufficiently tested medication mass produced and grumble about the connection of big government with big business—in this case, the pharmaceutical industry.
Does America’s mass media report the news about the vaccine in the same way? If it is “Trump’s vaccine,” do they continue to minimize and ignore bad reactions to the vaccine. If it is “Trump’s vaccine,” do they still minimize and ignore the medical professionals who speak words of caution about the vaccine. As new strains of the virus appear, and as vaccinated people still get sick, does America’s mass media continue to support the vaccine? Does it continue to blame the unvaccinated people for preventing victory over the virus through production and distribution of the vaccine?
Do “blue states” still have higher vaccination rates than “red states,” or do red state citizens enthusiastically receive Trump’s vaccine? If some Biden supporters remain openly reluctant to receive Trump’s vaccine, are they accused of opposing science and of being selfish, hating their neighbors, and otherwise being terrible people? Do Facebook and Google go out of their way to support Trump’s vaccine and to undermine opinions, reports, and other information that questions Trump’s vaccine? Is the appearance of new virus strains still a reason to get the vaccine, or do the new strains become evidence for the mass media that “Trump’s vaccine” has failed to protect Americans?
What about you? If Donald Trump was still President, if he was claiming responsibility for getting the vaccine developed and distributed, if he was urging all Americans to be vaccinated against COVID, would your feelings about the vaccine be different? Would you be more likely or less likely to receive the vaccine if it were Trump’s vaccine?
Would politicians and the mass media continue to claim that 97 % of the people hospitalized for COVID did not receive the vaccine, or would they question the accuracy of that statistic if President Trump repeated it? Maybe, given Trump’s use of that statistic, people would question its reliability. Maybe they would want to know who determined that statistic and what measurements they used. Does it refer to people in the hospital today, or on some other day? Who asked the patients about their vaccination status? Why hasn’t the statistic been updated since it was first quoted? Could it be that it includes all people hospitalized for COVID since the disease was first recognized, including the many who were hospitalized before the vaccine was available?
I know these are a lot of questions. But I have changed only one fact, putting Donald Trump back in the White House instead of Joe Biden. How many news facts and scientific determinations are revised by that one political change? Tell me what you think. J.