When actor Woody Harrelson criticized COVID-19 mandates in his recent Saturday Night Live monologue, Harrelson’s satire was immediately and widely labeled “anti-vax” — even though he never said anything against vaccines.
Describing a fake movie pitch, Harrelson said, “The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes. And people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs and keep taking them over and over. I threw the script away. I mean, who is gonna believe that crazy idea?” I would — because this tale, while hyperbolic, is “based on a true story.”
Fundamentally, the three-time Academy Award-winner was tapping into ever-growing mistrust of our institutions and professional experts — something I’ve long labeled a “crisis of confidence.” Harrelson’s film plot identified institutions Americans doubt the most. Polling backs him up.
The most recent (2021) Pew Research survey on trust in American institutions hit new lows, particularly among elected officials (“the politicians”) and journalists (“the media”) — both of whom benefit financially from pharmaceutical company donations and ad revenue, respectively. Those companies, in turn, made a lot of money from the COVID vaccines. A September 2020 Axios-Ipsos poll noted confidence in Big Pharma (“the drug cartels”) was already at just 41%.
None of this is to doubt the vaccines. I chose to get a booster last October and publicly endorsed the COVID vaccines in April 2021. Rather, the survey data raises questions about pandemic policies and the motivations behind them. Trust in scientists is at record lows — across party lines. Pew found “a significant decline in public confidence in medical scientists and scientists among both partisan groups.” They concluded only 29% of Americans have “a great deal” of confidence in scientists. Contrast this with a Gallup survey finding that 64% of Americans have “a great deal or quite a lot” of confidence in science itself.
Let’s be clear: People trust science. What they’ve come to doubt is the bureaucrats masquerading as science itself — under the guise of “scientists.”
For years, Colorado’s leaders kept moving goalposts and changing the reasons for their lockdowns and mandates. They consistently brushed aside complaints and, rather than making a forthright case and clearly explaining why, simply insisted we “trust them.” These polices were championed and/or directed by bureaucrats such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. John Douglas, former executive director of the now-defunct Tri-County Health Department. (Last year, the department’s three member counties — Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas — withdrew from the compact.)
Public policy and science are two fundamentally different things. “Trust me” is never a persuasive argument, especially when there are massive tradeoffs at play — tradeoffs that bureaucrats like Fauci and Douglas transparently ignored in narrow pursuit “stopping the spread.”
“This is a balance. We’ve got a dual epidemic right now: we’ve got a viral epidemic and we’ve got an economic epidemic,” Douglas told me in an April 25, 2020 KNUS radio interview. But he minimized the damage. “One thing I want to emphasize is that…we are in this for an ultramarathon 15-18 months. Child abuse, domestic abuse, mental health issues, substance abuse issues — those are gonna go on.”
Let’s be real: The bureaucrats never seriously accounted for the consequences of their policies — dismantled businesses, crushed livelihoods, lasting mental health damage, cratering educational achievement… Throughout the pandemic, scientists weren’t simply acting on the science; they were judging policy priorities. And many Americans rightly came to believe the costs outweighed the supposed benefits.
This is no more apparent than when it comes to schools. As I warned throughout the pandemic, pointing to numerous studies about child learning and social engagement, the harmful toll of remote learning and mask mandates on Colorado’s kids would be unmistakable — stunting academic growth, shattering mental health, impeding development of social skills. Today, plummeting student achievement, the youth suicide crisis and violence in schools prove these consequences.
Last month, a comprehensive Cochrane analysis of scientific studies evaluated the effectiveness of mask mandates. “Wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of laboratory confirmed influenza/SARSCoV2 compared to not wearing masks.,” the study concluded. Last fall, another study “fail(ed) to find the same evidence that school mask mandates are associated with a reduction in county pediatric COVID-19 cases.”
Most European countries deliberately maintained in-person learning without school mask mandates. Why didn’t Colorado? Because the bureaucrats dismissed science and pushed policy.
This week, FBI director Christopher Wray joined the Department of Energy in confirming an assessment that COVID-19 likely resulted from a lab leak in Wuhan, China. Bureaucrats like Fauci repeatedly discredited the lab-leak theory as “a shiny object,” denying so-called “gain of function research” could have sparked the pandemic. Now, intelligence officials confirm the theory was never implausible. In fact, it was the most likely explanation all along.
For too long, the politicians intentionally conflated trusting science with the bureaucrats pushing public policy. They wrongly accused anyone who questioned their selected scientists of being anti-science. Now, as confidence craters in the very institutions they lead, they are reaping the consequences sown by such unforced recklessness.
Jimmy Sengenberger is an investigative journalist, public speaker, and host of “The Jimmy Sengenberger Show” Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on News/Talk 710 KNUS. Reach Jimmy online at JimmySengenberger.com or on Twitter @SengCenter.