In April, Pennsylvanians got a lesson in “believing the science” – the political science, that is – driving Gov. Tom Wolf’s response to COVID-19.
From refusing to release data behind his shutdown order to ignoring requests for transparency on his business waiver process to closing Open Records offices to failing to disclose the medical experts we were instructed to trust, Wolf’s actions read like a political science textbook.
But political science was just the beginning. Now, Gov. Wolf is giving us a lesson in “affective science”: the study of emotions and how to elicit emotions.
He’s desperately trying to justify his policies – policies that ignored our most vulnerable residents in nursing homes, closed businesses, and put 2.5 million Pennsylvanians out of work – and pin a medal to his chest by pointing to other states that reopened more quickly and are seeing an uptick in positive cases.
The fact is we’ve always known increased testing and increased mobility would likely lead to more positives, particularly as testing is expanded to asymptomatic individuals.
Yet, even in states with rising case numbers, the hospital systems are not overwhelmed and overall death rates nationwide have declined. In Florida and Arizona, for example, hospital capacity remains sufficient. What’s more, few are considering that as elective procedures resume, more people are returning to hospitals. Florida Heath officials recently cited this as a reason for increased hospital use.
Furthermore, the median age for new positive cases in states like Florida and Texas has fallen significantly. As testing expands to asymptomatic individuals, more younger people are being tested. Instead of using this to incite panic around reopening, Wolf and his allies should understand this suggests COVID-19 is more prevalent than initially thought and, therefore, much less deadly for non-vulnerable populations – particularly as these younger people are not threatening hospital capacity.
Yes, hospital capacity. Remember that? Along those lines, remember “flattening the curve so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals”?
These terms used to be everywhere. Now, they’re rare in Wolf’s rhetoric. Indeed, Wolf and his political allies originally argued temporary shutdowns were necessary to flatten the curve and ensure enough hospital capacity to treat patients who needed hospital care. Both these goals are measurable – and were met back in April.
But measurable goals have no place in affective science, and you’d be hard pressed to find Wolf focusing on curves or capacity today. Both goals were long ago achieved. They no longer support Wolf’s orders.
What’s more, as weeks of protests in Pennsylvania against George Floyd’s death have not caused cases to spike – nor, for the record, did multiple reopening rallies – and as Gov. Wolf joined one of the protests in violation of his own orders, it’s become clearer than ever that “facts and data” are cited out of convenience rather than conviction.
But he, like governors in other states with the most draconian shutdowns, have become so vested in their mistakes that they’re unwilling to admit them and instead are attempting any means to justify them.
So Wolf has moved on to an appeal to emotions – primarily fear of sickness and death – to convince Pennsylvanians he’s been right all along. This has also allowed him to avoid answering any hard questions such as: Why was the state’s unemployment office woefully ill-prepared to respond to a crisis? Why was the state’s plan to protect nursing home residents never fully implemented, leading to thousands of deaths? Why can’t he even give a straight answer on what his own executive order on masks says? (“I’m not a lawyer” is not a straight answer.)
Gov. Wolf gave up on real science months ago. Political science worked for him for a bit, but even his own party has started to turn on him. So now he’s moved to affective science, banking on the hope that if he can keep people in fear long enough, he can still come out of this crisis virtually unscathed – while leaving in his wake hundreds of businesses he’s destroyed and thousands of livelihoods he’s ruined.
Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs. www.thecommonwealthpartners.com.