Ebola, ISIS, immigrants, the Secret Service: So much of the news lately turns on fears of barriers being breached—viruses flying in from Africa, “illegals” sneaking across the border, terrorists invading the homeland and, in a microcosm of it all, intruders barging through the White House front door. And right-wing media, which live to draw red lines between “us” and “them,” are turning the panic volume up to 11.
Some of the panic is understandable. The images we carry around in our heads now are particularly gruesome—ranging from beheadings to uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea. But the right’s response, as usual, is to try to wall off the perceived threat—ban flights from West Africa (and eventually all of Africa?), define Muslims as irredeemably violent and, basically, build a higher dang fence and then Otherize the heck out of everything on the other side.
Which makes this a particularly ripe moment for Fox News contributor Andrea Tantaros. Nobody does disgust for the Other quite like her. With her trademark sneer and outlandish claims, she has a knack for stigmatizing her foes by tying them to everything bad and scary.
We should fear travelers from West Africa, Tantaros says, because “someone could get off a flight and seek treatment from a witch doctor who practices Santeria.”
“Eric Holder is one of the biggest race baiters in this entire country,” she said after his visit to Ferguson, Missouri. “He runs that DOJ like the Black Panthers would.”
And what’s up with the president and terrorists? “I feel he’s allowing them to get this caliphate,” and he hasn’t “brought the killers in Benghazi to justice,” she says, because “when it comes to terrorism, he doesn’t act because he believes we have been oppressive.”
Of course, Tantaros isn’t the only winger to build walls out of spittle. Laura Ingraham, a contributor on Fox and (in what should shame ABC) on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, nearly went birther to explain why Obama hasn’t called for a ban on flights from West Africa. It’s because of his “familial connection with Africa” and his “core ties to the African continent,” she said on her radio show. “Come on, it doesn’t make any sense to not stop those flights from coming here.”
Right, that’s why.
As health experts—including Fox contributor Dr. Marc Siegel—have been explaining ad infinitum, banning travel from entire countries can make the disease spread farther faster.
“Even if we tried to close the border, it wouldn’t work,” CDC director Tom Frieden said on MSNBC Friday. “People have a right to return. People transiting through could come in. And it would backfire, because by isolating these countries, it’ll make it harder to help them, it will spread more there and we’d be more likely to be exposed here.”
But such two- or three-step thoughts don’t allow the Id to fully vent. The very calmness of public health experts can make righties refuse to believe them. “You have a very calm tone,” Elizabeth Hasselbeck told a doctor who explained on Fox & Friends how hard it is to contract Ebola. “It must come by nature with what you do professionally, doctor. The rest of us are saying, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a lot of panic when it comes to the flu, to lice.’ As a parent, I’m thinking, ‘Well, there should be a little bit of justification for worry here.’ Am I wrong?”
Actually, studies have found that conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals, and that “people who feel disgust tend to judge the moral transgressions of others more harshly.” Maybe that’s why conservatives are so eager to seal off cooties of all sorts.
But I have to be honest. I, too, have fears and a sense of disgust over Ebola. I’ve also had the kneejerk thought that we should ban all flights from West Africa, and a part of me wants to bomb ISIS to the Stone Age, whatever that means.
But some of us can occasionally put our fears on pause and fact-check our brains. And many people simply don’t have the rage to propel their worst instincts out into the open.
Which is what notoriously germaphobic Donald Trump does every day. Do-gooders who go to Africa and catch Ebola shouldn’t be allowed back, he says. They “must suffer the consequences!” Todd Kincannon, a former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, feels similarly, tweeting, “People with Ebola in the US need to be humanely put down immediately.”
Fellow South Carolinian Stephen Colbert is also willing to grasp the nettle. Now that Ebola has traveled from “Whocaresistan” to Texas, he advises that we quarantine the state and, in fact, isolate the entire western USA behind a wall of fire.
See his solution to the Ebola epidemic here: