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If anyone thought a global pandemic that has so far killed more than 80,000 Americans would override the country’s deep partisan divide, think again. It turns out that Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to believe that the pandemic is serious and to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Cellphone data shows that people in counties that voted for Donald Trump have been moving around more than those in counties that voted for Hillary Clinton.

This has led many to wonder why partisanship has become so strong in the United States that people will not listen to experts, even at the risk of their own health. But there is a broader distrust that we need to understand. I recognized it while reading a book that is not about covid-19 at all but sheds strong light on the situation. Explaining why so many people across the West have rejected the government establishment, Michael Lind writes, “The issue is not the issue. . . . The issue is power. Social power exists in three realms — government, the economy, and the culture. Each of these three realms of social power is the site of class conflict.”

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