Tony Evers Confronts BBB with BBB

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On April 20th, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers unveiled the “Badger Bounce Back” (BBB) plan to reopen the state’s economy. Guided by best practices advocated by the Centers For Disease Control and the president’s coronavirus task force, the plan sets no firm date for reopening. Rather, the plan envisions three phases, with entrance into each requiring demonstrable progress in testing, tracing, and tracking for COVID-19; procuring sufficient PPE to meet the state’s needs, and assurance that the health care system has the capacity necessary to handle excess demands. To try and guarantee to the fullest extent possible a safe return to work, the plan requires a downward trajectory of positive COVID-19 cases for 14 consecutive days. In trying to replace the stay-at-home order with an extensive testing and tracing protocol that increases the chances that only the infected are staying home, the plan is consistent with what pandemic experts are calling for.

Governor Tony Evers’ Badger Bounce Back requires significant upgrading of the state’s ability to test and trace for COVID-19 before we can get back to anything resembling normalcy in terms of business and educational activities.

Given the economic anxiety being felt by everyone except the one-percenters, any move to keep the economy shut down for an extended period of time will be met with skepticism. Yet polling data does show that a clear majority are more worried that the government will move too quickly to resume full economic activity. So even though Evers’ plans face protests (organized by a motley crew of right-wing interests including Trump mega-donor Liz Uhlein who claims the virus is being “overhyped” by the media), he appears to have majority support. For now anyway.

Pathetically and predictably, Wisconsin’s Republican leadership immediately filed a lawsuit to prevent Evers’ plan from going into place. On announcing the lawsuit, GOP senate leader Scott Fitzgerald claimed that Wisconsin is “clearly seeing a decline in COVID cases.” PolitiFact found that to be a “mostly false” claim. The irony of Fitzgerald’s Badger Bounce Back badgering is that it’s actually in agreement with the thrust of the plan because the senator appears to be saying that a decline in COVID cases should allow for some opening of the economy. That’s exactly what the BBB is saying, with the reasonable caveat that the decline continues for fourteen consecutive days. Would any responsible official really want a more aggressive reopening if case numbers continue to fluctuate? Does the GOP really want to continue to treat the state’s population as collateral damage in their politics as war games?

Many of the protesters in Brookfield, WI failed to observe social distancing or wear masks.  (Picture from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

No pandemic recovery plan is perfect. The best we can hope for is that our leaders refrain from politicizing the crisis, that they listen to the medical professionals, that they lay out clear plans for moving forward, and that they remain flexible in the face of ever-changing data and evidence. Watching the news, it’s pretty clear which leaders nationally and at the state level are up to and not up to that challenge.

I don’t think that the loudest opposition to Evers and other governors enacting stay-at-home and/or data driven plans to open the economy is rooted in any meaningful policy disagreement. Rather, the opponents seem frustrated by the fact that the COVID crisis simply cannot be handled the way we’ve been handling crises for a long time. What do I mean? Consider the following:

Any honest look at how our nation has (mis)managed the major crises facing us since World War II has to conclude that we’ve been guided by three dangerous and dysfunctional principles: bullshit, bluster, and bullying. The best (or worst depending on your point of view) example is the bipartisan foreign policy fiascos committed in our names since September 11, 2001. Our “leaders” repeatedly lied (bullshit), governed by brash public relations platitudes instead of sound policy (bluster), and bombed the crap out of anyone on the bad side of the blusterers. (bullying).

If the virus is a villain, he’s amused by your bullshit. He likes your bluster because when you’re blustering you increase your chances of spitting your infected droplets on others. And all your drones, AR-15’s and heavy artillery just can’t bully a virus.

It’s tempting to blame this state of affairs on President Trump, since he is the poster child for bullshit, bluster, and bullying. My view is that while the president certainly reinforces our worst tendencies, we give him too much credit to identify him as the creator. He merely tapped and taps into stupefied thinking and acting that goes back generations. Most if not all of us have experienced BBB in our families, workplaces, on social media, and in other social arrangements. If Trump is unique in any way, it’s in his pathological inability to experience even minimal levels of guilt or shame for being a chronic bullshitter, blustering blowhard, and bully.

So, what happens when a culture conditioned to bullshit, bluster, and bullying comes face-to-face with a novel coronavirus? For one thing, we immediately personify it. Covid-19 is our “enemy” like the Vietcong, the Taliban, or Isis. Here’s the problem: if the virus is a villain, he’s amused by your bullshit. He likes your bluster because when you’re blustering you increase your chances of spitting your infected droplets on others. And all your drones, AR-15’s and heavy artillery just can’t bully a virus.

Seen in that context, the disturbing protests to “open the economy” we’re seeing around the country should be surprising only in how relatively small they are. Even the most articulate of the participants in those “some things are more important than living” rallies seem so conditioned to bullshit, bluster, and bullying that they simply cannot grasp how their actions will succeed only in delaying the date at which we can get back to some kind of  normalcy. If protesters were really interested in being part of the solution, they would join the nurses and doctors who’ve been in the streets begging for more PPE, or they would overwhelm the White House with videos in which they yell at the top of their lungs MORE TESTS!!! MORE TESTS!!!! MORE TESTS!!! But no, apparently the majority at these rallies think that we can bullshit, bluster, and bully our way out of this. Good luck with that.

If any silver lining can be found amidst this terrible tragedy, maybe it’s showing us how desperately we need to replace bullshit with honesty, bluster with humility, and bullying with calm problem solving.

Governor Evers’ Badger Bounce Back is vaguer than it could or should be, to the point where reasonable arguments can be made that it goes too far or not far enough. But until his loudest and most visible opponents come up with more than bullshit, bluster, and bullying, it’s the best we’ve got right now. Don’t hold your breath waiting for said opponents to come up with more than that. They are too addicted to their own BBB to put up any substantive resistance to Evers’.

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About Author

Tony Palmeri

Tony Palmeri is a Professor of Communication Studies at UW Oshkosh. He teaches courses in rhetoric and public advocacy, freedom of speech, the rhetoric of rock and roll, and the communication career capstone. He maintains a blog called "Tony Palmeri's Media Rants." Tony served two terms on the Oshkosh Common Council and ran for state legislature in 1996 and 2004. You can find more information about him at www.tonypalmeri.com

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