JACKSON — Personal freedom stands as the most liberal innovation of human civilization. How ironic that it stands as a key political manifesto of today’s conservative movement in America.

Adopting the mantra that limited government empowers personal freedom, conservative groups for the past two decades have been promoting the need to tear down what they see as over-reaching government authority. Donald Trump became their avatar upon his election as president and tore into his role with a vengeance.

Key targets have included science-based policies. Prominent among them has been climate science. Until the last few weeks, health science was also disdained.

Fortunately, the president has begun to primarily listen to real health scientists rather than pseudoscience prognosticators to deal with the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Here’s the timeline.

From the time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a health advisory on Jan. 8 throughout February, Trump favored the pseudoscience line that the virus was no big deal. He then began to listen to health scientists, but it wasn’t until March 13 that he declared the worldwide pandemic a national emergency. On March 23, he fell back on pseudoscience, saying the country might get back to normal by Easter Sunday. Finally, the next day he spoke soberly and sadly what his health scientists had been saying: “This is going to be very painful,” with U.S. deaths held to from 100,000 to 240,000, but can be in the millions if strict social-distancing and handwashing guidelines are not followed.

Due to Trump’s dalliance with pseudoscience, we have been eking our way toward an effective response when we should have been racing.

The good news is that the president is now heeding health scientists Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx regarding steps needed to mitigate the virus’ impact. And it appears he is now taking more aggressive steps to increase test availability, lab capacity to process tests, medical supplies and ventilators, hospitals beds, and medical staff where needed.

Even with all this, Vice President Mike Pence said to expect America’s experience to be more like Italy’s, whose death rate is 6½ times greater than ours so far.

A nation committed to individual freedom as we are cannot use the heavy hand of government to test, track and isolate citizens as China, Singapore and South Korea have effectively done. Neither can we mobilize massive on-the-ground government interventions. That means other, less strict but science-based means such as shelter-at-home, social distancing and hygiene must be adopted and aggressively pushed by leaders.

A big problem is elected officials who fall for pseudoscience cannot be trusted to aggressively take these steps to slow the virus. Indeed, it wasn’t until last week when the president personally urged Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to shift gears and implement statewide shelter-in-place that Trump disciples Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia did the same.

Even when leaders change their tune, a population force-fed on limited-government propaganda cannot be trusted to suddenly heed government proclamations. Indeed, Dr. Fauci had to be provided a security detail when anti-science fanatics began issuing him threats.

Getting his followers to shift gears on health science will test Trump’s leadership ability. Regrettably, the scorecard for this test will be America’s death rate.

Father forgive them for they do not know what they do. — Luke 23:34

Bill Crawford is a Republican former state lawmaker. Previously from Meridian, he now lives in Jackson.

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