In June, state officials deemed the iconic bus of “Into the Wild” fame a dangerous attraction and had it airlifted out of the Alaskan wilderness. A political parallel to the story is the Republican Party’s response to COVID-19.
“Into the Wild” was a national bestseller written by Jon Krakauer in 1996 that was adapted for film in 2007. It traces the last 2 1/2 years of the life of Christopher McCandless. He died at the age of 24 after an ill-prepared journey into the Alaska wilderness.
Anchorage Daily News columnist Craig Medred argued the book was “as much about Krakauer wandering the world searching for the meaning of life as about McCandless.” That’s partly because Krakauer devoted two chapters to his own solo climb of Devils Thumb in the Stikine Icefield. Like McCandless, he refers to himself as “a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic.”
However, Krakauer survived his youthful arrogance, misjudgments, and mistakes to tell his story and write a literary forensic analysis about McCandless state of mind.
Nobody knows how many people were inspired by the book or the movie to make the dangerous hike to the bus. Two of them died and more than a dozen others needed to be rescued. But it would be a mistake to imagine the rest went equally well prepared. Some, or even many, might have been as foolish as McCandless but lucky like Krakauer.
That’s the right way to look at Republicans who attended the Sept. 26 White House event for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Most didn’t wear masks during the outdoor ceremony or at the indoor reception that followed. Most won’t contract the virus. But we know at least eight of them did, including President Donald Trump. And it’s since spread to at least 24 White House staffers and workers.
Masks aren’t guaranteed protection. But wearing them and practicing social distancing is like carrying the so-called 10 essentials into the wilderness. You don’t need them for most situations, but they increase your chances for surviving unexpected conditions and accidents.
Equally important is experience. Without it, a guide is essential. That person must know the terrain reasonably well, understand how to respond to potential threats from wildlife and drastic weather changes, and be emotionally capable and intellectually prepared for handling emergencies.
The COVID-19 corollary to that is trusting the advice of the scientists from the Center for Disease Control to help us navigate through the pandemic.
What Republicans have done though is akin to hiring Trump to be the guide to the McCandless bus. Just as he has no experience in the wilderness, he’s got no training in disease control and prevention or any medical qualifications whatsoever.
That hasn’t stopped him from acting like a know-it-all. “I like this stuff. I really get it,” Trump boasted while touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March. He claimed all the doctors there asked him how he knows “so much about this,” adding “Maybe I have a natural ability.”
About masks. “Maybe they’re great” Trump said in August, “and maybe they’re just good. Maybe they’re not so good.” But in practice he hasn’t waffled. He almost never wears one. And soon after leaving Walter Reed Hospital where he spent three days being treated for the disease, he showcased his defiance by ripping his mask off on a White House balcony while cameras were rolling.
White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah claimed the reality show like scene was about ensuring the American people “see their president strong and leading.” Trump called his bout with the disease a “blessing in disguise” and a “real school” experience that taught him “a lot about COVID.” He said he left the hospital feeling better than he did 20 years ago.
The logical interpretation of such statements is similar to McCandless having survived his ordeal, selling himself as a qualified guide, and leading others on the path to the bus with inadequate supplies.
The difference though is every Trump follower who gets infected contributes to stalling the nation’s economic recovery. And worse than the hardship that causes for many Americans, they can end up passing the disease to people who refused to follow because they recognized Trump’s incompetence and recklessness.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a letter to the editor or My Turn .