Amidst a global pandemic involving a readily communicable disease whose airborne method of transmission is widely known, it seems fairly simple to invoke some basic methods of suppression. But no, the Republican governors of two of our larger states, Florida and Texas, are intent on a public policy of mass suicide. There is no other way to interpret the wanton disregard for the safety of citizens shown by these two political leaders.

What’s really scary is the extent to which roughly 45% of the population nationally has bought into this refusal to get vaccinated and wear masks.

I’ve held off writing this because I find it extremely difficult not to convey my disgust at this state of affairs. I wanted to make sure my judgment was sound and I was not showing a lack of respect for the choices that people were making. And I am fully aware that a certain percentage of the populace has justifiable reasons for not wanting to get poked with the now spectacularly successful inoculant that has proven to raise considerably the resistance to infection.

Communities of color have good historic reason to be suspicious of the claims made by the medical community. There are millions of poor working people whose low-wage, hourly jobs do not give them time off to get vaccinated. There are also a very few people who have legitimate medical reasons for avoiding the vaccine. And it would take a more knowledgeable theologian than I am to validate the specious claims of a certain few religious zealots that their scripture justifies abstinence. But the vast majority of those who have yet to line up for their shots strike me as being wildly irresponsible to themselves and to their families, neighbors, co-workers and the nation at large.

My real ire is reserved for political and community leaders who variously claim that the pandemic is a hoax and the vaccine a fraud. It is particularly scandalous when these folks issue edicts and promote legislation preventing public agencies from requiring vaccination or establishing mask mandates in schools. Doing so exposes people to unnecessary risks and acutely threatens the health of those less than twelve years of age – who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.  So much for Pro Life. 

When weighed against the flagrantly irresponsible and dangerous consequences of such behavior, any concerns I might have about unduly offending the choices people make seem insignificant.

It has helped my thinking considerably on the matter to have just read a little book about the difficulty of dealing with those who are determined to be ignorant. Denial: The Unspeakable Truth, by the British writer Keith Kahn-Harris, is a helpful guide. Published in 2018, it does not deal with the pandemic but it does deal with vaccine denial, Holocaust denial and climate denial. Its basic point is that you cannot argue with such people on their terms; that the only way to proceed is to strip bare their underlying hostility to truth and science and ask them to explain what sort of world they really want to occupy. If they are being honest, it will be an ugly world.

A basic axiom of contemporary discourse, I have found, is that if people are determined to be stupid there is nothing you can do to stop them. But public policy can nonetheless proceed on a rational basis. That is why we have seat belt laws, speed limits and stop signs. It is also why the advent of other vaccines against diphtheria, polio, rabies, tetanus tuberculosis and whooping cough (pertussis) were greeted so eagerly with relief when they were developed and are now standard.

As if the initial coronavirus were not bad enough, killing 610,000 Americans and 4.3 million worldwide, the recent outbreak of the wildly more dangerous and more communicable Delta variant has dramatically raised the stakes. Those who are getting it and dying from it are overwhelmingly those who have not been vaccinated. And yet somehow the claims of vaccination being unnecessary, even harmful, have merged with the worst kind of partisan politics, fed by a right-wing media machine that is led by Fox News correspondents and commentators (who have been vaccinated).

This is some kind of politicized nightmare, one which is now tantamount to an exercise in public policy suicide.  Never in American history have we seen such an irresponsible campaign. It has merged with a curious anti-elitism and become part of a propaganda campaign that is thinly veiled in its racist, anti-modernist, anti-urban and anti-democratic undertones.

It is not clear what is more dangerous: the resurgent pandemic or the politics that continues to make it possible. Unless we take a stronger stand on behalf of rational health planning, this country is in deadly trouble.     

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This article has 10 comments

  1. W. H. Cosgrove Reply

    Ignorant selfishness is not a defense under any circumstance. The failure of religious and government leaders to simply call out the failures of every organization and group who fail to understand the gravity of the situation is inexcusable.

    No religious organization who espouse the “Golden Rule” practices any kind of religion or spiritual belief that makes any kind of rational sense.

    While I often think you can go to far in some of your comments, on this one, you didn’t go far enough.

    Stupid selfishness is contrary to any successful civilization I can think of.

    Get vaccinated to save your children, family and neighbors.

  2. Scott Nelson Reply

    Brad:

    These are important arguments you make here, especially relative to the points made by Kahn-Harris in what sounds like an important book. Asking what sort of world vaccine-efficacy and climate-change deniers imagine us inhabiting is about the only effective line of argumentation to expose a critical ruse: the individual is what matters for this world, not the collective. Yet, the collective is in important respects what sustains the possibility for a well-lived individual life. Is this not a basic disavowal that lies beneath the many forms of denialism we see today? Is it not a critical support for them, one which needs greater attention?

    Scott

    Scott

  3. BD Reply

    Honest question, as miraculous as these vaccines are in their ability to minimize symptoms, how can the long term risks (for which we have no data, unlike the other vaccines you mention) be justified when covid presents statistically little risk for the young and healthy? Let’s start with addressing those with prior infection so that we can dismiss weighing the risk of “long covid”, as this population already has that burden, i.e. if you’ve already recovered from covid, why take additional risk of unknown long term side effects?

    The vaccines do not prevent infection, and that’s ok…infection without serious symptoms are tolerable. We accept that for other illnesses. This concept is regularly overlooked with respect to covid.

    I’m baffled by those who believe this virus can be eradicated, furthermore, I have yet to see a sound argument against vaccinating our most vulnerable and allowing everyone else to make their own risk assessment.

    You seem reasonable, I appreciate your honest engagement.
    Thanks

  4. Todd Berman Reply

    Bradley – well said. We are currently in another “civil war” in the US, but not limited to these shores. It is not defined by territory. This one is ideological. Fueled by perceived slights, grievances and “the other”. Likely begun after the 2008 presidential election, fomented in the 2010 mid-terms and torched by Charlottesville 2017. There are no topics off limits, no ethics, no “hazard area”. Gender, race, health issues all qualify. Covid long-haulers notwithstanding, we are in for a long haul on these battles.

  5. Marvin Weishaus Reply

    Sorry for the typos. Can’t edit once I hit submit. Maybe a good OCD treatment in disguise.

  6. Marvin Weishaus Reply

    On point and passionately written as always. Your closing poser about the pandemic or the politics being the most dangerous is an easy one to answer. The pandemic will at best kill a few percent of those who choose to embrace the hogwash being pushed by the chronically ignorant. Conversely that same hogwash down the road, clad as climate-change denial for example but there are many more, will in the near future upset the entire balance of the human/planet interaction. The study that came out Monday, backed by 14,000 scientists, projects possible 3-foot seal level rise over the next 3 generations, mass starvation as bread-basket geographical centers become arid wasteland around the world, a billion forced to relocate to more habitable climates, most of which have no financial means to do so, and ever more serious riots, despair, and death as more people fight for fewer resources across innumerable scorched or flooded landscapes. Trillions, no, quadrillions of damage imposing an intolerable load on the world’s financial underpinnings that will make past monetary crises a fond memory. And on Fox News website? I could find not even a mention of the report! Nada! It was more important to report on the synergy between Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden during the making of ‘I Dream of Genie’. Ok, so that’s somewhat interesting…but to get back to your whole overarching point, yes we’re in deep shit – and our kids and grandkids are in completely over their heads and our generation has put them there. Sadly there is no cure for Stupid. Have you seen the clips of Mike Lindell Pillow Guy and his election fraud conspiracy bullshit? It’s just stark evidence that individuals’ defensive mechanisms have evolved to defend the indefensible far better than to embrace the obvious. It’s a shame, and a heinous crime committed against the entire world.

  7. B. R. Reply

    Bradley;

    As a fine journalist whom I respect, I’m rather disappointed you haven’t done your homework. The evidence in indisputable that the vaccine (gene therapy) is a colossal failure. The data out of the most vaccinated nations clearly demonstrates that the jab does nothing for prevention and protection against infection. Israel, Iceland and Other nations who have approached 100% vaccination rate have increasingly high infection among those same vaccinated test subjects (anyone who has opted to take the jab is a test subject like it or not).

    You watch when the fall approaches…the cases will increase and infections among the vaccinated. Your immune system is exponentially more adept at prevention and protection.

    I applaud the governor’s of Florida and Texas and Kentucky for having the balls to stand up against the incompetent direction of the Government.

    I especially respect the hell out of the doctor below that has everything to lose but his integrity and sense of duty to get the message out, overshadows the persecution he has received from the media and the inept CDC.

    This needs to be watched:

    https://tv.gab.com/channel/standonprinciples/view/dr-destroys-the-entire-covid-narrative-611132777b022aa59dd65777

    It should be the sovereign right of each citizen to decide what they do or don’t do to maintain their health.

  8. Gary Klein Reply

    Thank you for pointing out the fatalistic use of political capital by the governors & legislative leaders of the heavily populated states of Texas & Florida.

    I totally concur with your disgust and your analysis of the underlying factors.

    I am glad that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is (although belatedly) switching gears, after coming to his senses about the need to specifically allow masking as a low cost & effective way to lower the transmission rate of COVID in school & health care settings. However, Hutchinson now has to fight the political structure of his own state, because just a short while ago, he previously used his gubernatorial authority and state legislature to block the ability of schools & local jurisdictions from mandating the use of masks. This was particularly noteworthy since a number of Arkansas’ counties have continually had some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country regarding COVID, and are about to run out of hospital beds, ICU units and nursing staff, and literally be forced to shunt new patients to other states.

    I wonder how the legislators in nearby Missouri, Louisiana and Mississippi are coping with their consciences, as many of those counties had vaccination rates that were actually lower than regions of Arkansas! Some were below 15% as of July 31st.

    Meanwhile, across the country in Oregon, where vaccination projects have been more successful in exceeding 60% of eligible adults, we now have some rural & suburban school districts that want to cope with sharply rising COVID infection rates by only granting OPTIONAL powers to suggest wearing masks in schools, instead of mandating them in schools or counties that have suffered from resurgences of COVID outbreaks & low rates of vaccinations.

    So far, none of the 3 COVID vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use have been authorized by the FDA for inoculating children under 12 (which is more than 1/2 of all school enrollments in the USA).

    If they want to commit suicide, I hope that the anti-vaxxers do not clog up the facilities of my local hospital, after spending a year proclaiming & protesting that COVID is only a hoax or just a mild infection that is not worthy of government funding.

    I wonder if there are additional ways in which Jim Jones’ “kool aid mix” from Jonestown has come back in the form of political rhetoric? And who will promote that recipe from 1978?

  9. Diana Reply

    Well and thoughtful written Brad. I am perplexed why Govenor DeSantis and others wants to lose a portion of their voters to Covid Delta.

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