TThe crowd gathered under a waterfront tent, its tables decorated with stars and stripes and checkered tablecloths. Amid them in Austin County, Texas, this past Saturday was the state’s Governor, Greg Abbott, laughing with delight and playing the violin.
With the coronavirus roaring through the state and hospitals near the breaking point, comparisons to Nero fiddling while Rome burned were irresistible, though journalist. Alisha grauso noted on Twitter: “Nero actually went to great lengths to try to put out the fire and also offer help to his people in the aftermath, particularly the lower class, so Abbott is somehow worse than a well-known Roman emperor. Today as a psychotic tyrant “
But Abbott, which has banned the mask requirements, is far from an outlier in a Republican party that, having long sought to minimize the climate crisis, is now offering a confusing, incoherent, and unscientific response to the biggest crisis in America. public health in a century. .
Some Republican leaders are seeking to support Joe Biden’s efforts to combat the pandemic by encouraging the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible. But others are actively trying to undermine the president’s offensive by embracing what critics see as a deadly mix of ignorance, irrationality and nihilism.
These Republicans seem determined to score political points by appealing to the public yearning of a pandemic jaded to return to something akin to normal life. Still enslaved by former President Donald Trump, they fiercely oppose the mask or vaccine mandates invoking the party’s traditional principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility and resistance to state interference.
But with the United States now averaging about 113,000 cases per day, an increase of almost 24% from the previous week, and hospitalizations up 31% from the previous week, Republicans are accused of causing the death of their own voters like the highly contagious Delta variant scythes. through red states where vaccination rates are low.
Elaine Kamarck, One Democrat who served in the Bill Clinton administration said bluntly: “They have gone crazy. There is simply no other way to describe this. This is the dumbest thing you can imagine because the only people who listen to you are your voters. So this is the first time I’ve seen a political party advocating for things that would harm their voters, maybe even kill their voters. “
For six months, the vaccine program exemplified the ingenuity, energy and spirit of power in Americans, but more recently it has become another case study in the self-inflicted wounds of polarization, reliving a sense of anxiety, uncertainty and pessimism. Last week, Florida and Texas, states whose leaders are proud to rile the Biden administration, accounted for nearly 40% of new hospitalizations nationwide.
Abbott banned the mask mandates, but vowed to bring in additional healthcare workers from out of state and ask hospitals to postpone elective surgeries. The Austin and Dallas Independent School Districts have said defy Abbott’s ban and they require masks.
Ron DeSantis, the Governor of Florida, has also banned mask requirements in the state and threatened to withhold wages from superintendents and members of the county school board who issue them to students. As infections among children mounted, some of the state’s largest school districts vowed to disobey the governor’s order.
Kristi Noem, the Governor of South Dakota, welcomed hundreds of thousands of people to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally where no masks or vaccinations are required, while Henry McMaster, the Governor of South Carolina, declared: is not the answer. Personal responsibility is the answer, common sense is the answer. And we have a lot of both in South Carolina. “
At the White House on Thursday, Biden expressed his frustration with governors prolonging the pandemic. “I know there are a lot of people trying to turn a public safety measure, that is, children who wear masks at school to be safe, into a political dispute.” he said. “And this is not about politics. It’s about keeping our children safe. “
Critics say governors have abandoned the conservative principle that decisions should be made locally, but they have the support of prominent Republican senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Paul, a licensed physician and a Kentucky senator, urged civil disobedience against coronavirus restrictions, saying in a video: “It is time we resist. They can’t arrest us all. ”He has been banned from YouTube for a week for a post that questioned the effectiveness of the masks.
Biden’s effort is also being undermined by prominent conservative media figures, including Fox News anchors Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who have challenged security Y questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine, as well as online conspiracy theories that falsely suggest that it harms fertility, contains microchips, or even creates vampires.
Democrats are dismayed by such a willingness to turn even a matter of life and death into a partisan issue. They point out that a minority of the population is hampering the nation’s recovery and unnecessarily putting more lives, including children, at risk.
Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist said: “They share a deep irresponsibility. What they are doing will make people sick and some people will die. In my opinion, DeSantis and Abbott are doing it for political purposes to satisfy the rank and file. DeSantis, at least, is too smart not to know what he’s doing or what he should be doing, but that’s what we’ve come to in this country. “
The resurgent pandemic has also exposed the flaws in the Trump-era Republican party, a contradiction embodied by the former president himself. He continues to tout his success in developing vaccines, quietly receiving one in January, but often seems reluctant to encourage his followers to follow suit.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader frequently at odds with Trump, has paid for ads in Kentucky urging his constituents to get vaccinated, citing his own childhood fight against polio and the decades it took to develop a polio vaccine.
Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, has spoken of her frustrations with the unvaccinated. “People are supposed to have common sense, but it’s time to start blaming unvaccinated people, not normal people,” he said last month. “It is the unvaccinated people who are letting us down.”
Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, has admitted that he regretted signing a ban on mask mandates in schools and asked the state legislature to reverse the decision. “I signed it for the reasons that our cases were at a low point,” he said. “Everything has changed now. And yes, in hindsight, I wish that hadn’t become law. “
Sarah Sanders, a former White House press secretary running for governor of Arkansas, published an opinion column on why she decided to get vaccinated, citing the vaccinations of Trump and her own family as one of the reasons: “If getting vaccinated was the right thing to do. safe enough for them, I felt it was safe enough for me, “but he stopped short of telling others to do the same, advising,” Pray about it, discuss it with your family and your doctor. “
DeSantis and Abbott face reelection races in 2022 and are seen as possible presidential contenders in 2024, which could help explain why their responses are aimed at the Trump base, while Hutchinson and Ivey are more pragmatic. Other Republicans are watching next year’s midterm legislative elections, which they hope to turn into a protest vote against Biden.
Joe Walsh, A former Republican congressman turned Trump critic and radio host said: “It’s where your voters are. I interact with the Republican base every day. They are still very skeptical or resistant to vaccines. They are in arms against any kind of mask wearing and mask mandates. So I hear that every day from the base. If you hear that, then you know that these Republican officials are listening too, so they’ll just take care of it. “
When asked why voters feel this way, Walsh added: “They are predisposed to believe a lot of this shit, but they are also told every day by people like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham and talk radio, the world I come from. Like Republican elected officials, they know where their audience is, so they feed this every day and feed it every day. Then they recover from each other.
“Look, typically midterm elections are about turnout and if Republican elected officials go soft on masks and even vaccines, people are not going to go out to vote. So they can’t do that. “
But Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, maintains that such a strategy will backfire in the long run.
“Never before in the history of our country, where we have had to face national crises, have elected officials behaved so badly, with so much falsehood and with such disregard for the safety of the American people, ”he said.
Steele added: “People like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and others are here selfishly proclaiming that I am somehow freer if I don’t wear a mask. Well that sucks and the only freedom you have from not wearing a mask is death. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism