TThe crowd gathered under a tent by the water’s edge, their tables decorated with Stars and Stripes and checkered tablecloths. In their midst in Austin County, Texas last Saturday, state governor Greg Abbott laughed with joy and play the violin.
With the coronavirus roaring in the state and hospitals near breaking point, comparisons to Nero playing while Rome burned were irresistible, though the reporter Alisha Grauso pointed out on Twitter: “Nero actually went to large-scale relief efforts to try to put out the blaze and also offer help to his people afterwards, especially the lower class, so Abbott is in. somehow worse than a Roman emperor known today as a psychotic tyrant. ”
But Abbott, which has banned mask requirements, is far from an exception in a Republican Party which, after long seeking to downplay the climate crisis, now offers a puzzling, inconsistent and anti-scientific response to the most major public health crisis for a century. .
Some Republican leaders are looking to support Joe Biden’s efforts to beat 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 appear determined to score political points by appealing to the desire of a public weary of the pandemic to return to something like normal life. Still under the sway of former President Donald Trump, they fiercely oppose mask or vaccine mandates citing the party’s traditional principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility and resistance to state interference. .
But with America now averaging 113,000 cases per day, an increase of nearly 24% from the previous week and hospitalizations up 31% from the previous week, Republicans are accused of ‘causing the deaths of their own constituents as a highly contagious fake Delta variant. by red states where vaccination rates are low.
Elaine Kamarck, a Democrat who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said bluntly: “They’ve gone mad. There is simply no other way to describe it. This is pretty much the dumbest thing you can imagine because the only people listening to them are their constituents. So this is the first time that I have seen a political party advocate things that would harm their constituents, or even kill their constituents.
For six months, the immunization program has been an example of American ingenuity, energy and initiative, but more recently it has become another case study of the self-inflicted injuries of polarization, rekindling feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and pessimism. In the past week, Florida and Texas, states whose leaders are proud to piss off the Biden administration, accounted for nearly 40% of new hospitalizations across the country.
Abbott has banned mask warrants but has pledged to bring in additional healthcare workers from out of state and ask hospitals to postpone elective surgeries. Austin and Dallas independent school districts have said they will challenge Abbott’s ban and demand masks.
Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has also banned mask requirements in the state and threatened to withhold salaries from superintendents and members of county school boards who issue them to students. As infections skyrocket among children, some of the state’s largest school districts have vowed to flout the governor’s order.
Kristi Noem, Governor of South Dakota, welcomed hundreds of thousands of people to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally where no mask or vaccine is required, while Henry McMaster, Governor of South Carolina, said: ‘The obligation of masks is not the solution. Personal responsibility is the answer, common sense is the answer. And we have an abundance of both in South Carolina.
At the White House Thursday, Biden expressed frustration with governors prolonging the pandemic. “I know there are a lot of people who are trying to turn a measure of public safety – meaning children wearing masks at school to be safe – into a political dispute,” a- he declared. “And it’s not a question of politics. It’s about protecting our children. “
Critics say governors have abandoned the conservative principle that decisions should be made locally, but they have the backing of prominent Republican senators such as Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Paul, a registered physician and senator from Kentucky, called for civil disobedience against the coronavirus restrictions, saying in a video: “It’s time for us to resist. They can’t stop us all. He was banned from YouTube for a week for an article questioning the effectiveness of the masks.
Biden’s efforts are also undermined by prominent conservative media figures, including Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who have challenged security and questioned the effectiveness vaccine, as well as online conspiracy theories that falsely suggest it harms fertility, contains microchips, or even creates vampires.
Democrats are appalled at such a willingness to turn even a life and death issue into a partisan issue. They note that a minority of the population is hampering the recovery of the entire country and needlessly endangering more lives, including children.
Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist, said: « They share a deep irresponsibility. What they do will make people sick and some will die. In my opinion, both DeSantis and Abbott are doing it for political ends to keep the grassroots satisfied. 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 achieved in this country.
The resurgence of the pandemic has also exposed loopholes in the Trump-era Republican Party, a contradiction embodied by the former president himself. He continues to trumpet his success in vaccine development and quietly received one in January, but often seems reluctant to encourage his supporters to follow suit.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader frequently at odds with Trump, paid for ads in Kentucky urging his constituents to get vaccinated, citing his own childhood struggle with polio and the decades it took to develop a polio vaccine.
Kay Ivey, governor of Alabama, shared her frustrations with the unvaccinated. “People are supposed to have common sense, but it’s time to start blaming unvaccinated people, not regular people,” she said last month. “It’s the unvaccinated people who let us down. “
Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson admitted he regretted signing a ban on school mask mandates and called on the state legislature to overturn the decision. “I signed it for these reasons that our cases were at a low point,” he said. “Everything has changed now. And yes, in hindsight, I wish it 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 the shot, citing Trump and his own shots. her family as one of the reasons – “If getting the vaccine was safe enough for them, I felt it was safe enough for me” – but did not tell others to do the same, advising, “Pray discuss this with your family and doctor. “
DeSantis and Abbott both face re-election contests in 2022 and seen as potential presidential candidates in 2024, which could help explain why their responses target the Trump base while Hutchinson and Ivey are more pragmatic. Other Republicans have their eye on next year’s congressional midterm election, which they hope to turn into a protest vote against Biden.
Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman turned Trump critic and radio host said, “This is where their constituents are. I interact with the Republican base every day. They are still very skeptical or resistant to vaccines. They oppose any kind of mask wearing and mask warrants. So I hear that everyday from the base. If I hear that, then you know these Republican officials hear it too, so they’re just going to respond to that.
When asked why voters felt this, Walsh added, “They are predisposed to believe a lot of this bullshit, but it is also told to them every day by people like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham and speaks on the radio. – the world where I come from. Like elected Republican officials, they know where their audience is, so they feed it on a daily basis and they feed it on a daily basis. So they bounce off each other.
“Look, midterm elections are usually turnout-driven and if Republican elected officials indulge in masks and even vaccines, people won’t come out and vote. So they can’t do that.
But Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, argues that such a strategy will prove counterproductive 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, so dishonestly and with so much contempt for the safety and security of the American people, ”he said. he declares.
Steele added: « Individuals like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and others selfishly proclaim that somehow I’m freer if I don’t wear a mask. Well that’s all bullshit and the only freedom you get from not wearing a mask is death. “