About nine months into his presidency, however, the Red States and the Blue States diverged widely over what should be the least political of the problems: vaccination rates for Covid-19.
“The political divide over vaccinations is so great that almost all reliable blue states now have a higher vaccination rate than almost all reliable red states. … Because vaccines are so effective in preventing serious illness, Covid deaths also show a partisan pattern. Covid is still a national crisis, but the worst forms of it are increasingly concentrated in Red America. “
It’s an amazing data point that tells a very clear story: There are Republicans who get seriously ill – and even die – as some sort of distorted political stance.
How did we get here? There’s no one to blame, but in my mind it’s pretty clear that former President Donald Trump and Fox News bear the lion’s share of the blame.
Trump spent the first 16 months of the pandemic doing whatever he could to minimize it. He insisted the virus “was going to go away”. He openly disdained the wearing of the mask; the day he announced the CDC’s guidelines that people should wear masks indoors, Trump said he had no intention of doing so. “I just don’t want to do – I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind this beautiful Resolute desk, the big Resolute desk,” Trump explained. “I think wearing a face mask when greeting presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens – I don’t know, one way or another, I don’t see it for myself – same. It’s just, I don’t see it. “
Trump has also worked to bring the masking debate – and measures to mitigate Covid-19 more generally – to attempts by Democratic leaders to limit your freedoms. The lockdown orders were a repeal of your rights – as opposed to short-term attempts to slow the spread of the virus in the community. The masks was a government nanny trying to tell you what to do. Respected experts – notably Dr Anthony Fauci – were accomplices of the Democratic Party. In short, everything that people other than Donald Trump told you about the virus was crazy.
(The fact that Trump was booed when he told a crowd earlier this year to get the shot tells you everything you need to know about the danger of fostering mistrust and harboring lies.)
Meanwhile, Fox News has served as a force multiplier for the politicization of the virus. That charge was led by prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who both sought to present the vaccine debate in terms of abbreviated freedom rather than the public health good. “We’re not saying there is no benefit to the vaccine – there may well be some profound benefit to the vaccine,” Carlson said over the summer, ignoring the extensive evidence that the three vaccines available for Covid-19 are not only safe but extremely effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus. Carlson also regularly presents anecdotal evidence of a person – or individuals – having an adverse reaction to the Covid-19 vaccine, without the context that the vaccine is, on the whole, perfectly safe.
The result of all this disinformation and politicization of Covid-19 is striking. The 12 states with the highest case rate per 100,000 people are all led by Republican governors. The 13 states with the highest hospitalization rate per 100,000 population are all led by Republican governors. The 15 states with the highest percentage of deaths per 100,000 are all led by Republican governors.
It’s not complicated. We are not just divided along political lines now. Our political divisions have created two completely different Americas: one in which the vast majority of people are vaccinated and hospitalizations and deaths are low, and the other where the coronavirus continues to ravage the population.