Imagine waking up tomorrow, only to find that every man, woman, and child had disappeared from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, or North Dakota. Vacant farmhouses, deserted freeways, and a host of newly abandoned ghost towns paying a silent homage to the missing. Would there be a national uproar? It seems not, but a lot of things about this pandemic have left me befuddled.
While listening to news coverage of the 20th anniversary on the 9/11 attack, I had an epiphany of sorts. Around me, conservative family members, neighbors, and friends bemoaned the loss of the 2,977 people who died that fateful September day. These same people still grumble about the needless loss of life in Benghazi in 2012, in attack where 4 people lost their lives. Yes, 4.
For comparison, the highest single-day death toll during the pandemic occurred on February 4, 2021. That day 5,077 people died of covid-19. This was just one of many days where the covid-19 death toll exceeded the number of people who died in the 9/11 attack. Yet, these needless and preventable deaths are met with a shrug of indifference from conservatives. But that isn’t what confuses me.
On May 15, 2020 President Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and formally announced Operation Warp Speed. The newly formed public-private partnership to develop multiple vaccines was touted as a way to save lives, end the pandemic, and get back to normal. This messaging continued well into December 2020 when President Trump gave an address at the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit.
On December 17, 2020 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Kentucky) announced that he would get vaccinated and encouraged his fellow Kentuckians to do the same. In addition to encouraging his constituents to get vaccinated, he also lobbied the White House to move members of Congress to the front of the line for vaccines. That prompted pushback from Illan Omar (D-Minnesota) and other Democrats who insisted lawmakers should wait until their age groups became eligible for vaccination. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. President Biden publicly received his first does of the covid-19 vaccine on December 21st. At that time, he praised President Trump’s vaccination efforts and vowed to continue Operation Warp Speed after he was inaugurated, believing vaccination was the best course of action for the nation.
On December 23, 2020, McConnell announced that all members of Congress were able to get vaccinated before vaccines were available to the public, resulting in backlash from furious health care workers who were not able to get vaccinated themselves. The Republican caucus got their vaccines, went home for Christmas, and did not return to the Capital until January. By then, their messaging had changed entirely.
It seems, the only reason Republicans suddenly came out against vaccination was because President Biden and the Democrats were willing to continue the work President Trump started. A few people, like Moncef Slaoui, the head of the vaccine development partnership under the Trump administration, continued to claim that the early successes for vaccination rollout were due to Trump administration policies, but they were quickly silenced by Republican leadership. As a result, getting the vaccine became deeply politicized. Vaccination rates for blue states soared while red states lagged behind. Since almost 95% of deaths are among the unvaccinated, the Republicans anti-vaccination messaging effectively had lawmakers killing their constituents.
As covid-19 deaths continue to skew higher in red states, the Republican Party remains unfazed. In the 2018 election, Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis received 32,463 more votes than his opponent. As of November 30, 2021, a total of 61,538 Floridians have died of covid-19. That’s almost double DeSantis’s margin of victory. And since the majority of unvaccinated people are Republican, that could be enough to swing the state. In fact, it would only take a small percentage of covid-19 deaths to swing a number of key districts.
Republicans like to claim that they are compassionate conservatives. They frequently quote scripture and extol the virtues of a deity who routinely healed the sick. Yet, this party willfully sacrifices their own voters and shrugs off the deaths of an entire state’s worth of Americans for no other reason than to oppose anything a Democrat supports, even when the Democrats support Republican initiated policies. And that’s what confuses me.
There can be no compromise, common ground, or even the smallest glimmer of hope that our lawmakers, and indeed our nation, can work together when the conservatives’ hatred of all things democratic has grown to the point where they willingly switch positions in order to oppose policies they created simply because a Democrat agreed with them. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves me with little hope for the future.