Tag Archives: COVID

The Story Of Today’s America

Discussions on this blog tend to be conducted in relatively abstract terms. It can be easy to forget the power of particularity–the power of stories–to bring them home.

A lengthy report in last Sunday’s New York Times reminded me of that power–rather forcefully.

The article described one of the numerous fights over mask requirements, this particular one in Enid, Oklahoma. It began by focusing on a public meeting, and the discomfort of an Air Force sergeant, Jonathan Waddell, who had moved to Enid with his family seven years before, when he’d retired. He’d thrown himself into the community, and won a seat on the City Council. He supported the mask mandate–unlike the throng of people dressed in red who filled the chamber that night.

He had noticed something was different when he drove up in his truck. The parking lot was full, and people wearing red were getting out of their cars greeting one another, looking a bit like players on a sports team. As the meeting began, he realized that they opposed the mandate. It was almost everybody in the room.

The meeting was unlike any he had ever attended. One woman cried and said wearing a mask made her feel like she did when she was raped at 17. Another read the Lord’s Prayer and said the word “agenda” at the top of the meeting schedule seemed suspicious. A man quoted Patrick Henry and handed out copies of the Constitution.

“The line is being drawn, folks,” said a man in jeans and a red T-shirt. He said the people in the audience “had been shouted down for the last 20 years, and they’re finally here to draw a line, and I think they’re saying, ‘We’ve had enough.’”

 People were talking about masks, but Waddell said “it felt like something else.”

That “something else” became depressingly clear as the Times described the woman who had organized the red-shirted attendees. It’s one thing to speculate about the fears and resentments motivating QAnon and “Big Lie” believers and anti-vaccine cultists…but the Times story put a face on those resentments.

Melissa Crabtree is “a home-schooling mother who owns a business selling essential oils and cleaning products.

She said she came to the conclusion that the government was misleading Americans. For whose benefit she could not tell. Maybe drug companies. Maybe politicians. Whatever the case, it made her feel like the people in charge saw her — and the whole country of people like her — as easy to take advantage of.

“I don’t like to be played the fool,” said Ms. Crabtree, who also works as an assistant to a Christian author and speaker. “And I felt like they were counting on us — us being the general population — on being the fool.”

She felt contempt radiating from the other side, a sense that those who disagreed with her felt superior and wanted to humiliate her.

The article went into considerable detail about Crabtree’s unquestioning Evangelical religiosity, including her decision to homeschool her children to protect them from a culture she deplores–from its sexual “perversions” and the left’s “preoccupation with race” and its telling of history.

“Why all of a sudden are we teaching our 5-year-olds to be divided by color?” she said. “They don’t care what color your skin is until you tell them that that 5-year-old’s grandpa was mean 200 years ago.”

Crabtree’s organizing was successful; the mask mandate died. But the schism in Enid hardened.

Mr. Waddell voted for the mask mandate, and the reaction was immediate. The following Sunday, people he had prayed with for years avoided him at church. The greeters, an older couple he knew well, looked the other way when he walked by. Several people left the church altogether because of his association with it, he said.

It wasn’t just Waddell. Ben Ezzell, the city commissioner who introduced the mask mandate got veiled warnings  — mostly via email and Facebook. Someone dumped trash on his lawn. At one City Council meeting, “a man shouted that he knew where Mr. Ezzell lived. Another meeting got so tense that police officers insisted on escorting him to his car.”

In February, the Red Shirts swept the local elections, winning three seats on the City Council — including Mr. Waddell’s and Mr. Ezzell’s.  During the year, through a series of elections, appointments and City Council votes, they’ve placed four candidates on the school board and another four on the library board.

The article is lengthy, but I strongly encourage you to click through and read it in its entirety. It is eye-opening.

As the reporter noted, what we are seeing–nationally, and not just in Enid– is a deeply disturbing argument about what it means to be an American, and whose version of the country will prevail.

 

There’s A Monster Under The Bed!

I’ve given up trying to understand the anti-vaccine crazies. The arguments they pose are nonsensical: “I don’t know what’s in them!” (They don’t know what’s in the hot dogs they eat, among a million other things.) “There’s a chip inserted by Bill Gates!” (Yes, it’s in the cell phone you cheerfully carry!) “My friend’s brother got diabetes after getting his shot!” (“After this, therefore because of this” is one of the oldest logical fallacies…). And don’t even get me started on the claims that requiring sensible public health measures violates the Constitution– people who insist government can require a woman to carry a pregnancy to term while arguing that government lacks authority to require people to get vaccinated, are beyond the reach of reason.)

Logic and reason, clearly, have nothing to do with it. 

I was recently sharing my frustration with the young woman who cuts my hair, who told me that her sister– a nurse in a local hospital –is equally frustrated. And angry. According to her sister, the hospital is coping with overflow conditions caused almost entirely by unvaccinated people, and they are not just sick, but unpleasant and irrational. A large number of them refuse to believe they have Covid, insisting that it must be something else, because Covid is a hoax. 

In fact, she said, her sister has characterized these patients as “big babies,” who are making the job of tending to them considerably more difficult than it needs to be.

Evidently, those “big babies” are convinced that vaccines are the monsters hiding under their beds…

What is interesting–if maddening–is that this irrational behavior is largely occurring on the political right (although left-wingers who see conspiracies where the rest of us see human complexity also subscribe.)  A recent article from The Week suggests a reason for those statistics showing that Republicans are dying at far greater rates than Democrats.

The article recounted several recent speeches by rightwing ideologues, and summarized the worldview common to them:

The right believes that the progressive left hates America; that it is an evil totalitarian cult which has infiltrated every institution; and that it is using a mix of business, bullying, and technological surveillance to deconstruct both masculinity and the United States as a whole in order to create a world without belonging.

In other words, the cult that has replaced the once-respectable GOP believes that “the progressive left” (i.e., everyone to the left of lunacy) is the monster under the bed. They actually believe that Democrats and moderate (i.e. sane) Republicans are capable of constructing and executing a co-ordinated, well-planned and utterly nefarious effort to destroy the America that exists in their fevered imaginations. 

Because???

The sheer number of people who have imbibed this Kool-Aid is scary enough, but the threat they pose to the rest of us is monstrous. As RFK Jr’s family has written, “his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences.” We probably wouldn’t be facing the Omicron upsurge in Covid if vaccination rates had been higher, but the dangers posed by widespread acceptance of these conspiracy theories goes well beyond a deadly pandemic. We wouldn’t be teetering on the brink of something like Civil War if more people were intellectually or emotionally able to resist the lure of simple answers (It’s the bad guys! They’re the monster under the bed!) to complicated realities.

What was that famous quote by H.L. Mencken? “For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” 

Evidently, America is home to a depressingly large number of people willing to believe that all their problems can be solved just by destroying the imaginary monster under the bed…and if destroying the monster means eliminating democracy, well…so be it.

 

Speaking Of The World’s Worst Legislature…

Every time I refer to Indiana’s General Assembly as “the World’s Worst Legislature” (note capital letters), readers remind me that there are other worthy contenders for that title–Texas and Florida among the standouts.

Granted, the competition is fierce, but Indiana’s lawmakers–not content to rest on their embarrassing laurels–have engaged the contest with what I can only describe as a bravura performance. As James Briggs of the Indianapolis Star explained:

While you were preparing for Thanksgiving, and maybe for a run in Broad Ripple, the Indiana General Assembly’s gobbledygook plot to set a new speed record for bad policymaking ended in a sloppy, embarrassing fiasco.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s understandable, because you were probably supposed to miss it. Legislative Republicans barely a week ago revealed that, as part of a rare one-day session intended to help Gov. Holcomb end the state’s public health emergency, they also were going to jam through severe constraints on businesses that require workers to either get vaccinated or find a new job.

As Briggs patiently explained, this effort was insane both substantively and procedurally. The bill that had been drafted would have required employers requiring vaccinations to adhere to onerous testing burdens. It would have required them to accept any and all “religious objections,” despite the inconvenient fact that no major religion has asserted that getting a COVID-19 vaccines violates its faith.

Perhaps most egregiously, the draft language gives credence to vaccine disinformation by carving out an exemption for pregnant women despite no evidence that vaccines pose a risk to them and much evidence that COVID-19 kills pregnant women at higher rates than women who are not pregnant.

And as Briggs also noted, as ridiculous as the draft language was, the process by which the Republican super-majority planned to ram it through was worse. They intended to pass the employer vaccine mandate ban on Monday, “the first business day after a major holiday weekend, while bypassing normal procedures to establish a consequential law faster than anyone could remember.” Even Kevin Brinegar, CEO of Indiana’s extremely conservative, Republican-loving Chamber of Commerce, testified that in his 42 years interacting with the  Indiana General Assembly, he’d never seen anything like what they were preparing to do.

“The chamber and, I believe, the entire employer community is opposed to this legislation,” Brinegar said.

Briggs described the seven-hour hearing as a disaster filled with vaccine lies and confusion, and he noted that the most effective–albeit unintentional– opponents of the bill were the anti-vaxxers in attendance who were urging lawmakers to pass it. Following the fiasco, the Speaker informed lawmakers that the one-day session was cancelled.

One item missing from Briggs’ report was how much that fiasco cost Indiana taxpayers. The last one-day session, held in 2018, cost 30,000.

The issue of employer vaccine mandates could return once the legislature begins its session in January, but the brake-slamming suggests that a critical mass of Republicans either were horrified by what they heard during the committee hearing or they were unwilling to consent to ramming through new rules for employers on an extraordinary timeline.

If you have been reading this and thinking “this is insane–why would the presumably “pro-business” party, a party that has been unwilling to regulate even the most socially harmful business practices, call an expensive special session and ignore their own rules of procedure in order to prevent businesses from safeguarding the health of their employees and customers? Especially as news of a new COVID variant is emerging?

If rational Hoosier voters need any more evidence that the state GOP has gone completely off the rails, this exercise should provide it.

A recent Doonesbury Sunday cartoon captures the moment, illustrating that Republicans are not only willing to infect their families and friends, they are willing to die  from an almost completely preventable disease–all in order to “own the libs.”

In the contest for “worst,” I submit that Indiana’s legislature has secured a place in the very top tier…..

The Suicidal Human Race

I used to think I understood at least some aspects of human behavior. In college, I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and that made a lot of sense; as I aged (and boy, have I aged!), I came to understand the complexities created by our individual, still poorly-understood combinations of nature and nurture.

But reactions to the combination of a global pandemic and the existential threat of climate change have left me gobsmacked. What explains the evident preference of so many people for obviously suicidal behaviors? How do people manage to construct a “reality” contrary to science and logic, let alone personal safety?

The politicization of responses to Covid has been widely described, although that phenomenon is still not well explained. Denial of the severity of the threat, fear of lifesaving vaccines and ingestion of dangerous “cures” (for a disease that doesn’t exist??) are largely  Republican behaviors–and suicidal at both the individual and group levels. Research confirms that rural folks and members of the GOP are dying in far greater numbers than Democrats and city dwellers.

Equally suicidal is the maddening, continuing, blithe refusal to address climate change seriously, despite years of warnings. Denying the threat, and/or continuing to postpone any serious effort to combat it, should no longer be possible–at least, by sane humans–because the effects of a warming planet are already manifesting. And yet, headlines like this one from the Guardian, remind us that governments–ours and others around the globe–continue to prefer the bottom line of fossil fuel companies over the ability of the only planet we currently inhabit to sustain human life and civilization.

The fossil fuel industry benefits from subsidies of $11m every minute, according to analysis by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found the production and burning of coal, oil and gas was subsidised by $5.9tn in 2020, with not a single country pricing all its fuels sufficiently to reflect their full supply and environmental costs. Experts said the subsidies were “adding fuel to the fire” of the climate crisis, at a time when rapid reductions in carbon emissions were urgently needed.

If fossil fuel prices reflected their true cost, the IMF calculates we would cut global CO2 emissions by over a third.

The G20 agreed in 2009 to phase out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies and in 2016, the G7 set a deadline of 2025, but little progress has been made. In July, a report showed that the G20 countries had subsidised fossil fuels by trillions of dollars since 2015, the year the Paris climate deal was reached.

There’s a fair amount of data available on individual suicides: my very superficial research suggests that people who try to kill themselves may suffer from depression, substance abuse or other mental disorders. (More understandably, suicides are more prevalent in people who suffer from chronic pain.) None of these reasons–with the possible exception of mental disorder–explains either the rejection of science and logic leading to refusal to be vaccinated, or the social phenomenon of lawmakers preferring the bottom line of fossil fuel companies to the survival of civilization as we know it.

I’m at a loss.

It Goes WAY Beyond Hypocrisy

While I am on a rant against insanity, can you stand one more diatribe about anti-vaccination, anti-mask hysterics?

There are a number of theories about the motivation of these truly horrible people. (Not everyone who is unvaccinated falls within that category, of course–I’m focusing on the “activists” who are promulgating lies about the vaccines and threatening school board members.)

Paul Krugman recently opined that much refusal is political, pointing to the strong negative correlation between Trump’s share of a county’s vote and vaccinations. As of July, 86 percent of self-identified Democrats said they had had a vaccine shot, but only 54 percent of Republicans did.

He also pointed out that peddlers of quack medicine and right-wing extremists cater to more or less the same audience.

That is, Americans willing to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that Italian satellites were used to switch votes to Joe Biden are also the kind of people willing to believe that medical elites are lying to them and that they can solve their health problems by ignoring professional advice and buying patent medicines instead.

And those peddlers are making money. Horse dewormer, anyone?

But it’s the sheer lunacy–the extreme cognitive dissonance–that drives me up a wall. 

  • “We don’t  know what’s in it.” There’s a meme going around Facebook, enumerating all of the things Americans ingest without the slightest idea “what’s in it.” Everything from hotdogs to McNuggets to horse dewormer.
  • “Bill Gates has placed a chip in the vaccine to track people”–usually uttered by people carrying cell phones equipped with such chips…
  • “I have a right to control my own body”. This is a particular favorite of mine, coming as it does mostly from men who adamantly refuse to extend a similar right to pregnant women. Or people who disagree with them.
  • “Requiring masks is government overreach.” If the government can’t require a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth, why can it require that you cover your genitals in public? I want to see these “constitutional scholars” at the grocery, shopping naked. (I bet the men have teeny weenies.)
  • Speaking of overreach–these also tend to be the people who want government to drug test poor folks on welfare…
  • “I’m rejecting vaccines because I trust God.” If they truly trusted God, why do so many of them own/carry guns? Do they lock their doors? Buy eyeglasses and/or hearing aids? For that matter, why do they check into hospitals when they’re gasping for breath?
  • Speaking of individual liberty–government mandates seat belts, imposes speed limits, enforces smoking ordinances and issues multiple other rules to protect public safety. According to Hobbes, the original purpose of government was to remove us from the state of nature, in which there is “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Government is supposed to keep the strong from hurting the weak, the predatory from taking advantage of the helpless, and the stupid and/or selfish from spreading a deadly disease.

The hypocrisy is stunning. Republicans are suing businesses that require masks. Florida’s insane Governor is fining businesses that require vaccinations. These are the same  Republicans who insist that businesses have a right to refuse service to LGBTQ customers… 

I could go on and on…If COVID is a hoax, why ingest bleach or dewormer to treat it?

Many Republicans encouraging vaccine resistance know better. They just want to hurt Joe Biden politically. Biden promised to defeat the virus, and they’re determined to keep him from delivering on that promise. If lots of their own voters get sick and die as a result–well, them’s the breaks…

Former Republican and sane person David Frum made an interesting point in a recent issue of The Atlantic.

As cases uptick again, as people who have done the right thing face the consequences of other people doing the wrong thing, the question occurs: Does Biden’s America have a breaking point? Biden’s America produces 70 percent of the country’s wealth—and then sees that wealth transferred to support Trump’s America. Which is fine; that’s what citizens of one nation do for one another. Something else they do for one another: take rational health-care precautions during a pandemic. That reciprocal part of the bargain is not being upheld…

In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

I certainly have.