Tag Archives: death rates

Killing Themselves To “Own the Libs”

Each morning, I get one of those “news of the day” emails sent out by the The New York Times. The version I get always begins with an introductory discussion of one of the main stories, and last Monday, that introduction was mind-blowing–at least to me.

The data shows that the racial gaps in vaccination that were worrisome have narrowed, although they haven’t entirely disappeared. But it also shows that the partisan gap remains enormous.

A Pew Research Center poll last month found that 86 percent of Democratic voters had received at least one shot, compared with 60 percent of Republican voters…The political divide over vaccinations is so large that almost every reliably blue state now has a higher vaccination rate than almost every reliably red state.

One consequence of differences in vaccination rates, rather obviously, is a difference in death rates.

Since Delta began circulating widely in the U.S., Covid has exacted a horrific death toll on red America: In counties where Donald Trump received at least 70 percent of the vote, the virus has killed about 47 out of every 100,000 people since the end of June, according to Charles Gaba, a health care analyst. In counties where Trump won less than 32 percent of the vote, the number is about 10 out of 100,000.

The story was accompanied by multiple charts demonstrating the salience of political identity to death rates and resistance to vaccination, and the obvious question is: why? Why has a decision that should be made on the basis of medical science and individual prudence become so politicized that Republicans prefer to risk illness and death rather than take elementary precautions to protect themselves and their families–let alone their neighbors?

As the article noted, other countries aren’t experiencing a political vaccination divide.

What distinguishes the U.S. is a conservative party — the Republican Party — that has grown hostile to science and empirical evidence in recent decades. A conservative media complex, including Fox News, Sinclair Broadcast Group and various online outlets, echoes and amplifies this hostility. Trump took the conspiratorial thinking to a new level, but he did not create it.

“With very little resistance from party leaders,” my colleague Lisa Lerer wrote this summer, many Republicans “have elevated falsehoods and doubts about vaccinations from the fringes of American life to the center of our political conversation.”

Evidently–as one pundit noted– a number of Trump supporters believe they are “owning the left” by refusing to take a lifesaving vaccine. (Presumably, dying is the ultimate  evidence of that “ownership.”) Even some Republican strategists are beginning to worry; as one was quoted, “In a country where elections are decided on razor-thin margins, does it not benefit one side if their opponents simply drop dead?”

I frequently accuse today’s GOP of fostering–and exemplifying–insanity. Readers may consider my use of that term overblown, and I have occasionally wondered whether it might be hyperbolic. But nothing else seems to fit.  What would you call someone who was not suicidal–but who jumped out of an airplane without a parachute, confident that he could land safely?

Rejecting empirical evidence, risking death, and endangering loved ones and acquaintances in order to “get” political opponents is to be mentally disordered. There’s no way around that conclusion.

Among the dictionary definitions of insanity is “extreme folly or unreasonableness.” Synonyms include “derangement,” “lunacy” and “madness.” One example given was  “someone who acts or speaks strangely because their brain isn’t working correctly. An example of insane is a person who goes shopping without any pants on.” 

How about people who refuse to believe that a deadly disease–a pandemic–threatens not only their own lives but the health of the community in which they live, and who proceed to act in ways that endanger not just themselves, but others? And who base that refusal on the “fact” that science is a liberal plot?

There’s a point at which “stop the world, I want to get off” becomes more than an expression of annoyance or anger. it’s a statement of intent.



Red States, Blue States…And Death Rates

The other day, during a political discussion (these days, pretty much every discussion gets political) my youngest son wondered aloud whether it had been a mistake to win the Civil War. The red states of the South have been an economic drag on the blue states for a long time–they send significantly fewer dollars to Washington than they receive courtesy of blue state largesse.

My son was being flip, but his characterization of Red and Blue states wasn’t far off. As Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column in the New York Times, “the political divide is also, increasingly, an economic divide.”

Democratic-leaning areas used to look similar to Republican-leaning areas in terms of productivity, income and education. But they have been rapidly diverging, with blue areas getting more productive, richer and better educated. In the close presidential election of 2000, counties that supported Al Gore over George W. Bush accounted for only a little over half the nation’s economic output. In the close election of 2016, counties that supported Hillary Clinton accounted for 64 percent of output, almost twice the share of Trump country.

Evidently, however, we don’t just live in different economies–lately, we also die differently.

Back in the Bush years I used to encounter people who insisted that the United States had the world’s longest life expectancy. They hadn’t looked at the data, they just assumed that America was No. 1 on everything. Even then it wasn’t true: U.S. life expectancy has been below that of other advanced countries for a long time.

The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation. True, a recent Times article on the phenomenon noted that life expectancy in coastal metropolitan areas is still rising about as fast as life expectancy in other advanced countries. But the regional divide goes deeper than that.

It turns out that the “death divide” Krugman is addressing is closely correlated with political orientation.

I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population. In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.

There are a number of possible explanations: blue states expanded Medicaid while most red states didn’t, for example. The gap in educational levels is probably implicated as well; better-educated people tend to be healthier than the less educated, for a number of reasons.

Krugman also notes differences in behavior and lifestyle that affect mortality. (Although obesity has dramatically increased all across America, obesity rates are significantly higher in red states.)

Krugman references–and debunks–conservative explanations for the death divide:

Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”

But European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy. And even within America these evils are concentrated in states that voted for Trump, and have largely bypassed the more secular blue states.

Although he doesn’t mention it, I’d also be interested in seeing a comparison of gun deaths in Red and Blue states.

Actually, conservatives like Barr inadvertently make a point: culture and values matter. Just not the way they think.