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.