It is becoming increasingly difficult to muster compassion for Americans bent on killing themselves and others in order to prove a nebulous political point. We now know, for a fact, that the COVID-19 pandemic in America is killing off the residents of Republican counties at a much greater rate than seen in less-Republican areas. We know this is because the Republican base is disproportionally unwilling to be vaccinated, and because many are aggressive in demanding that neither they nor those around them take basic safety precautions like wearing masks. We know that a large chunk believes completely faked conspiracy theories about the virus and its dangers, to the point where even as they show up in their county’s emergency rooms, they are still sniffing that the pandemic illness now threatening their lives isn’t “real.”
But we also know that the Republican base has each of these opinions because the very rich sociopaths controlling Republican politics have spent the entire pandemic telling them to think those things. Republican governors have singled out government pandemic experts as named enemies. The party has banded together to challenge safety programs with declarations that obliging Americans to wear cloth masks in public, during a worldwide health crisis, is an affront to their “freedoms.” Fox News and other conservative outlets have been relentless in turning a pandemic into yet another culture war, and safety measures as something akin to flag-burning.
The “new” Republican Party had turned itself into a misinformation and disinformation dispensary before the virus ever emerged, with are you going to believe your own lying eyes, or me-styled rhetoric convincing the base that the party’s enemies of the moment, whoever they happened to be, were all criminals, major cities were being reduced to ruins, and waves of not-white immigrants were threatening to turn the whole nation brown, multilingual, or Muslim. Would they keep it up even when the lives of their own voters were on the line?
It wasn’t even a question. The moment the then-Republican White House proved unable to mount a response equal to the severity of the task that faced them, the party’s infrastructure was mobilized to instead argue that inaction was the proper—even patriotic—course of action, and that all the safety measures the nation’s experts had prepared to combat a biological crisis were not just unnecessary, but a conspiracy meant exclusively to annoy you into submission.
Republicans backed a coup attempt rather than acknowledge the winner of a democratic presidential election. Killing off the very Americans most devoted to them does not appear to be resulting in many sleepless nights for Fox News executives, and ambitious figures like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have instead portrayed each of the brief recovery periods between new state surges as partisan victories, each more victorious than the last.
So it’s not that conservative-minded Americans are willingly attempting to kill themselves off. There’s an entire political infrastructure dedicated to killing them. The party is devoted to stoking all possible culture wars, denying all possible points of national agreement, and portraying each prior societal consensus as, now, evidence of “communist” thought.
If a doctor tells you that taking a pill will cure an infection, you generally tend to believe them. If the politician you voted for in November tells you that putting a nail gun to your head and pulling the trigger will cure you of socialist thoughts … you might believe them too. A little. Or, if your entire identity was dependent on your vote being Right and the other votes being Wrong, a lot.
A recent NPR story highlights the convergence of the Trumpian right and the most vile of medical conspiracy theorists, and it’s clear that the partnership is exclusively one of convenience. Eric Trump bellowed about being “left alone” at an October conference of anti-vax conspiracy nuts. NPR reports that the event’s other speakers told the audience the the virus was meant to “turn humans into cyborgs” and that “they should drink their own urine as an alternative to getting vaccinated.”
It is impossible to believe Eric Trump knows a damn thing about what happened at the conference either before or after his own opportunistic rant. Roger Stone, however, did. But both sought to stoke vaccination fears solely because Republicanism, now fully merged with Trumpism, finds political advantage in egging Americans to reject whatever a non-Trumpist government is telling them.
The party has determined that truth, whether it be plain or it be complicated, should not act as deterrent to advancing the party’s own agenda. So yes, from Tucker Carlson’s vaccine “questions” to Ron DeSantis’ sneering contempt for pandemic expertise, murdering Americans with misinformation has been calculated to be of more advantage, at least in the moment, than coming to grumbling compromise about how the pandemic should be ended and at what costs.
Voters in Republican counties are suffocating to death in hospital beds, painful and terrifying deaths from a virus that can be blocked by a piece of cloth, but for each death there may be ten members of the base that the party’s rhetoric has spurred into hating non-Republican “elites” just a bit more than they previously could be coaxed into. So far, no media outlet has been able to convince them that the deaths of those around them are a direct consequence of their own actions—and it will not likely happen, because the party has spent the previous three decades insisting that the press, too, is a conspiracy against them.
We tend to have a dim view of those in history whose actions led to hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths. We make fun of their alleged stupidity, or their ignorance, or berate them in textbooks for their indifference or outright contempt towards those that died. All of that is futile, since each new generation has more than enough members willing to repeat those same acts with gusto.
But we should be hurrying this along, at least. The Republican Party, as an institution, has taken repeated actions to prolong the pandemic and kill more Americans for the sake of a new “culture war” against a culture—indecency towards fellow Americans—that should never exist in the first place.
The Republican base is dying in Republican-held counties that have shuddered with contempt for the most rote possible safety measures during a time of crisis. When the pandemic is “over,” if the pandemic finds an end, it is now almost certain that most of the dead will be from those counties, overseen by those politicians, preached to by national pundits who don’t give a damn about any of them and have never set foot in most.
This is a cult willing to kill its members and anyone within sneezing distance, literally, for the sake of even trivial political advantage. Should the rest of America, and the press, be treating it with the current dignity?
Why? And at what point does doing so amount to collaboration?