The COVID Cheerleaders
Florida and my home state of Texas are both big cheerleading states. We expect the pom poms and back flips for big plays and touchdowns, for moving the ball down the field, for progress. But I never thought I would see cheerleading for deadly fumbles in a tragic pandemic.
What is happening in these two states is almost beyond my ability to comprehend. I mean, I really can’t wrap my mind around the catastrophes that are unfolding.
I’ve been around a long time and I would humbly admit that I’ve seen a lot. I understand cravenness is sadly a tool politicians have always wielded with abandon. Short-sightedness is to be expected. Sanctimony? Yep. And pandering? Par for the course. But the usual fare pales next to the cynical games the two governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are playing in response to COVID.
Now there are many legitimate criticisms to wage on the leadership of those two states. We can talk about voting restrictions, responses to climate change, and a host of other dire concerns. But right now the life and death fight across this country and around the world is with a deadly pandemic that these governors are not only ignoring (that would be an improvement) but are actively exacerbating. It will lead to unnecessary deaths, in large numbers, that’s a given. Can we pause for a moment and just let that sink in? People are dying, families torn apart, communities shattered, because of what these men are doing. And as hospitals fill up, our entire healthcare system is stretched to the breaking point. If you are having a stroke and there are no ICU beds because they’re full of COVID patents, what does that mean for your care and ability to survive?
We know that masks work. We are seeing vaccine mandates going into effect in other parts of the country. Local communities in Florida and Texas are begging to be allowed to follow the science and protect their populations. Instead, the governors are turning these pleas into another way to score political points in our cultural divide. They ply their trade in lies and false equivalence. When it suits their political needs, they like to feign tributes to local control. But when it comes to wanting to have mask requirements in schools, they steamroll school districts who are desperate to protect students and teachers, as well as keep schools open.
I am not sure if enough of the press has fully caught up to the stakes of the moment. DeSantis in particular has gotten his share of glowing profiles over the last year, ones that should be resurrected now for updates as he presides over spiking cases. There is a tendency to treat politicians as sports teams jockeying for wins. But of course the job of a politician is not to win elections, it’s to lead, to protect the welfare of the people. And by that metric DeSantis and Abbott are failing. What does it mean for their political futures? I, frankly at this point, don’t give a damn. What does it mean for those who are getting sick, the schools that are reopening, the likelihood that this virus will mutate into something even more dangerous? These are the questions we need to be asking.
Early on in the pandemic, amid lockdowns, the political battles were framed with a false equivalence between the economy and health. But we have seen that as long as the pandemic rages, fully getting back to normal will not be possible. Yet we have people wilfully pushing us in this direction. And it’s not just the governors. It is senators, congresspeople, and other elected officials. All of these people should know better. Either they don’t, in which case they shouldn’t be leading anything. Or they do know better and are cynically using this crisis to somehow burnish their political standing. In which case, they also shouldn't be leading anything.
But what puzzles me is that I really don’t know what these people see as their endgame. Is a record of death something that serves even their most narrow self interests? The late Secretary of State George Shultz told me in the context of climate change that those who deny the truth will eventually be “mugged by reality.” I think of that phrase every time I see desperate appeals from COVID patients fighting for their lives in ICUs, warning others to not follow in their misguided footsteps. Their faces and words scream regret - for not taking the virus seriously, for not getting vaccinated, for not protecting themselves and their families. These stories are only going to increase. The numbers of people who will be touched personally by this horrific disease will only grow. Sadly there is a lot of time left on the clock in this pandemic, we don’t know where it will go. We have our hopes, and our fears. But what I am confident in stating is that these cheerleaders of disease will be viewed with disbelief and scorn by history, and that history might come a lot sooner than they think.
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