Commentary

In the GOP fight for the White House, the unvaccinated and children are collateral damage

August 9, 2021 10:34 am

By Steve Benson

Some days, I don’t know whether to scream or cry about the surge of the COVID-19.

The national death toll from the virus has now topped 616,000 — more people than live in Tucson, Milwaukee or Baltimore.  And experts say that, unless we take dramatic steps to curb the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, we could reach 4,000 deaths a day by October.

How on earth did we get here, again?

Incredibly, the answer is that it happened much as it did the first time around, thanks to a lethal combination of ignorance, arrogance, misinformation and raw political opportunism.

While they frustrate the hell out of me, I still find it hard to blame people who are just plain ignorant. A certain percentage of folks truly don’t know any better. Society — that’s us — must do a better job of educating the public about the dangers of diseases like COVID-19.

The arrogant in our midst, however, deserve real blame. These are the folks who somehow think they’re invincible. Some of them are just young, healthy and naive, and so they’ve deluded themselves into thinking they’re inherently immune. But a bunch of these folks are part of that nationalistic crowd of “exceptional” Americans who are convinced that a puny little virus couldn’t possibly kill them.

“Hey, the Russians tried and couldn’t take us down! How can a virus succeed where the commies failed?!” 

Well, now we know.

Then there are the self-serving purveyors of COVID-19 misinformation: people who deserve not only our wrath but perhaps even time behind bars.

I’m talking about the likes of Joseph Mercola, who, according to the New York Times, was behind a widely circulated article that falsely claimed that “coronavirus vaccines were ‘a medical fraud’ and said the injections did not prevent infections, provide immunity or stop transmission of the disease. Instead, the article claimed, the shots ‘alter your genetic coding, turning you into a viral protein factory that has no off-switch.’”

None of that is true. Worse yet, it’s part of a flood of disinformation on the internet that might well be responsible for the deaths of thousands of unsuspecting victims of the virus.

For the record, the COVID-19 vaccines do not alter your genetic code, do not make you magnetic, do not turn you into slaves of ex-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and do not make women infertile, just to name a few of the baseless conspiracy theories out there.

The vaccines do, however, prevent most infections, provide immunity and reduce or prevent transmission of the virus. For about 95% of Americans, getting vaccinated will keep you out of the hospital and alive. That’s not perfect, but no vaccine ever has been.

But the biggest and deadliest factors that have brought us back to the brink of catastrophe are politically motivated lies and misinformation.

The earliest and most blatant ones were told by former President Donald Trump, who time and again used the most powerful megaphone in the world to downplay and distort the real dangers of the disease because he feared the truth might sour the economy, and thus damage his chances at winning reelection.

Early on, health officials told Trump the coronavirus was especially contagious and would likely kill hundreds of thousands of Americans — not to mention the millions it could kill around the world. 

But instead of warning us, Trump told us not to worry because it was all part of an elaborate hoax by the Democrats and the news media designed to discredit him and that soon the virus would magically disappear.

And now we know it didn’t.

Which brings us to today’s skyrocketing spread of the much more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

The good news? More than half of the nation’s adults have been fully vaccinated, some 70% of us have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and President Joe Biden is telling us the truth about COVID-19. 

The bad news? We’re still having to deal with Trump-like politicians across the country, including here in Arizona, who are determined to carry on the former president’s sordid legacy. 

Among countless others, I’m talking about people like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

What do these three men all have in common besides their stiff opposition to common sense health measures like requiring people, including millions of public school students and employees, to wear protective masks in the face of a worsening pandemic?

They all see themselves in the White House.

In Trump’s case, spreading misinformation was about desperately trying to get reelected. For DeSantis, Abbott and Ducey, they’ve all now proven how willing they are to downplay the deadly threat of COVID-19 just to advance their political careers.

How does risking the lives of their own constituents help win the American presidency?

It turns out the road to the Republican presidential nomination runs straight through Trump’s still rock solid core of GOP supporters, a third of whom still say they are unlikely to ever get the vaccine and more than half of whom still believe Trump was cheated out of the 2020 election.

It’s bad enough that politicians like DeSantis, Abbott and Ducey are willing to sacrifice the very constituency they all covet, but here’s where I have to ask — and this is the part that makes me want to scream and cry — couldn’t they at least spare the lives of the tens of millions of children across the country who have not yet been vaccinated?

COVID-19 infections among children nationwide have increased five-fold since June and jumped 84% since last week, according to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In other words, many more children are almost certainly going to die of COVID-19 unless steps are taken to protect them now. Thousands more will fall ill, potentially with long-term effects. And many will unwittingly infect their family members.

Instead of taking steps to protect them, it seems that many of America’s children will just end up as more collateral damage in the Republicans’ scorched-earth political campaign to retake the White House.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.

MORE FROM AUTHOR