I just returned from a trip to the supermarket and noticed that pretty much everyone, except for four people of whom three were young, is wearing masks again. While I always wore masks there and at any indoor venue where I was not sure that everyone was vaccinated, I had noticed last month that mask usage had dropped considerably. I wondered whether people would be more resistant to the advice to mask up again and was glad to see that, at least in this area, people seem to have adopted them again. The county has as yet not mandated that everyone mask up indoors, though with the rising number of infected people due to the Delta variant, I expect to see such a mandate soon.
Meanwhile Republican governors of Florida and Texas and some other states have decided that wearing masks, let alone getting vaccinated, is a massive infringement on personal freedom, instead of an extremely minor inconvenience that imposes almost no financial cost but could save you from serious illness and death, even though the virus is rampaging through their populations.
The crowd gathered under a tent at the water’s edge, their tables decorated with the Stars and Stripes and checked tablecloths. In their midst in Austin county, Texas, last Saturday was the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, laughing with delight and playing the fiddle.
With the coronavirus roaring through the state and hospitals near breaking point, comparisons with Nero fiddling while Rome burned were irresistible, although journalist Alisha Grauso pointed out on Twitter: “Nero actually enacted sweeping relief efforts to try to quell the fire and also offer his people aid in the aftermath, particularly the lower class, so Abbott is somehow worse than a Roman emperor known today as being a psychotic tyrant.”
But Abbott, who has banned mask requirements, is far from an outlier in a Republican party which, having long sought to downplay the climate crisis, is now offering a confusing, incoherent and anti-scientific response to the biggest public health crisis for a century.
Some Republican leaders are seeking to support Joe Biden’s efforts to beat the pandemic by encouraging the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible. But others are actively trying to undermine the president’s offensive by embracing what critics regard as lethal mix of ignorance, irrationality and nihilism.
Elaine Kamarck, a Democrat who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said bluntly: “They’ve gone out of their minds. There’s just no other way to describe this. This is about the dumbest thing you could imagine because the only people listening to them are their voters. So this is the first time I’ve ever seen a political party advocating things that would harm their voters, maybe even kill their voters.”
But Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, argues that such a strategy will prove counterproductive in the long term.
“Never before in the history of our country where we’ve had to confront national crises have elected officials behaved so badly, so disingenuously and with so much disregard for the safety and security of the American people,” he said.
Steele added: “Individuals like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and others are out here selfishly proclaiming that somehow I’m more free if I don’t wear a mask. Well, that’s just bullshit and the only freedom you get from not wearing a mask is death.”
It simply amazes me. Looking at the grand causes that people of the past were willing to sacrifice their lives for and that bettered the lives of those who came after them, I think, “Really? This is the hill that you want to literally die on?” Do you think that future generations are going to look back at you and say, “We should be eternally grateful to Joe Schmuck, who sacrificed his life to covid-19 so that we would not be forced to wear a cheap piece of fabric when we went into an enclosed public space.”