From the outset, the Republican Party’s position has been that despite its horrific death toll, the COVID-19 pandemic should be subordinate to the interests of American business. That is why the GOP more or less collectively resolved to push for the reopening of businesses even during the most virulent months last year when the virus was rampaging unabated throughout the entire country. Because pleasing corporate America has always been the GOP’s highest priority, this goal meshed well with the electoral imperatives of their leader, Donald Trump, who if nothing else knew that a pandemic he was unable to control or spin away posed an existential threat to his continuing capacity as Looter-in-Chief (as it turned out, he was right).
And with the development and distribution of multiple vaccines, people like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott thought they could could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccines were working and even though a hugely disproportionate number of unfortunate souls from their states were deliberately sacrificed upon the altar of reopening and mocking mask requirements and social distancing measures, it appeared to them that they’d be vindicated as the pandemic slowly ebbed away, basking in the glory of their incredible foresight.
But they were mistaken, as that light at the end of the tunnel simply turned out to be the delta variant, bearing down on their states without mercy. Soon the foolishness of their decisions became painfully evident, as COVID-19 cases began to spike again, almost entirely among their unvaccinated populations whom they they had lulled into complacency by their arrogant disregard of the pandemic’s seriousness. Suddenly the existential crisis that had already felled the Trump presidency was becoming their own.
So they reacted not with concern for their own citizens but with a kind of desperate paralysis. Instead of admitting their failure, they doubled down on the Trump strategy, passing laws to ban mask requirements and issuing nonsensical edicts to emphasize their resolve. The problem was that as a result of their chosen strategy from the outset of the pandemic, the majority of their own population remained unvaccinated. Worse, in their zeal to condemn anything that smacked of Democratic success, those unvaccinated folks—most of them Republican voters—became further and further entrenched in outright COVID denial, to the point where the vaccines themselves became suspect. For Republicans this was an intractable problem that could not be resolved without compromising themselves in the eyes of their own now thoroughly addled and delusional constituents.
Meanwhile, corporate America was witnessing a shortage of labor due in large part to the continual festering of the pandemic (and also due to the unwillingness of many corporations to pay a higher wage). So Republican governors killed unemployment benefits, believing that would force people back to work. All summer they waited for the return of those employees, but it never came. As it turns out people did not want to go back to work in unsafe conditions, without adequate child care, for dehumanizing wages. But the citizens in these red states refused to become vaccinated, and businesses, who must deal with the population as it is rather than cater to a select swath of extremists, were still feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place.
So finally, after months of fruitlessly cajoling these people to do the right thing and after ugly scenes began to erupt in red-state school districts pitting parents who wanted to keep their children safe against parents who had swallowed the anti-vaccine propaganda, President Biden stepped in and essentially ordered businesses to impose vaccine requirements. This was a masterstroke because it put the onus on corporate America to cooperate and do the heavy lifting of enforcement. And no one should be misled: corporate America is happy to do this. They’re used to giving orders. They want to see business back to normal (all of the employees of Fox News, for example are required to be vaccinated or stay masked). They want the pandemic behind them more than anyone, and they don’t give a damn about their employees notions of “freedom,” warped or not. In a very real sense, the Biden administration did Republicans a huge favor: He offered them a path out of a problem that they themselves had created.
But because they have now wedded themselves to Trump’s grotesque ideology, because their political careers are now tethered to doing his bidding, Republicans have to oppose these new mandates. They have no choice, or their political careers (for some, their presidential aspirations) are forfeit. Even though they’re all vaccinated themselves (as are their families) these Republican legislators and governors now find themselves in the position of having to argue on behalf of the unvaccinated rubes who will collectively vote them out at the first sign of weakness. In other words, they have to take the position that the pandemic must be prolonged, even exacerbated. That more people must suffer and die rather than get vaccinated and live.
That’s why Kristi Noem, Greg Abbott, and Ron DeSantis are pulling out all the stops to characterize this rather mundane vaccination mandate as equivalent to Stalin’s gulags. They all know that corporate America wants the population vaccinated, but they can’t admit it. Corporate America may fund their existence, but it can’t vote, and Republicans can’t risk the wrath of those useful, deluded GOP cretins in the vaccine-refusal trenches, no matter how many people die in the process.
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