This never had to happen. Conservative Americans were encouraged to reject pandemic safety for one simple reason: Donald Trump, an incompetent, disinterested, malignant narcissist who at no point was able to learn even the most basic duties of governance, had no idea how to respond to an emerging pandemic. Since he did not know how to respond, he declared that no response was necessary. As the virus trickled into the United States, then began exploding in local communities, he and his team of real estate scions and D-tier yes-men stuck to the notion that each report was a trick by invisible enemies to make Donald look bad.
Because Republicanism had already devoted itself to other propagandas, Republican House and Senate members quickly fell in line. Because Republicanism was already no more than a cheap cult obsessed with harming their perceived enemies and providing omnipresent praise for their allies, Fox News and other fascism-premised outlets began broadcasting the same claims nonstop, buttressing them with conspiracy theories and outright mockery of the severity of the pandemic.
The result, now, is a public health crisis that has been thoroughly partisanized. Non-Republicans have access to real-world information about the pandemic’s risks, what safety precautions can be taken, how many have died, and who is most in danger. Republicans now believe that the pandemic is a conspiracy by a series of enemies demonized by Tucker Carlson and other propagandists, and that submitting to safety precautions is an attack on their own values.
Those new “values” insist that wearing a mask on your face during a world crisis is oppressive. It is a value that was entirely invisible until Donald Trump, a sociopathic narcissist long known to be gleefully willing to harm others for his own personal gain, supposed it. Now it is dogma.
We can begin to see how the next year of the pandemic will unfold. As access to the vaccine becomes more widespread, non-Republicans will become increasingly immune. Diehard Republicans, however, will remain willingly at risk. While a good chunk of Republicans will get vaccinated, the most ideology-obsessed will not.
So they’ll die. The numbers will likely never reach those of previous pandemic spikes, because ideological fascists do not make up 100% of any community—a good chunk of their neighbors will provide the necessary buffer that slows pandemic spread, with the virus transmitting mostly among fellow cult members—but we may well reach the bizarre pandemic point where COVID-19 is, in this country, a primarily conservative disease. A disease that specifically targets members of the Fox News community. An ITD—an ideologically transmitted disease.
We’re at the cusp of a rather awkward problem, then. Previously, archconservatives and the nation’s Dear Leader followers were willing to express, openly, the idea that if the pandemic was mostly a danger to the elderly and those with underlying health problems, than America should open up, get on with the business of funneling cash into the pockets that deserve it, and accept that as price the less valuable among us will probably die. This was an abominable sentiment.
Now the pandemic is evolving (not of its own will, but still) into one that may soon selectively target the most gullible, the most stubbornly racist, the most willing-to-harm-others, and those most willing to do away with democracy.
We should still look to save these people, because we’re not monsters. But they sure as hell aren’t making it easy.
The truth is that new pandemic outbreaks will not confine themselves according to ideological lines. There are other reasons why individual Americans might not be able to get vaccinated, and there is no vaccine that can provide complete pandemic protection. It can’t be done. Those that are allergic to vaccine components, the immunocompromised, the very young—all these groups will continue to be exposed to the virus through the actions of Dear Leader-boosting infectors. Even more consequential will be the same healthcare “deserts” that have long been responsible for worsened health in conservative-led states and regions, especially in the Deep South; not all Americans who want to be vaccinated can get vaccinated, and conservative leaders continue to take steps to prevent vaccinations in their states by insisting that no safety measures be put in place that distinguish between the vaccinated and those that refuse to be.
There’s the reason why you should care, even if the plight of individual fascist Dear Leader boosters does not inspire sympathy. Fox News watchers, Trump supporters, and New Republicanism’s other deplorables are going to be the vectors by which the pandemic spreads through towns and communities even after most but not all other Americans have gained some pandemic immunity. Just as racist Republicans have insisted that refugees are disease-riddled contagions (they’re not; South and Central American countries have vaccination rates above those of the backward regimes of, say, Texas), it’s going to be Tucker Carlson viewers and Newsmax devotees who act as the primary means of disease spread.
None of this had to happen. If Donald Trump was not an ignorant, disinterested sociopath, half a million dead Americans would not be dead and vat-cloned fascist talking heads would not be urging their viewers to sabotage national safety as means of rebelling against invented enemies. If Republicanism’s top lawmakers and defenders were unwilling to parrot obvious lies and propaganda on behalf of a corrupt and broken coward, the effort to partisanize the virus would have immediately collapsed.
By next fall, most of the new dead may be among their own true believers.