Viewpoint: Politicizing a pandemic

Karen Rubin, Columnist

As absurd, ridiculous, unthinkable as it may seem, the act of wearing a mask has become a badge declaring allegiance to a political tribe, an actual flashpoint for confrontation. Like believing in climate change, it has become a litmus test – those who wear masks are branded a Socialist, a Communist, devoted to a Nanny State, or despicably, the Common Good.

And you have to ask yourself why that would be, that instead of Americans coming together to defeat the worst crisis to befall the nation in over a century, there would be the deliberate effort to make the already unprecedented partisan polarization that much worse.

“We’re the Wild West,” Gov. Tony Evers told MSNBC just hours after Wisconsin’s Republican-majority Supreme Court struck down his authority to issue a stay-at-home order. “We’re just leaving it open. We’re going to have more cases. We’re going to have more deaths. It’s a sad occasion for the state. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, The Hill reported, tweeted, “The people of Wisconsin have done their part to advance our common good during this pandemic and now the WI Supreme Court has done the bidding of @SenFitzgerald & @repvos once again to put politics ahead of public health. It’s shameful they can’t put your health and safety first.”

Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder said the court’s ruling was motivated by politics and ideology and had “callously puts lives at risk.”

But, The Hill reported, Trump hailed the opinion and the defeat for Evers: “The Great State of Wisconsin, home to Tom Tiffany’s big Congressional Victory on Tuesday, was just given another win,” Trump tweeted. “Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”

Trump refuses to let Dr. Fauci (or anyone) testify in front of House committees. He suppressed the CDC’s 68-page guidelines detailing how businesses, industries, public entities should reopen. He threatens to withdraw from the World Health Organization and threatens China with a renewed tariff war to shift blame for the fact that the pandemic that has already struck over 1.5 million Americans, killed 90,000, and taken the jobs of 36 million – numbers that far exceed any other country and shine an ultraviolet light on the ineptitude of the Trump administration.

The pandemic has become so politically charged, and Trump so desperate to reopen the economy to get those deadly numbers down which might hurt his election and stuff people back into those massive adoring rallies, that Trump-friendly governors are now keeping secret how many people are dying.

Surely it is a bad look for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, having noted that 80 percent of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients were black, observing that reopening the state was A-OK even while the numbers of sick were rising because the coronavirus had little impact [on Georgia’s white society].

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has now ordered Medical Examiners not publish the death rates. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is keeping secret the number of deaths in meat-packing plants, which Trump ordered to reopen under the Defense Production Act, without requiring employers to provide safe conditions for workers.

Even the way the dead are counted has become a way of hiding the politically-inconvenient truth: they aren’t counting the dead in nursing homes (hot spots), veterans homes, or those who had other ailments even if COVID-19 was the thing that did them in. And while Trump is challenging the number of dead (or suggesting that 90,000 Democrats died to make him look bad), Dr. Fauci agrees that the number reported could actually be 50 percent higher.

Now the Big Lie from the guy who has already made 18,000 of them, is about a vaccine. How funny that a leading anti-vaxer, is now pushing a Warp Speed vaccine that could not possibly be sufficiently tested for efficacy or health risks if, as Trump says, it will be out by the end of the year (conveniently, just after the election).

Is this like his health plan (better, cheaper than Obamacare, you just wait and see!), he promised in the 2016 campaign? So far, his only health plan is to destroy Obamacare, even as 28 million people have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance, and Trump refuses to reopen enrollment.

What exactly is the plan to produce not 330 million, but billions of doses of a vaccine?

What is the plan to administer it? That’s what Dr. Rick Bright, the nation’s top vaccine specialist before being fired for refusing to hype snakeoil (hydroychloroquine), wondered about before a House committee (the Senate is too busy trumping up Obamagate to care), while chastising the Trump administration for failing to produce sufficient PPE.

“The federal government is jumping through hoops to allow companies to develop a vaccine, so the federal government should set rules and say any company that develops a vaccine, the next day that patent, that formula should be given to companies across the globe so they can produce vaccine to treat everyone,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing at Northwell Health, Manhasset. “It can’t be where only the rich, the privileged can get it. This is a matter of public health, national security.”

Cuomo is proposing an Americans First Law that makes sure that government funding supports workers, keeps people employed, and does not allow corporations to get the money but gleefully downsize (“rightsize”) anyway.

He is calling for a repeal of the cap on SALT (State And Local Taxes) deductions which so penalizes New York and other blue states and is pushing for $500 billion in funding so that states and local government can maintain vital services, including hospital workers, police, fire, teachers.

“It’s about priorities, values,” he said. “I understand large corporations fund the political accounts of officials, but they get elected by people – people still vote, people still matter. Show the same consideration for workers you showed for corporations.”

Cuomo continues to maintain that the pandemic isn’t a Red versus Blue thing, but I challenged him that was “wishful thinking” or perhaps just being diplomatic, not to piss off those who control the purse strings. New York is already staring at a $61 billion budget deficit because of COVID-19 and will need federal aid within a matter of weeks or start cutting services.

“I have no doubt that many politicians act through politics. But I am saying today, in this situation, they should rise above and this should not be about politics, it should not be about red versus blue. People who are dying are Americans, red white and blue. It is such an ugly concept in this situation where people are dying to say they will not bail out a blue state.”

Tell that to McConnell, who in the midst of the Great Recession, as Americans were losing their homes, jobs, health care, retirement and college savings, McConnell’s priority was to make Obama a one-term president. Now, McConnell is salivating at the political advantage the pandemic affords: weakening Democratic governors and suppressing Democratic votes in the bargain.


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