Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis lost roughly 200 of his voters on Friday. If that pace holds, he’ll kill off all of the 30,000 or so voters who made up his narrow 2018 margin of victory by Valentine’s Day. He doesn’t care. You should. We are no longer fighting a disease, but a bizarre, apocalyptic civil war.
This latest wave of COVID-19 infections is almost entirely threatening the unvaccinated. Rates of hospitalization for COVID-19 among vaccinated patients are about 1%. Death rates for the vaccinated remain very near zero. COVID-19 is now an epidemic of the unvaccinated.
The US led the world in vaccine availability, but thanks to Republicans we are falling behind in the race toward immunity.
Yes, there are other factors holding certain groups back. Black and Hispanic Americans, along with those at lower incomes lag behind whites in vaccine availability, slowing the race to immunity. However, Republican resistance to public health measures has fed this gap.
Look closely at the list of majority Black or Hispanic counties falling farthest behind in vaccination and you’ll find them concentrated in places with Republican state governments. In New York City, where the government took affirmative steps to bridge minority distrust of the vaccine, resistance is now most concentrated in the city’s only Republican borough, Staten Island, and particularly in that borough’s whitest zip codes.
Of the 20 states with the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 deaths last week, only two had Democratic Governors. Only one, Nevada, has a Democratic legislature. Nationwide, white evangelicals have the highest rates of vaccine refusal. They are also the largest group of vaccine resistors by raw numbers, accounting for the overwhelming bulk of the unvaccinated so far.
There is no concentrated campaign of cult resistance to vaccines spreading in minority communities. Outside white Republican circles, low vaccination rates are generally a consequence of poverty, isolation and poor availability, problems easily overcome by a competent public health initiative. Vaccine resistance has become a tenet of white Republican religion, converting COVID-19 into a high sacrament of the Republican death cult. This is a warning of worse things to come.
Why are Republicans refusing to get vaccinated? Denialist fantasies became a test of Republican identity when the former President, the new Republican God, decided to downplay the pandemic rather than confronting it. It did not have to be this way. COVID-19 was a political gift to Republicans, a black swan event granting them carte blanche to enact the most extreme and sweeping elements of their purported agenda with little resistance. But the former President, who has never had more than a drunk uncle interest in politics, was far more concerned about the impact of pandemic containment measures on his businesses. Keeping his hotels open was a far greater priority than any nerdish policy goal. In a different world, Republicans would be wearing a badge on their golf shirts showing they got their Trump Vaccine, while living in a fortress nation with few COVID-19 cases or deaths. That’s not the world Donald Trump wanted to live in, so here we are.
Why are Republicans willing to die for their politics? First, remember that dying for politics isn’t so unusual. Politics is always a matter of life and death. We regularly celebrate heroes who died for politics, from Valley Forge to the Freedom Summer to Omaha Beach. The question isn’t why they would die for politics, but what are the political values they’re dying for?
Republicans love Donald Trump because he’s the first US President to campaign and win on an explicit promise to protect white men from the threat of cultural diversity. America has been held together by a shared myth of white supremacy for generations. As the power of that myth has weakened without a replacement, the desperation of those who depend on it has grown. Trump earned godlike loyalty for his willingness to acknowledge and elevate the mythology of white supremacy against a world that threatens to undermine white privileges. Republicans see themselves in a life or death struggle to protect their identity. Trump is the god promising to protect this mythology.
Mere support is never enough for a god. GOP politics under Trump demanded a bridge-burning abandonment of reality in favor of racial loyalty. The terms of that racial loyalty were defined by their white god. As Roger Waters sang, “what god wants, god gets.” If god wants you to catch an infectious disease, then you line up to lick a bannister.
What’s remarkable about the emerging Republican death cult is its celebration of futility. Trump failed repeatedly to deliver any of his promises, and then he lost. Failure is not necessarily a problem, as a Lost Cause mythology has been central to white supremacy from its origins. Since Trump is a god of defeat, his minions must become martyrs.
Republicans who are drowning in their own lungs right now aren’t sacrificing their lives to further a cause. Their deaths don’t bring a single Republican policy goal any closer to reality. Republican politics is a suicide cult. Like the Native American Ghost Dancers of the late 19th Century, Republicans are marching themselves and their families into suicidal oblivion to demonstrate their resistance to a world whose emergence they can’t halt.
This week a particularly noisy anti-vax politician in Texas died of COVID-19. At age 45, H Scott Apley was a member of the Texas GOP executive committee and a city councilman in Dickinson. Just five days before his death from COVID-19 he posted this to Facebook:
This isn’t about outcomes. It’s about loyalty. Those who died over vaccine resistance won’t be recognized as fools, but sanctified as martyrs. There will be a brief moment as the Republican death toll mounts when a few GOP politicians will attempt a pivot toward sanity. They’ll be shunned. Instead, the faithful survivors will elevate the memory of those who died. Creative, ambitious Republican politicians will invent magical reasons for the carnage, blaming immigrants or Democrats or some fantasy explanation none of us have yet imagined.
DeSantis will be celebrated for blocking measures that might have saved tens of thousands of Florida lives. Faithful white Republicans will fall in line because they have no choice. A world just being born in which white people are no longer special is a world they’d rather not see. If they can kill it, they will. If they can’t kill it, then their death and yours make a reasonable compromise.
Don’t laugh. In time COVID-19 will fade from the headlines, crushed between the hammer and anvil of immunity or death. Most of these Republicans will still be alive and voting. People who would die of a loathsome disease to ‘own the libs’ will not quietly yield to law or elections. Whoever survives this partisan plague will remain a threat to liberal democracy, willing to kill or die to prevent the birth of a freer, fairer, more prosperous world. Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are merely harbingers of more dangerous figures to come.
Our race to build a new unifying mythology will go on when COVID-19 has been forgotten. At least now we’ve been properly warned of the stakes.