COVID patient in the ICU
BATON ROUGE, La. (April 28, 2020) Lt. Cmdr. Michael Heimes, assigned to Expeditionary Medical Facility-M, checks on a patient connected to a ventilator during an ICU night shift at Baton Rouge General Mid City campus, April 28, 2020. The 100 EMF-M personnel, part of the Department of Defense COVID-19 response, work to ease the strain of the significant patient care surge as part of the BRG Mid City family. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel R. Betancourt Jr./Released)200428-M-WU117-1661

Oper­a­tion Warp Speed, the pro­gram to devel­op vac­cines against COVID-19, was sup­posed to be the show­piece of Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign to curb the pan­dem­ic. The ex-pres­i­dent made a show of try­ing to waive aside vac­cine tri­als with a dis­tor­tion of Russ­ian his­to­ry: “Putin approved Sput­nik and then got the data later.”

There were tri­als, how­ev­er… suc­cess­ful tri­als, which yield­ed three effec­tive vac­cines approved by the FDA for emer­gency use against COVID-19.

The vac­cines have gone into mil­lions of arms, espe­cial­ly in coastal states. Appalling­ly, how­ev­er, as COVID’s delta vari­ant rages, eras­ing progress made in com­bat­ing the pan­dem­ic, about thir­ty-four per­cent of Amer­i­cans over the age of twelve and about forty-four per­cent of the country’s entire pop­u­la­tion have yet to be vac­ci­nat­ed against the most dead­ly res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­ease they’re like­ly to face.

Resis­tance to vac­ci­na­tion sad­ly reflects America’s polit­i­cal divisions.

It is cen­tered among Repub­li­cans, fol­low­ers of Trump, and in states he car­ried last Novem­ber. In Alaba­ma, the vac­ci­na­tion rate is only thir­ty-four per­cent, lead­ing Repub­li­can gov­er­nor Kay Ivey to say last week: “Folks are sup­posed to have com­mon sense. But it’s time to blame the unvac­ci­nat­ed folks, not the reg­u­lar folks. It’s the unvac­ci­nat­ed folks that are let­ting us down.”

It’s just the lat­est proof that there’s no such thing as com­mon sense.

Dem­a­gogues with a plat­form, like Fox’s Tuck­er Carl­son and Lau­ra Ingra­ham, are wag­ing a cam­paign of fear against vac­ci­na­tion. The man who boasts about Oper­a­tion Warp Speed – Trump has even sug­gest­ed the vac­cines be named after him – has yet to use his influ­ence to get them to stop endan­ger­ing people.

Carl­son, vaca­tion­ing in Mon­tana, was con­front­ed this week in a fly fish­ing store by a Mon­tanan named Dan Bai­ley, who post­ed a video clip of the encounter.

In the clip, Bai­ley can seen look­ing Carl­son in the face and be heard telling him: “You are the worst human being known to mankind. I want you to know that.”

This man has killed more peo­ple with vac­cine mis­in­for­ma­tion, he has sup­port­ed extreme racism, he is a fas­cist and does more to rip this coun­try apart than any­one that calls them­selves an Amer­i­can,” Bai­ley wrote in the Insta­gram cap­tion accom­pa­ny­ing his video, which has been viewed tens of thou­sands of times.

That’s a pret­ty apt syn­op­sis of the trou­ble we’re in.

“The prob­lem right now is that the voic­es of these cred­i­ble pub­lic health pro­fes­sion­als are get­ting drowned out,” Unit­ed States Sur­geon Gen­er­al Vivek Mur­phy told a White House brief­ing last week.

The dem­a­goguery is out there for all to see.

It’s not just Fox hosts, either. Repub­li­can offi­cials are engaged in it, too.

After Pres­i­dent Joe Biden talked about pro­mot­ing vac­ci­na­tion “com­mu­ni­ty by com­mu­ni­ty” and “neigh­bor­hood by neigh­bor­hood,” Sen­a­tor Mar­sha Black­burn, R‑Tennessee, false­ly respond­ed with these fear­mon­ger­ing words: “Joe Biden is send­ing agents to your door to com­pel vaccinations.”

Gov­er­nor Mike Par­son of Mis­souri, his state an epi­cen­ter for the Delta vari­a­tion, accused the Pres­i­dent of “try­ing to scare” the citizenry.

“Don’t come knock­ing on my door with your ‘Fau­ci ouch­ie’: You leave us the hell alone,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Laren Boe­bert, R‑Colorado, told the Con­ser­v­a­tive Polit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence in Dal­las, serv­ing as a warmup act for Trump.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Madi­son Cawthorn, R‑North Car­oli­na, warned that the door-to-door vac­ci­na­tion cam­paign could lead to con­fis­ca­tion of Bibles and guns.

The result: Polls have found forty-five per­cent of Repub­li­cans say­ing they will not get vac­ci­nat­ed, with thir­ty-one per­cent fear­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will insert a track­ing chip when the nee­dle is plunged into their arms.

Trump has done noth­ing to counter these falsehoods.

Why not? The fail­ure to vac­ci­nate is set­ting off a fourth wave of the pan­dem­ic, cen­tered in states that Trump car­ried last Novem­ber. The high­est inci­dence of new cas­es comes in Flori­da, where Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Ron DeSan­tis is ped­dling “Don’t Fau­ci my Flori­da” stick­ers when he appears – non­stop – on FNC.

The “butch­er bill”, even among right-wing foot sol­diers, may be accept­able giv­en the objec­tives of those fan­ning doubts. Repub­li­cans have weaponized fear, fos­ter­ing hos­til­i­ty toward sci­ence, demo­niz­ing med­ical experts and research uni­ver­si­ties, and sneer­ing at so-called “elites.” I doubt that Tuck­er Carl­son or Lau­ra Ingra­ham believe a word of their anti-mask rhetoric or warn­ings about vac­ci­nat­ing chil­dren, but the prop­a­ga­tion of fear boosts ratings.

Trump is a mon­ey machine, hav­ing raised more than $75 mil­lion in recent months, mon­ey that is not spent to chal­lenge 2020 elec­tion results but rather goes to the care, feed­ing and trav­el of the leader, with much of the loot squir­reled away.

Fear brings in the bucks.

To keep milk­ing the cash cow, you need to cease­less­ly cre­ate tar­gets of fear.

“Repub­li­cans invent things to pro­voke para­noia,” New York Times colum­nist Mau­reen Dowd writes Sun­day, dis­cussing Repub­li­can denial of cli­mate damage.

As well, the goal is to cre­ate impres­sions rather than solv­ing problems.

As oper­a­tion Warp Speed devel­oped vac­cines, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol was faced with map­ping out a fifty-state plan for dis­tri­b­u­tion start­ing in Jan­u­ary of 2021. But the Trump regime took mon­ey out of the CDC’s budget.

At a hear­ing on Capi­tol Hill, Sen. Pat­ty Mur­ray, D‑Washington, asked the CDC ‘s Dr. Robert Red­field where the lost dol­lars had gone. He replied that the admin­is­tra­tion had trans­ferred $300 mil­lion of CDC mon­ey to the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices’ pub­lic affairs office. The mon­ey was restored by the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee on health and human ser­vices, then chaired by Sen­a­tor Roy Blount, R‑Missouri, with Mur­ray the rank­ing Democrat.

Sec­re­tary Alex Azar want­ed to fire Redfield.

Such were the knives out in a regime wrestling with the country’s worst health cri­sis in one hun­dred and two years. The Mur­ray-Blount sto­ry is told in the new book “I Alone Can Fix It” by Car­ol Leon­nig and Philip Rucker.

One more fear fac­tor is at play – fear by right-wing politi­cians and pun­dits at what they have unleashed. It is dan­ger­ous to breathe a word of truth, even if done so rarely. The camp fol­low­ers aren’t used to it. Last week, speak­ing on his Fox prime­time show, Sean Han­ni­ty declared: “Enough peo­ple have died. We don’t need more death. I believe in the sci­ence of vaccination.”

The com­ment drew a storm of protest from his core audi­ence. Han­ni­ty back­tracked less than forty-eight hours lat­er, say­ing: “Well, first of all – I’m not urg­ing peo­ple to get the COVID-19 vac­cine because I’m not a doc­tor. What I said, I said to take it seri­ous­ly. It might kill you. I said to do a lot of research.”

What a stom­ach-turn­ing sit­u­a­tion for the country.

Trump wants to claim cred­it for devel­op­ing the vac­cines, yet his fol­low­ers resist being jabbed. The ex-president’s favorite boot lick­ers in Con­gress and right wing media spread fears and exploit the nation’s divi­sions. Trump cash­es in on those divi­sions, and by mock­ing pub­lic health experts. Mil­lions go unvaccinated.

Trump was qui­et­ly vac­ci­nat­ed against COVID-19 before leav­ing office, a rare unpub­li­cized action in his high­ly pub­lic, tabloid-anchored life.

For half a year, he’s had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to bring on board his fol­low­ers. He could do a ser­vice to his coun­try, but instead he serves only him­self, as usual.

The ram­i­fi­ca­tions are deadly.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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