Trump Would Rather You Die Than Aid Biden’s Vaccine Rollout
The single biggest predictor of opposing the vaccine is political persuasion. And the person who could persuade them otherwise is off pouting.
The White House just launched a $250 million ad campaign to convince the vaccine-hesitant to get inoculated. President Joe Biden could save himself the money and call on political influencers to do it for him. Just up the street sit members of Congress—about 25 percent of them, mostly Republicans—who haven’t gotten it yet.
If our elected leaders can’t lead us to herd immunity, who can? Each member, under continuity of government rules, is entitled to the shot. No waiting on hold for an appointment, no traveling far afield to get it, no lines. The doctor, in the form of an Attending Physician, is literally in the House.
As the rollout continues, it’s not minorities rejecting the vaccine, even though they have reason to doubt their government’s intentions toward them and have the most trouble nailing one. It’s white Republicans who are resisting—like former President Donald Trump, who treated COVID as something between a hoax and a personal affront. Hydroxychloroquine, or bleach? Maybe. Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine? Hell no. Sen. Ron “Anon” Johnson said having COVID-19 is superior to the vaccine against it.
Last week, a Monmouth University poll found that 56 percent of Republicans will likely never get the vaccine or want to wait and see. For how long, they don’t say. NPR/PBS/Marist found that 47 percent of Trump voters, one in two Republican men, and 41 percent of Republicans will not get the vaccine. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that Republicans continue to refuse to get the vaccine at double the rate of any other group.
None of this is surprising except that Trump’s followers are willing to die for him. It’s a free country, Republicans are fond of saying, and it’s their private choice to refuse a vaccine, as was their crowding on to the White House lawn for their superspreader convention and the celebration of the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice.
But their choices end where our public health begins. Herd immunity that will spring us from our houses and ignite the economy will take as much as 85 per cent of the population getting vaccinated. Wouldn’t red America like to go to an anxiety-free barbecue on the 4th of July? I know the answer. They’ll be popping a Bud and grilling a burger no matter what.
Which brings us to Republican governors. A new survey by Johns Hopkins found that starting in early summer last year, states with Republican governors had more cases and higher death rates than those led by Democrats. With two notable exceptions—Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker—governors embraced Trump’s attitude of take two aspirin and call me in the morning rather than risk his wrath.
“What, me worry about a little old flu?” is such a political signifier that South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is a likely presidential candidate running on a record of welcoming bikers to rally in her state and allowing meatpacking plants to become death traps. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, undeterred by having to park COVID patients in garages and dead bodies in ice trucks, reopened precipitately again this month—adding for sport a no-mask mandate. If Trump’s arch-enemy Dr. Tony Fauci says don’t spike the ball too soon or all our sacrifices will be in vain, count on hundreds of GOP officials to deflate the ball and pound it into the ground.
There are other reasons for vaccine-resistance—the usual anti-vaxxers, concern over the speed with which the vaccines were developed, and the CDC telling us what the vaccine doesn’t mean we can do. Not to be released into the wild to party like it’s 2019 is a downer to be sure. But nothing is more determinative of whether you will or won’t get the vaccine than political persuasion.
And so Biden has to spend money to sell a group of people on doing what’s good for them to make up for Republicans who won’t. If only he had his predecessor and social influencer from Mar-a-Lago to help him in the Republican States of America.
Instead, rather than appear in a public service ad getting a shot as other former presidents did, Trump got his in secret. The guess that he did it to preserve the illusion that he has the arms of a buff 70-year old is ridiculous. Have you seen him in golf regalia?
In his first major address, President Biden spoke as doctor-in-chief. He promised all those who want the vaccine will be eligible for it as of May 1 and that relief to those who suffered most economically was on the way. But more importantly, like presidents past, Ronald Reagan after the Challenger exploded and George Bush atop the rubble at Ground Zero, he assured us that there is life after loss and joy after grief. If we let go of our usual divisions and each sacrifice for the whole, we can survive together.
If only, the man in Mar-a-Lago must be thinking, as he hears tell of the man whose name he won’t say. Trump’s approval rating near the end of his term was 34 percent, and his 41 percent average approval rating across his term the lowest any president has sunk, according to Gallup. The man now sitting at his desk and sleeping in his bedroom (sanitized for COVID reasons) is well above 5o percent and his relief bill above 60. On the back of his daily schedule is the number of dead from COVID, although he needs no reminder.
The mistakes that haunt us are the unforced ones. Trump could have marshalled the government to conquer the virus instead of denying it, as if it were some great unfairness that had befallen him. Biden spoke of the personal and collective loss we’ve suffered but also how “finding the light in the darkness is a very American thing to do.” It’s no wonder Trump took the vaccine in the dark. The one choice Trump never considered making was to do the right thing. At night, in the quiet, Trump knows that. It’s why Biden’s president and he isn’t.