Nothing better exemplifies the gaping political divide in this country than our embarrassing and asinine vaccine response. Donald Trump’s scorched-earth political strategy has fooled millions of Americans into flirting with death. And now thousands are once again dying for it.
Almost from the beginning, efforts to combat the virus were met with disdain from a president who felt the crisis made him look bad. The science was denied. We came to live in a world where masking was mocked and ingesting disinfectant was offered up as a possible cure.
All the while, the patients on ventilators gasped for breath, and refrigerated trailers filled with bodies. Death is one of the ultimate truths of life, and yet not even it could dissuade the headstrong from casting doubt on the science.
And then, a miracle.
In response to this raging, deadly virus, scientists developed multiple, highly effective vaccines with breathtaking speed. It was like a prayer had been answered. An antidote to the plague had arrived.
We should all have been celebrating in the streets and running to a lifesaving serum with our sleeves rolled up and a smile on our face. But not enough of us were.
The public had been poisoned by partisanship. Masking was a political statement. Social distancing was a political statement. Receiving the vaccine, for far too many, was a political statement.
And so countless Americans responded with a political statement of their own: defiance.
They hated that businesses were forced to close, and being asked to wear masks inside when they reopened. They hated their children having to stay home from school and being made to wear masks when they returned.
But the simple truth is that all of this could have been avoided if all Americans eligible for the vaccine — and that’s pretty much every adult at this point — had simply chosen to be vaccinated. But they didn’t. They haven’t. They are too dug in, too committed to the lies and conspiracies, too devoted to rebellion.
In the beginning, as the vaccine was rolled out, there were some access hurdles and some understandable apprehensions. But now billions of people worldwide have received the vaccine, and very few have had adverse effects.
The vaccine is safe, incredibly safe.
There are no microchips or magnets in it. It does not cause COVID, and it is not more dangerous than COVID.
Believing all these lies is a luxury of people who have not sat by a hospital bedside or watched from behind glass, because COVID regulations prevented them from comforting a relative or friend as they drew their last breath, struggling against a virus that choked that breath off.
It is a luxury to be irresponsible in a society where others would be responsible for you, where you simply assumed that you were safer because others took the appropriate precautions to be safe: You did not need to get the shot because others did.
But the delta variant is testing that faith.
You will not be safe as an unvaccinated person riding on the coattails of the vaccinated. Delta is extremely transmissible and unremitting. It is stronger than its progenitor.
As the delta variant surges, there is an uptick in the pace of vaccinations in the country. It’s almost like religion: Many disbelievers will call out to whatever god there may be when the reaper is at the door. Fear of ideological defeat is no match for the fear of imminent death. And yet it shouldn’t have taken another surge of sickness and death for good sense to set in.
Why were Americans turning away a vaccine that many people in other parts of the world were literally dying for? Many did so because of their fidelity to the lie and their fidelity to the liar. They did it because they were — and still are — slavishly devoted to Trump, and because many politicians and conservative commentators helped Trump propagate his lies.
A recent Monmouth University poll found that “among those who admit they will not get the vaccine if they can avoid it, 70% either identify with or lean toward the Republican Party while just 6% align with the Democrats.”
The optics of countless socially distanced funerals is less offensive to those conservatives than the optics of being socially distanced in a Fuddruckers.
It was all lunacy. It is all lunacy. This should never have happened. There are people dead today — a lot of them! — who should still be alive and who would be if people in the heights of government and the heights of the media had not fed them lies about the virus.
But apparently, after you get so used to so much blood on your hands, you forget — or make yourself forget — that you weren’t born with red palms.
So we have a situation in America where people are and will continue to die of ignorance and stubbornness. They are determined to prove that they are right even if it puts them on the wrong side of a eulogy.
This is like watching millions of people playing in traffic.
Charles M. Blow is a columnist for The New York Times.