If you held your nose and watched the CPAC convention this last weekend, you may recall this sanctimonious proclamation from South Dakota governor Kristi Noem: “For those of you who don’t know, South Dakota is the only state in America that never ordered a single business or church to close.” That’s right, and she has more deaths per capita in South Dakota than any other state in the country to show for it.
When early last year Donald Trump was handed the first of two miracle re-election opportunities in the form of COVID-19 he blew it, he blew it just as completely as he blew his second miracle re-election opportunity that he was handed last May, the unsmiling, out-in-the-open, casual murder of George Floyd. In both cases Trump displayed a tone-deaf incompetence that was nothing short of stunning. He was given two brilliant, tailor-made chances to unite the nation and behave like a statesman and instead he screwed them both up by behaving like the bottom-feeding circus clown that he is, right on schedule. But because the error was made by Donald Trump, soulless ghouls like Kristi Noem have no choice but to follow him lemming-like over yet another Donald Trump suicide cliff.
Noem doubled down on her error Sunday night when speaking to moderator Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation,” when she continued to defend her indefensible position as America’s worst governor when it came to dealing with COVID-19. When Brennan asked her “Why do you think your state got hit so hard?” Noem’s reply was straight out of the Kellyanne Conway playbook: “Why aren’t you asking [New York Democratic governor Andrew] Cuomo these questions, why aren’t you talking to [California Democratic governor Gavin] Newsome?” While Noem continued to filibuster her whataboutisms, Brennan spoke over her and said, “When both of those governors accept an invitation to come on this program, madam … That is why we’re talking about your state, they have not said yes.”
Brennan went on to say, “For your state you have … the highest cumulative COVID deaths per million in the country … I know you’re a conservative and you care about the sanctity of life, so how can you justify making the decisions that put the health of your constituents at risk.” To which Noem replayed — and I’m not making this up — “Those are questions you should put to every other governor in this country.”
But Brennan proceeds from a well-meaning but false premise. The notion that Republicans respect the sanctity of life is nothing more than noise that Republicans have been making for decades. Life is cheap in Republican Land, where war and capital punishment are the answers to much of society’s social and political ills. Their so-called respect for the sanctity of life comes from their religious opposition to abortion, a thing they resolutely and unshakabley stand against, until they or someone they know gets pregnant needs an abortion, of course. Replubicans continue to use the empty platitudes of the pro-life movement so long as it’s not inconvenient for them. The Republican pro-life position is almost exclusively about virtue-signalling.
So it turns out that last year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, where 460,000 people came together in one spot, may very well have been America’s most deadly superspreader event, thanks to the policies of Kristi Noem. Participating attendees refused to wear masks or socially distance, and they weren’t required to, and now hundreds are dead as a direct result. The rally alone is blamed for seeding the entire Midwest outbreak last summer.
The calculus of precaution was easy to understand. Had Noem cancelled the Sturgis rally, people now dead would be alive today. It’s just that simple. Had she enforced mask wearing and social distancing as a price for opening the rally, lives would have been saved. But Noem was more interested in not incurring the wrath of Donald Trump than she was in preserving the lives of her constituents. Besides which it gave her something to brag about when she attended this year’s CPAC.
The mouth-breathing, MAGA-hat wearing cretins who attended the rally and refused to wear masks or social distance can go ahead and die in the name of “freedom.” The problem is they don’t exist in a vacuum. Because of their carelessness, their unsuspecting neighbors, front-line workers and healthcare professionals are also put at risk. Innocent people are dead and they had no choice in the matter. All this because their governor was terrified of getting a mean tweet or a harsh word from the monster squatting like a poison toad in the People’s House. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.