My wife and I recently rewatched the powerful HBO miniseries “Chernobyl.” If you haven’t seen it I recommend it, though I must warn you it is not only powerful but profoundly disturbing. The Soviet nuclear disaster at Chernobyl remains a cautionary tale about the human and environmental cost of lies. It reminds us all that the petty and parochial reasons we may have for participating in lies can have larger and devastating real world consequences.
The Republican war against the truth is a case in point. Republicans who wallow in victimhood and indulge in performative outrage against the “hardships” of mask-wearing, social distancing and the sane and simple hygiene of regular hand washing give little or no thought to lives lost. As with Chernobyl’s radiation, the sars-cov-2 virus is invisible to the naked eye and is therefore easier to dismiss by the ignorant.
Emboldened by inexpensive false bravado and simplistic realities about the virus — most will not get the disease and only some will die — Republicans convince themselves that it’s all somehow a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats. As the realities of coronavirus become clearer by the day their message becomes murkier — they frequently do their performative outrages from behind masks — and their interference in the science of vaccination and prevention isn’t merely unhelpful, it’s deadly.
President Biden’s recent program of targeted door-to-door outreach aimed at educating Americans about the availability of coronavirus vaccinations has recently come under heavy fire by Republicans, of course. As with everything Democratic, the Biden administration’s efforts have been characterised in the worst possible light by Republicans.
For example, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster described the Biden effort to educate the public as “enticing, coercing, intimidating, mandating or pressuring.” It is none of those things. The door-to-door groups are composed of grassroots local volunteers and members of the clergy who are merely making residents aware of the options open to them. The choice to vaccinate or not to vaccinate remains theirs. Even so, McMaster has sanctimoniously proclaimed that he is going to “prohibit the state health agency from using the [Biden] administration’s targeted tactics.” It’s an empty threat because no state workers are involved in the volunteer effort to begin with.
As Jen Psaki puts it, “the failure to provide accurate public health information including the efficacy of vaccines and the accessibility of them to people across the country — including South Carolina — is literally killing people. So maybe they should consider that.” But they don’t consider that because if ignorance is anything it’s narrow in its scope.
It pains me to repeat it, brothers and sisters, but in the last year coronavirus has killed more than 600,000 Americans. Yet still Republicans insist on viewing it through the divisive lens of partisan politics. First they claimed it didn’t exist and as a consequence fought against testing and contact tracing. Then they claimed that masks and social distancing were somehow a slippery slope to depriving them of their Constitutional rights. Now they paradoxically simultaneously claim that the vaccine is an insidious mind control Trojan horse and more deadly than the virus itself, yet Trump and his “Operation Warp Speed” are somehow responsible for its breathtaking success.
And what a success the Biden effort has proved! The latest statistics reveal that in May only .1% of people who were hospitalized for coronavirus were fully vaccinated. In other words, 99.9% of coronavirus hospitalizations are the result of people who haven’t been vaccinated. But anti-science ignorance remains the number one Republican recourse, and death remains its inevitable byproduct.
The man who blew the whistle on the lies that made the Chernobyl disaster possible said it best. In reminding the Soviet Union that its lies were ultimately its greatest enemy — Mikhail Gorbachev was convinced that Chernobyl was the principal cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union — Soviet science minister Valery Legasov said in a dramatized scene in the documentary, “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.” Republican lies have been paid for by more than 600,000 American deaths. It’s time to stop paying the Republican debt of lies. 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.