Politicians pandering to American paranoia
By Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist | Two heart-rending articles occupied the front page of the Florida newspaper that I was reading online two Sundays ago.
One told the stories of people who had survived the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago. The other followed a nurse through a 12-hour shift in a hospital’s intensive care ward for COVID-19 patients. Three had died the day before. More will this day. Most of her patients, including a 36-year-old mother of two, are not expected to live. An older woman codes seven times before her suffering ends. The one patient who is recovering is the only one in the ward who was vaccinated.
The juxtaposition of these articles was stunning for the mass illogic and irresponsibility they reflect.
The terrorist attacks 20 years ago killed nearly 3,000 people that day and more — no one knows how many more — among the responders who contracted lethal illnesses from toxins and carcinogens in the rubble.
For comparison, more than 10 times as many Americans die each year from gun violence, but it’s something that most politicians, paralyzed with fear of the gun lobby’s single-issue voters, will do nothing about.
Some 648,000 Americans — almost surely an undercount — have died of COVID-19, now outnumbering all those killed in World Wars I and II and every war since. It’s even on track to eclipse the death toll from the Civil War, which some historians have recently elevated to 750,000.
But, despite a resurgent mutated virus, politicians in hard-hit states like Florida and Texas are helping the pandemic spread by forbidding local governments to make face-masking mandatory and barring employers from requiring proof of vaccination from their workers or customers.
These politicians are truckling to that minority of citizens who think their right to refuse a mask or a needle jab trumps their neighbors’ right to continue living.
If you doubt that matters to North Carolina, take notice of the number of Florida license tags on our roads.
Such politicians also proclaim themselves, for the most part, to support the right to life. But only before a fetus becomes a child.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, elected as a protégé of Donald Trump, is openly ambitious to be the 47th president. His education commissioner is trying to dock the pay of school board members who defy DeSantis’ ban on mandatory masking. The president of the state Senate wants to adopt an abortion ban like that enacted by the Texas version of the Taliban.
Here is the paradox: Because of what happened on 9/11, we have become accustomed to mass surveillance by government agencies, most of which will never come to light. We remove our shoes and jackets and dump our water bottles when the TSA tells us to. The Patriot Act is still on the books.
But even with our hospitals documenting tragic results from the coronavirus every day, some of us are so selfish as to insist that no one can or should convince them to be vaccinated or wear face masks in public settings. That’s understandable, in a way, because the nation has always been host to what the historian Richard Hofstadter called “The paranoid style in American politics.”
What’s not forgivable is how politicians like DeSantis in Florida, Greg Abbot in Texas and Rep. Madison Cawthorn pander to it.