Here’s the Austin American Statesman reporting on what happened when two restaurants in Austin announced that they would be requiring at least one round of COVID-19 vaccination before allowing patrons to dine indoors. Two days later, a “courtesy call” arrived informing them that they were in violation of rules passed by the state’s Republican legislature and signed by Abbott which prohibit anyone—even a private business—from requiring vaccination. Because that’s how free enterprise works now: Republicans get to tell businesses they have to maintain unsafe working environments if they’re going to be allowed to operate.
Around the red-hot Gulf in Florida, Ron DeSantis is still busy threatening school officials who try to make the world slightly better for students. As CNN reports, DeSantis is escalating his attempts to stop any school from requiring masks by dispatching letters stating that the state board of education can halt the salaries of superintendents and board members who institute anything that looks like a mask mandate. “I think the fairest thing to do is let parents make the decision,” said DeSantis, speaking from a desperately full hospital. That’s so long as those parents don’t decide they want their children to be taught in safety, because DeSantis is requiring schools to meet in person and preventing them from implementing steps needed to protect children.
DeSantis didn’t stop there. Having already matched Abbott by banning any private business from asking for proof of vaccination, DeSantis declared that he would appeal a ruling by a federal judge which is, for the moment, allowing cruise companies to at least query their passengersabout being vaccinated. DeSantis promises he will not let that ruling stand.
Meanwhile, Kristi Noem says, “I don’t believe that governors have the authority” to insist on mask mandates, vaccine passports, or social distancing rules. She does, however, believe that she has the authority to stop others from trying to do any of those things, as well as to unleash a rules-free event that draws a headcount equal to 80% of the population of her state.
Be sure to catch exactly what’s happening here: Businesses aren’t being allowed to operate unless they guarantee an environment in which the virus will spread. Parents are being forced to send their children to schools that are guaranteed unsafe.
These people aren’t the face of the virus—they’re the engine of the pandemic. They are objectively, factually, practically, and actively pro-disease. They are making things worse.
What’s in it for them? The Republican Party. Civiqs still shows 40% of Republicans saying that they will refuse the vaccine, in spite of everything that’s happened. There may have been a few stories of increased vaccine demand, and that’s great, but at current vaccination rates the U.S. wouldn’t reach the levels currently seen in the U.K. or Israel for another six months, and both of those nations still had waves of COVID-19 with the appearance of the delta variant. If the U.S. is going to reach herd immunity against the R0 5+ delta variant, it’s almost certainly going to do it the hard way: the illness way. The death way.
But those 40% of Republicans aren’t just the vaccine holdouts, they’re the core of the party—the most dedicated extremists in a party that’s become all about going to extremes. Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, and Kristi Noem are all sacrificing the lives of their state’s citizens on the altar of Trumpism, exactly because they all think they are great candidates to assume the mantle in 2024.
Reasonableness in governance has become an inverse indicator of ambition in the GOP. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey may say that it’s “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson may admit to being sorry he banned mask mandates in his state, but Abbott, DeSantis, and Noem will never be caught saying anything so responsible. Because they see being the worst person as their best ticket to winning Republican primaries.
And they’re not going to let something like the lives of children get in their way.