Vaclav Havel and the Trump Virus

Reading the news this week puts me in mind again of Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” and how modern tyrants claim “the center of power is identical with the center of truth,” — it’s not simply that they’ve seized power, it’s righteous and just that they’re in charge.

I think that explains some of the deranged pushback against getting vaccinated. They talk about “choice” but obviously a lot of them are seething that anyone is making a different choice than they are. Harassing and threatening healthcare workers to prevent vaccinations. Coughing on people in stores. Mocking a kid for discussing his grandmother’s death from covid. Their god king, The Former Guy, said the virus wasn’t a big deal. His toady, Sen. Ted Cruz, said if Biden won, Democrats would immediately end all pandemic precautions. The center of power — remember, a lot of Republicans have chosen to believe that Trump is still president — has spoken. By refusing to conform, we dissent from Republican orthodoxy, and their fragile fee-fees can’t stand dissent, any more than they tolerate criticism. And as Paul Campos says, if they question any one part of the truth, their whole belief system could collapse.

So at the local level, even with school cases rising, they freak out at efforts to change that. A group of anti-maskers drove one San Diego-area school board out of its meeting, then appointed themselves the new board. One father compares the school’s directive to keep his kid in quarantine for a few days with a Gestapo order and brought zip ties to the school to make a citizen’s arrest of the principal (didn’t happen, fortunately). Dude, if this were Nazi Germany you’d face a shit-ton worse for challenging the authorities.

QAnon cultists are pressuring hospitals give Trump Virus patients ivermectin (feed stores are now selling out of it) instead of valid medical treatments. And we have predators like “Typhoid Ron” DeSantis ignoring Florida’s rising number of cases and trying to hide the numbers. Idaho gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin claiming vaccines are lethal. Or Rand Paul who wants Dr. Fauci in jail. Dave Daubenmire insists he hasn’t caught Covid, he’s been sickened by electrical energy from vaccinated people. Joe Rogan, who came down with Covid after performing stand-up shows in Florida, but still won’t piss off his audience by accepting science. Given his past claims that vaccine passports lead to dictatorship, we can assume his audience doesn’t want to hear “I was wrong, everyone should get vaccinated.”

We’ve had 800,000 excess deaths since February but the Republican stance remains the same, as Rebecca Solnit says: “some have the right to determine the truth more than others, and facts, science, history are likewise fetters to be shaken loose in pursuit of exactly your very own favorite version of reality, which you enforce through dominance, including outright violence.”

It doesn’t help, as LGM says, that a lot of media still won’t say outright that the real, if not the only issue, is the antivaxxers. If we’re stuck figuring out the endgame, it’s because too many people won’t get vaccinated. That’s what leads to the surge in cases (including among the vaccinated) which is why military doctors are having to help out. Eric Boehlert suggests after years of Trump safaris — talking to white, working-class Republicans about why those simple, plain-spoken Americans supported The Former Guy — reporters are having trouble seeing them as politically paranoid, anti-rational extremists (none of which ever came out during those safaris).

So the end result is we’re starting to debate whether it’s justifiable for hospitals to turn away the unvaxxed when space is tight (I don’t think the often-used comparison to smokers is justified  — smoking is an addiction, staying unvaccinated isn’t. And let’s face it, beds in ICUs are not currently unavailable because of too many smokers in hospital for cancer). And hospitals going short-staffed because of staff refusing vaccine mandates.

I think a harder line is definitely good, such as Biden now mandating vaccination for all federal workers and many employees outside the government. And increasing fines on airplane travelers who don’t wear masks. Unsurprisingly, Republicans who feel perfectly entitled to tell private businesses No Vaccine Requirements are furious that Biden dares tell private businesses what to do (I’ve heard speculation a lot of business owners will be thrilled — now they have an excuse to push vaccinations).

That said, Medscape concludes the way to change vaccine-hesitant minds is less confrontation, more persuasion — even allowing them to do it discreetly so their anti-vax peers won’t know (which is insane, but if it gets results, hey).

We should have been largely back to pre-pandemic normal by now. It does not bode well for this country that we aren’t getting close.

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