Bob Sheak, August 17, 2021
My proposition in this post, and past ones, is that Trump, the Republican Party, and their myriad supporters, including large segments of the corporate community and Trump’s massive electoral base, favor policies that, if successful, undermine democracy and threaten to replace it with some anti-democratic alternative, authoritarian, autocratic, fascist, tyrannical, totalitarian. It doesn’t yet have a clear widely accepted name, except that two things are clear. One, the Republican alternative will be less democratic than at present and, two, the Republicans will use whatever means to create a largely one-party state based on support of a shrinking white voting population. It’s not yet clear whether the Biden administration and the Democrats in the U.S. Congress will be able to adequately counter these assaults on democracy, especially since in the Democratic Party there are differences in policy preferences between moderates and progressives.
In the end, this is a power struggle in which there appears to be no lasting viable middle ground, no foreseeable reconciliation of differences, no grand centrist accommodation. The divisions are not new, but they have been intensified by the growing extremism of right-wing forces. What is new is that there are issues now that threaten to destroy democracy and, even more, destroy the ecological basis of civilization, humanity, and life. That said, there may on occasion be temporary quasi-bipartisan agreements that yield partial and/or temporary remedies but without adequate funding, altering the trends, or challenging the corporate wing of the Right. See, for example, Jeffrey D. Sachs; analysis of why the proposed funding for the physical infrastructure bill is nearly sufficient (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/08/10/bipartisan-infrastructure-bill-drop-bucket-what-needed).
Examples of Republican anti-democratic actions and policies
In today’s political and societal realities, whichever side prevails, the political parties and society will remain deeply divided. It takes enormous imagination, almost a flight from realty, to identify a basis for meaningful compromises with Republicans over (1) the “big lie” and the debate over the realty of the Jan. 6 insurrection, (2) the Republican efforts to suppress the vote and subvert the machinery of the Electoral College, (3) the politicization of the Covid-19 pandemic and the massive resistance on the right to following the guidance of public health scientists, and (4) climate crisis denial, avoidance, or inadequate responses to this crisis.
#1 – The big lie and the insurrection
In my last post of July 29, 2021, “Trump and the Republicans downplay the Jan. 6 insurrection,” I reviewed evidence on how the con man and liar Trump and his Republican followers have advanced the falsehood that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the former president, how Trump refused to concede the election and incited the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, how the Republican Party has by and large supported Trump’s “big lie,” and how Democrats have pushed ahead to form a quasi-bipartisan investigation of the insurrection, despite Republican efforts to sabotage and divert public attention away from the investigation” (https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/07/29/trump-and-the-republicans-downplay-the-jan-6-insurrection).
Lisa Lerer and Nicholas Fandos report on how the GOP has come to double-downed in their support of Trump’s “big lie”
(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/31/us/politics/jan-6-politics-riot-pelosi.html). Here’s some of what they write.
“In the hours and days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, rattled Republican lawmakers knew exactly who was to blame: Donald J. Trump. Loyal allies began turning on him. Top Republicans vowed to make a full break from his divisive tactics and dishonesties. Some even discussed removing him from office.
“By spring, however, after nearly 200 congressional Republicans had voted to clear Mr. Trump during a second impeachment proceeding, the conservative fringes of the party had already begun to rewrite history, describing the Capitol riot as a peaceful protest and comparing the invading mob to a ‘normal tourist visit,’ as one congressman put it.
“This past week [the last week of July 2021] amid the emotional testimony of police officers at the first hearing of a House select committee, Republicans completed their journey through the looking-glass, spinning a new counternarrative of that deadly day. No longer content to absolve Mr. Trump, they concocted a version of events in which accused rioters were patriotic political prisoners and Speaker Nancy Pelosi was to blame for the violence.
“Their new claims, some voiced from the highest levels of House Republican leadership, amount to a disinformation campaign being promulgated from the steps of the Capitol, aimed at giving cover to their party and intensifying the threats to political accountability.
“This rendering of events — together with new evidence that Mr. Trump had counted on allies in Congress to help him use a baseless allegation of corruption to overturn the election — pointed to what some democracy experts see as a dangerous new sign in American politics: Even with Mr. Trump gone from the White House, many Republicans have little intention of abandoning the prevarication that was a hallmark of his presidency.”
Their purpose reflects “both ambition and self-preservation. Through attempts to delegitimize the House select committee’s investigation of January 6 riot, they are building a case for non-cooperation, “a counterfactual counterattack.” Without evidence, Trump and leading Republicans blame Ms. Pelosi for failing to prevent the riot with preemptive security measures. Leher and Fandos expand on this point.
“This past week, just before the officers began to deliver anguished testimony about the brutality they had endured, Mr. McCarthy repeatedly laid blame not with Mr. Trump, the rioters or those who had fueled doubts about the election outcome, but with Ms. Pelosi, one of the invading mob’s chief targets.”
Leher and Fandos point out, disputing McCarthy: “Ms. Pelosi is not responsible for the security of Congress; that job falls to the Capitol Police, a force that the speaker only indirectly influences. Republicans have made no similar attempt to blame Mr. McConnell, who shared control of the Capitol at the time.” Some right-wing members of the U.S. Congress go farther and accuse “prosecutors of mistreating the more than 500 people accused in the Jan. 6 riot.” Republicans in congress also refer to Ashli Babbitt, the only rioter who was shot to death by a Capitol policeman “as a patriotic martyr whose killing by the police was premeditated.”
At the same time, Lehrer and Fandos point out, “Most Republican lawmakers…simply try to say nothing at all, declining even to recount the day’s events, let alone rebuke members of their party for spreading falsehoods or muddying the waters.” They identify, as an example, the silence of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, “who [initially] criticized Mr. Trump and his party in the immediate aftermath of the attack, denouncing it as a ‘failed insurrection’ fueled by the former president’s lies.” Since then, however, “the minority leader has all but refused to discuss Jan. 6.”
In the meantime, only two Republican representatives, “Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois,” have spoken out that there was a riotous mob incited by Trump. They have consequently been condemned and marginalized by their Republican colleagues.
“The message is clear: Adherence to facts cannot overcome adherence to the party line.”
Who funded the rally preceding the assault on the Capitol on Jan.6
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) poses this question “in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, also known as the commission,” according to an article written by Brett Wilkins (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/08/13/sheldon-whitehouse-asks-jan-6-commission-probe-links-between-dark-money-groups-and).
Wilkins continues: “Linking the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol with a protracted effort by secretive right-wing groups and wealthy GOP contributors, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Friday called for investigating dark money organizations and influential donors who allegedly organized and funded the deadly attack in a failed bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In the letter, Whitehouse also posits this: “The attack on the Capitol on January 6 was the culmination of a month’s long disinformation campaign designed to allow President [Donald] Trump to remain in office.” Furthermore:
“Public reporting indicates that this campaign was organized and funded by dark money organizations and powerful donors, and aided and abetted by members of Congress and the Trump administration.” Therefore, “Whitehouse urges the commission to ‘examine the funders and organizers whose efforts may have laid the groundwork for the violence that day.’
Whitehouse identifies some of the dark money groups linked to the January 6 “March to Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. They “include Women for America First; America First Policies; and Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) that sent out robocalls urging Trump supporters to ‘stop the steal’—a baseless slogan referring to the so-called ‘Big Lie’ that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.”
“Many of these same groups were involved in planning and organizing President Trump’s ‘Save America Rally’ on January 6,” Whitehouse wrote in his letter. “These groups obtained permits, provided funding and equipment, and actively recruited participants.”
Who funded them?
Documented “reported shortly after the Capitol attack, the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF) ‘received at least $175,000 from the Koch-backed Freedom Partners. Other RLDF donors include Judicial Crisis Network, the Rule of Law Project, and the Edison Electric Institute.”
As for Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), its donors in 2020 “included Koch Industries ($375,000), Comcast Corporation ($200,000), Walmart ($140,000), Home Depot ($125,000), Amazon ($100,000), TikTok ($75,000), 1-800 Contacts ($51,000), Chevron ($50,000), The National Rifle Association ($50,000), Facebook ($50,000), Fox Corporation ($50,000), Uber ($50,000), Coca Cola ($50,000), ExxonMobil ($50,000), and Google ($25,000).”
The January 6 “March to Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. that immediately preceded the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to thwart Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory was reportedly organized and encouraged by a web of dark money groups.”
Whitehouse also says “there is evidence that members of Congress were also involved in orchestrating the ‘Save America Rally.’ Three members of the House of Representatives have been identified as alleged co-architects: Reps. Andy Biggs [R-Ariz.], Paul Gosar [R-Ariz.], and Mo Brooks [R-Ala.].”
“These representatives coordinated with other congressmen to object to the electoral count that day,” Whitehouse continued. “It is unclear to what extent those other members were also aware of or involved in the plans for the rally.”
“Clearly, it was in the interests of the attackers to have members keep the balloting open,” Whitehouse said, adding “I have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to examine whether there was coordination—direct or indirect—between Senate objectors and those involved in the attack on the Capitol.”
One hundred and thirty-eight House Republicans and seven GOP senators voted on January 6 in favor of rejecting electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, battleground states that Biden won. In January, Whitehouse led a Senate Ethics Committee complaint (pdf) accusing Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and other “Big Lie” backers of possible conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and other potential crimes in connection with the January 6 attack. The Ethics Committee has not yet issued any findings in response to the complaint.
Whitehouse concludes in his letter as follows. “In order to fully understand what happened on January 6, the commission should further investigate the role these dark money groups played in propagating President Trump’s misinformation campaign and in orchestrating the ‘Save America Rally,'” Additionally, “The commission should also examine the extent of any coordination between those groups, the Trump administration, and the members of Congress who objected to the electoral count.”
Super Pacs and Dark money explained
The emergence of “dark money” groups “was aided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling” that organizations do not have to publicly disclose the identities of their donors.” The Brennan Center’s Tim Lau explains the highlights of the law. What is notable is that the decision “reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections” without revealing their identities (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/citizens-united-explained).
The upshot of the “Big Lie” and the attempts by Republicans and their allies to reinstate Trump as president is that it is part of a larger, long-standing effort to subvert the democratic electoral system – and there appear to be no limits in these efforts. At this point, it is difficult to see how these efforts are effectively challenged, especially when even violent methods are encouraged and widespread voter suppression is undertaken.
#2 – Efforts to permanently subvert the electoral system
Politically, there is plenty of evidence that Republicans in the states are doing their utmost to suppress the votes in Democratically-leaning congressional districts, to change state election rules on who has the final authority to count votes, and on consolidating and expanding gerrymandered districting in states they dominate.
Liz Theoharis, a theologian, ordained minister, author, and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, critically assesses the Republican efforts to subvert democratically-based elections (https://tomdispatch.com/generations-of-struggle).
She reminds us that such voter suppression maneuvers were given a boost by the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby v. Holder, when “the Supreme Court struck down the Section 5 preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act.” She continues: “That section had placed certain districts with histories of racist voter suppression under federal jurisdiction, requiring them to submit to the Department of Justice any planned changes in their voting laws. Since then, there’s been a deluge of voter-suppression laws across the country.”
Additional voter suppression efforts by state Republican Parties rose during Barack Obama’s presidency and have since escalated. In 2011, there were 19 restrictive laws in 14 states. As of June 2021, there are a total of nearly 400 laws meant to obstruct the right to vote that have been introduced across the country. “So far, 18 states, ranging from Alabama and Arkansas to Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, have passed 30 of them, including an omnibus bill signed into law in Georgia in March. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, it “targets Black voters with uncanny accuracy.”
In an update, the Brennan Center provides data through July reports that between January 1 and July 14, 2021, “more than 400 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. At the same time, at least 25 states enacted 54 laws with provisions to expand voting access (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-july-2021).
The Center points out that the Congress has the power to stem the Republican stream of restrictive voting laws and refers to voting reform legislation pending in the U.S. Congress, namely, “the For the People Act, passed by the House and now awaiting action in the Senate. Such a federal law would mitigate the effect of many state-level voter restrictions. And the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would protect voters by preventing new discriminatory laws from being implemented.”
There may be more new state voting laws still to come this year. Active regular legislative sessions continue in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And Maine’s special legislative session is ongoing.
Texas lawmakers in particular appear poised to enact additional restrictive voting legislation this year. During the 30-day special session that began in Austin on July 8, state lawmakers introduced a slew of restrictive voting proposals, including two omnibus bills (S.B. 1 and H.B. 3) containing numerous anti-voter provisions.
“There [in Texas], the state Senate recently passed a massive “voter integrity” bill that would, among other things, ban 24-hour and drive-through voting, add new ID requirements, and criminalize election workers who don’t follow the onerous new rules. The bill would also grant new powers to partisan poll watchers, raising the possibility of far-right militia groups legally monitoring polling stations.
“Texas House Democrats fled the state before a vote could be introduced and now remain in Washington, D.C., in exile, awaiting the end of the special session called by Republican Governor Greg Abbott and possible federal action.” Without a quorum, the Texas House could not call a vote. The refugee Democrats “brought an urgent message to Congress, stressing the need to pass federal voting protections, including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. However, Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to continue calling special sessions as needed until lawmakers return to the state.”
There is some good news from the Brennen Center. “At least 25 states have enacted 54 laws with provisions to expand voting access. These laws expand access to early and mail voting, make voter registration easier, and restore voting rights to Americans with past convictions, among other measures. Many of the states in which voting is already comparatively more accessible are the same as those enacting policies to further strengthen voting access, deepening a national divide such that the promise of the right to vote depends increasingly on where Americans happen to live.”
However, the only way to stop voter suppression laws in the “red” states is for the U.S. Congress and President Biden to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Biden has affirmed his support for both bills, but as yet has “offered little when it comes to developing an actual strategy for getting that done.” The chief obstacle is in the Senate, where a minority of Republicans can stop legislation through use of the filibuster. As of now, Biden is unwilling to push Democrats to use methods [e.g., budget reconciliation] to by-pass the abuse of the filibuster out of fear it would throw the Congress into “chaos.”
Theoharis implores Biden to change his mind, writing:
“President Biden, I have no doubt you care and desire to do right, but, as a clergy person, let me say pastorally, when you say ending the filibuster will create chaos that obscures the fact that the filibuster is facilitating chaos. The filibuster caused chaos with anti-slavery legislation, labor rights, women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, and it once again is causing policy chaos by allowing a minority to obstruct justice. The filibuster has already been used to stop your goal of $15/hr. living wage. We believe the filibuster should end. But, at the very least, no one should ever say the filibuster is preventing chaos.”
The big lie is fueled by “big money
Author and award-winning columnist Jane Mayer uncovers evidence that “[d]ark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/09/the-big-money-behind-the-big-lie).
The 2020 elections – a reckoning
The first test of whether the welter of voter suppression and anti-democratic vote counting procedures are working to advance the interests of Republicans and their allies will come in the 2022 mid-term elections. If the Republicans manage to take back control of the Senate and/or House, it will mean that the country would then have taken a giant state toward the creation of an authoritarian system of governing. In the meantime, there appears to be no solid basis for compromise.
#3 – Objecting to or obfuscation about public health recommendations and mandates to protect people from the Covid-19 virus
The right-wingers have been dismissive of the need for meaningful government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and have opposed or ignored mask mandates and other scientifically-based strategies to protect the population. In doing so, they have misled large segments of the population about the dangers of being unvaccinated, generated confusion, and fostered the idea that resistance to mandates is good and a defense of individual freedom. – devoid of any notion of the common good or common interests.
A word about “freedom”
Annelien De Dijn writes about how “conservative” politicians use the term “freedom” differently than progressives, liberals, and others on the left (https://time.com/5882978/freedom-definition-history). She puts the issue into context, examining how the distinction has deep historical roots and has written a book on the topic titled Freedom: An Unruly History. Here’s the conclusion she draws in her article for Time Magazine.
“When conservative politicians like Rand Paul and advocacy groups FreedomWorks or the Federalist Society talk about their love of liberty, they usually mean something very different from civil rights activists like John Lewis—and from the revolutionaries, abolitionists and feminists in whose footsteps Lewis walked. Instead, they are channeling 19th century conservatives like Francis Parkman and William Graham Sumner, who believed that freedom is about protecting property rights—if need be, by obstructing democracy. Hundreds of years later, those two competing views of freedom remain largely unreconcilable.”
Covid-19 cases soar
There is currently a large rise in Covid-related cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In an article for The New York Times, Ethan Hauser and Alyssa Lukpat report on August 9, 2021, that Covid-19 cases have risen to their highest levels since February, averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day, a resurgence that is hitting especially hard in states where large portions of the population remain unvaccinated” (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/09/world/covid-delta-variant-vaccine). “The surge “is tied to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus. Vaccines provide a high degree of protection against the variant, which was first detected in India, but only half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.”
Hauser and Lukpat quote Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has described the current stage as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” As scientists urge people to get vaccinated and to wear masks, whether vaccinated or not, Republicans in the U.S. Congress, statehouses, and state legislatures have ignored the well-documented spread of the virus and are in many cases actively opposing any preventive measures.
They also refer to Randi Weingarten, the head of the powerful American Federation of Teachers, who “urged a reversal of her union’s position against vaccine mandates, saying on the NBC program ‘Meet the Press” that the “rising caseloads are a ‘public health crisis.’” Weingarten also said “that Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, two of the most powerful opponents of mask mandates had spread disinformation that is ‘hurting people in terms of their public health.’”
Officials in Austin, Texas echoed the charge against Abbott when they “warned that the situation was desperate.” Bryce Bencivengo, a spokesman for Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management warned that the city is in the single digits of available I.C.U. beds and “patients in emergency rooms were being forced to wait for space.” Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, “said that the crisis could have been avoided if Mr. Abbott had not barred local government officials from issuing mandates on masking.”
Economist and columnist Paul Krugman offers insights on Florida governor Ron DeSantis who is an opponent of any mandates and who echoes the anti-scientific narrative of Trump and the right (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/02/Covid-Florida-vaccines.html). This is despite the fact that the U.S. now has a highly effective vaccine that is freely available to every American who is at least 12 years old. And despite that fact “Florida is in the grip of a Covid surge worse than it experienced before the vaccines,” that is, February through November of 2021.
Krugman continues: “More than 10,000 Floridians are hospitalized, around 10 times the number in New York, which has about as many residents; an average of 58 Florida residents are dying each day, compared with six in New York. And the Florida hospital system is under extreme stress.”
DiSantis has embraced this anti-scientific, anti-evidence position at every stage of the pandemic, exemplified “by issuing orders blocking businesses from requiring that their patrons show proof of vaccination and schools from requiring masks. More generally, he has helped create a state of mind in which vaccine skepticism flourishes and refusal to take precautions is normalized.” Many seniors in the state have ignored DiSantis, but otherwise in other age categories “the state lags behind the nation as a whole, and even further behind blue states.”
The Florida governor has justified his position by claiming that any restrictions would hurt the state’s economy and, above all, he has played “the liberal-conspiracy card, with funding letters declaring that the ‘radical left’ is ‘coming for your freedom.’” He thus argues that “social distancing, wearing a mask and now getting vaccinated — should be matters of personal choice.” Krugman dismisses such arguments, pointing out that society and government impose all kinds of restrictions on individual behavior in the name of the common good or public interest. We have all sorts of laws that limit and punish violators (e.g., against driving drunk). And Krugman contends “that when people on the right talk about ‘freedom’ what they actually mean is closer to ‘defense of privilege’ — specifically the right of certain people (generally white male Christians) to do whatever they want.”
The governors and others on the right justify their opposition to mask mandates
Thom Hartmann provides further insights on the situations in Florida and Texas in an article published in Truthout on August 13, 2021
(https://truthout.org/articles/desantis-and-abbott-count-on-reelection-despite-letting-tens-of-thousands-die). Hartmann writes as follows.
“Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas have gone all-in on a high-stakes bet, and the example of Donald Trump suggests they may just win it. Win or lose, though, they’re both tenaciously hanging onto their bans on mandated masks in schools.
“Their bet is that they’ll get away with letting tens of thousands of their citizens — and thousands of their citizens’ children — die or get ‘long Covid’ and the people of their states will simply forget and move on.”
The two governors and others in the Republican fold believe in the theory of “herd immunity,” that is, “contagious diseases usually follow a predictable curve of increasing infections until hitting a point where so many people are dead or immune that the disease can no longer expand its range. From there, the disease incidence declines steadily and eventually flattens out to a low level. Add in rapidly expanding vaccination and the curve collapses even faster.”
But what is not clear is “how many adults and children in Florida and Texas will have to die or get ‘long Covid’ before those states hit the ‘herd immunity’ threshold [if ever]… and whether the good citizens of those states (particularly the Republican voters) will tolerate that level of disability and death just to satisfy the tough-guy egos of their respective governors.”
There is still no evidence that there are massive shifts in these states away from the Republican governors, Trump, or Republican Party. Indeed, Trump’s base of tens of millions continue to support him despite his mishandling of the pandemic.
Thousands died unnecessarily under Trump and so it will be under right-wing influence today
Hartmann reminds us that there were “[m]ultiple scientific analyses of Trump’s response to the pandemic, the most credible highlighted by Dr. Deborah Birx after she left the White House.” She documented that at least 400,000 Americans would not have died if Trump had simply put into place a nationwide mask and social-distancing mandate like most other countries did.” Trump’s bet during the last year of his presidency was that such policies would help to keep the economy open, businesses open, people in jobs, consumers shopping and, in this never-to-arrive scenario, the ill effects of the pandemic would gradually decline without strong intervention by the federal government. Furthermore, the hope of Trump was that Americans “would soon forget and not blame him for all those unnecessary deaths.” Indeed, despite losing the 2020 presidential election, 74 million Americans voted for Trump. DeSantis and Abbot “think they can “pull off the same trick, and they may well be right. Killing large numbers of Americans rarely sticks to Republicans.”
Enter the Delta Variant
However, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is far more transmissible and lethal than the preceding Alpha variant and it is affecting children in large numbers, as well as other age groups.
Hartmann refers to a scientific report on the website of the National Institutes for Health that finds “[a]lmost half of children who contract Covid-19 may have lasting symptoms, which should factor into decisions on reopening schools… Evidence from the first study of long covid in children suggests that more than half of children aged between 6 and 16 years old who contract the virus have at least one symptom lasting more than 120 days, with 42.6 percent impaired by these symptoms during daily activities.” The symptoms include “long-lasting ‘fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache, insomnia, respiratory problems and heart problems’ and that ‘there may be up to 100 other symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems, nausea, dizziness, seizures, hallucinations and testicular pain.’
It doesn’t have to be. Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman and her colleagues at Duke University “tracked COVID-19 transmission in North Carolina K-12 schools across 100 school districts, 14 charter schools, 160,549 school staffers, and more than 864,515 students attending in-school instruction.” The researchers concluded that being vaccinated is the best way to prevent COVID-19, but that “universal masking is a close second, and with masking in place, in-school learning is safe and more effective than remote instruction, regardless of community rates of infection.’” This is kind of evidence and advice that DeSantis and Abbott ignore or dismiss. It remains to be seen, as the “children’s hospitals in Florida and Texas are now staggered by Covid, whether public pressure will rise enough to compel the governors to left their bans on masking mandates.”
Overall, according to a CNN report, there are still some 80 million Americans who have not been vaccinated and these are in many cases the same people are not masking (https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/28/politics/mask-wars-are-back.html).
The danger of an uncontrollable Covid-19 virus emerging is greater when there are large numbers of unvaccinated people and when they refuse to wear masks.
The editorial staff at USAToday interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci on August 8 2021, and updated the information on August 9 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/08/08/anthony-fauci-covid-vaccinate-mandate/5507400001). Here are Fauci’s responses to one of the questions posed by the staff.
Q. How do we keep our children who are unvaccinated safe, particularly as they are heading back to schools?
A. There are two ways to do that. One is to surround the children with people who are vaccinated. Get as many teachers as possible vaccinated; get anybody who is anywhere near a child, in what should be the protected environment of a school, if they are eligible to be vaccinated, they should be vaccinated. Since you will not get 100% of those people vaccinated, that’s when you get into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that whether you’re vaccinated or not, the most important thing is to get the children back to school. We have 18 months of experience, not only in the United States but in other countries, that the detrimental effect on mental health, physical and social development of children is really devastating. Getting the people around the kids vaccinated isn’t all that difficult to me. It’s common sense, but getting everybody to wear a mask, you’re going to get pushback from that. Hence the anti-mask mandates that you’re seeing in certain states. My feeling is that I would rather have a child be a little bit uncomfortable with a mask on and be healthy, than a comfortable child without a mask in an (intensive care unit).
Amid the rising incidence of Covid-19 cases, transmission of the virus increases giving it more opportunities to mutate into more virulent strands and leaving society without effective vaccines
In the interview, Fauci also refers to another worrisome potential impact of the anti-vacs, anti-masking advocates. As long as the virus, now the Delta virus, is widely circulating in the population, it will go on replicating and mutating and inevitably cause more lethal variants to emerge against which current vaccines do not work.
There’s a very firm epidemiological tenet that a virus cannot mutate, unless it is replicating. If you allow the virus to freely replicate chronically in society, it will mutate. Fauchi said: “Now many mutations have no relevance functionally, but every once in a while, you get a mutation like delta, where the mutations cause a variant. And the variant has a real functional consequence. With delta, we have a virus that spreads much more rapidly than the original alpha variant.”
What happens if over many months you allow the virus to replicate, it is conceivable, not guaranteed, but conceivable, that we could get a variant that “eludes the protection of the vaccine.” In that eventuality, we will have lost the main protection against the virus and infections will spread more rapidly than before.
Herb Scribner reports on an interview Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave on Fox News Channel’s ‘The Story” (https://www.deseret.com/coronavirus/2021/8/9/22617534/covid-variant-worse-than-delta-predictions).
Redfield said on Fox News Channel’s “The Story” that he thinks the coronavirus will continue to replicate quickly among humans. As experts like Fauci have warned, the risk of variant evolution is high in populations with large number of unvaccinated and unmasked people. Redfield “then predicted that there will be another, more dangerous coronavirus variant by the fall.”
“You know we dealt with the U.K. variant; everyone thought that was pretty bad, it was twice as infectious, but lo and behold three, four months later we had the delta variant and now it’s a dominant variant in the United States,” Redfield said.
He then predicted that there will be another, more dangerous coronavirus variant by the fall.
Who are the unvaccinated and unmasked?
And the numbers are slowly going up. The problem here is complex. Some of those who have not been vaccinated are not in principle opposed to the vaccine but confront transportation obstacles in getting to vaccination cites, cannot afford to take time off from work, or worry about the possible, though rare, ill effects of the vaccination. However, there are the millions who, influenced by Trump, the Republican Party, right-wing media, oppose government restrictions or mandates for reactionary ideological reasons.
Bryce Covert delves into this issue and finds that “[t]hose who aren’t yet vaccinated are much more likely to be food insecure, have children at home and earn little” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/06/opinion/covid-delta-vaccines-unvaccinated.html).
“About three-quarters of unvaccinated adults live in a household that makes less than $75,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely as the vaccinated to have had insufficient food recently. Many of them have pressing concerns they can’t just put aside because they need to get a vaccination.
“Access is far more widespread than it was at the beginning of the year. Many cities now offer multiple venues for getting it without needing an appointment. But about 10 percent of the eligible population still lives more than a 15-minute drive from a vaccine distribution location. And even if there’s a site down the road, it usually requires taking time off work — not just to get the shot but also potentially to recover from the side effects — arranging transportation and figuring out child care.
Amid rising rates of hospitalizations and deaths, some previous opponents of vaccinations and masking are now getting them and/or taking other precautions
Nate Rattner and Rich Mendex report on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that nearly 800,000 shots were recorded nationwide on Sunday [July 25], the highest single-day total in weeks.” Additionally: “The seven-day average of reported vaccinations, including first and second shots, has risen by 16% over the past week to 615,000 shots per day as of Thursday [July 29]” (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/30/us-covid-vaccine-rates-delta-variant.html). They quote Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who thinks that the stark contrast in hospitalizations and deaths between the vaccinated and unvaccinated “may be convincing people on the fence about getting the shots.”
Data collected by U.S. health officials show that “[t]he overwhelming majority of serious Covid cases — 97% of hospital admissions, and 99.5% of Covid deaths — are occurring among those who are not vaccinated, U.S. health officials say.” And the number of people getting their first vaccine shots “has climbed more sharply than the overall rate. The CDC reports that an “average of about 390,000 first doses were administered every day over the past seven days” as of Thursday, July 29, and were up 31% from the previous week.
A CNBC analysis of CDC and John Hopkins data shows that “states with the worst outbreaks are seeing the biggest jumps in vaccination rates, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Nevada, Oklahoma, Alaska and Georgia. The increase in first doses of the vaccine in this group of states “are up 46%…significantly higher than the nationwide increase of 31%”
At the same time, “hard” opposition continues
John Feffer makes this argument (https://fpif.org/the-delta-variant-of-global-stupidity). He opens his August 11, 2021, article on the Foreign Policy In Focus website with these words.
“You’d think that the whole world could unite against a deadly virus. COVID-19 has already sickened over 200 million people around the world and killed over 4 million. It has now mutated into more contagious forms that threaten to plunge the globe into another spin cycle of lockdown.”
Feffer continues: “Now, with its anti-vaccine opportunism, the far right is circulating a new delta variant of global stupidity: virally through social media, in a shower of spit and invective on the street, and through top-down lunacy from politicians and political parties.”
“Today, in a tired repeat of 2020, U.S. anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are again protesting in front of governors’ mansions, bringing their message to Disneyland, and shutting down school board meetings. If COVID-19 were a wealthy corporation that underwrote such disruptions, these actions would make at least some economic sense. If COVID-19 were a wildly popular musical group or a subversively attractive religious cult that governments were trying to suppress, the frenzy of crowds would be somewhat understandable.
“But COVID-19 is a deadly virus. Why on earth would anyone go to bat for a pathogen?”
#4 – Climate change deniers and detractors
This the fourth and final of the “big issues” that threatens the society and the world. I start this section with the introduction to a post I sent out on May 25, 2021. The title: “The climate crisis intensifies, while meaningful political solutions remain elusive” (https://vitalissues/bobsheak.com/2021/05/26/the-climate-crisis-intensifies-while-meaningful-solutions-are-elusive). It is still applicable.
There is an ongoing debate in the U.S. concerning global warming. (I will use the terms global warming and climate change interchangeably.) On the one hand, there are those who support the view that global warming is real, a growing problem, while at the same time proposing remedies. On the other hand, there are those who reject or dismiss it, try to detract attention away from it, or offer inadequate minimal solutions.
Acknowledge the growing climate crisis
The first position is based on authoritative and verifiable evidence, based largely on ongoing empirical research and observations. This position enjoys the overwhelming support of climate scientists. The well-documented and accumulating evidence reveals that temperature continues to rise and that rising temperatures are the result of greenhouse gases from human activities being trapped and accumulating mostly in the upper troposphere, about 12 miles high in the atmosphere. The gases reduce the amount of the sun’s ultra-violet rays (heat) that are reflected back from earth to space. The earth’s temperature thus rises. The effects are reflected in a multitude of increasingly harmful impacts on myriad aspects of human societies and nature.
Many who hold the scientific, empirically based view remain optimistic that comprehensive and coordinated domestic and international efforts to stem and reverse the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere can be achieved. This optimism is, however, not yet warranted by the facts.
Deny or deflect the realty of the climate crisis
One of the great challenges is that, despite the verifiable evidence, there are powerful political, economic, and cultural forces in the U.S. that reject the science and oppose effective action to address this multifaceted problem. Some deny the scientific findings that global warming is happening and look to a handful of “scientists” and a vast political networks of think tanks, lobbyists, the Republican Party, and right-wing media to rally support for their view. Some accept the evidence but say that it would be too economically costly to deal with the problem. Some hope that there will be technological solutions to solve the problem (e.g., geoengineering). Some accept the reality of global warming but propose inadequate solutions that do not undermine the fossil-fuel interests (e.g., minimal fuel efficiency standards). Some accept there is warming but claim it has to do with the effects of sun spots and not from human activity. Consequently, there is nothing much that can be done here on earth, except to wait for the sun’s activity to change. Others contend that, on balance, global warming is a good thing and that the warming of the earth will spur the growth of some floras and agriculture.
The Report by the IPCC
Recent scientific evidence documents that the climate crisis is worsening.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just this month [August, 2021] released a report, based on an analysis of thousands of scientific research findings, documenting the unfolding increasingly dire effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions, while US, China, and the “rich” nations of the world do too little to curtail let alone reverse such trends.
New York Times journalists Brad Plumer and Henry Fountain analyze the IPCC report, which is “approved by 195 governments and based on more than 14,000 studies,” and provide a useful overview (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/climate/climate-change-report-ipcc-un.html).
It “is the most comprehensive summary to date of the physical science of climate change. It will be a focal point when diplomats gather in November  at a U.N. summit in Glasgow to discuss how to step up their efforts to reduce [greenhouse gas emissions] emissions.
“The new report,” they write, “is part of the sixth major assessment of climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was created in 1988. A second report, set to be released in 2022, will detail how climate change might affect aspects of human society, such as coastal cities, farms or health care systems. A third report, also expected next year, will explore more fully strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt global warming.”
The report documents that “[h]umans have already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century, largely by burning coal, oil and gas for energy. And the consequences can be felt across the globe: This summer alone, blistering heat waves have killed hundreds of people in the United States and Canada, floods have devastated Germany and China, and wildfires have raged out of control in Siberia, Turkey and Greece.”
“The changes in climate to date have little parallel in human history, the report said. The last decade is quite likely the hottest the planet has been in 125,000 years. The world’s glaciers are melting and receding at a rate ‘unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.’ Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have not been this high in at least 2 million years.”
As things stand now, the evidence compiled by the IPCC scientists indicate that, in the absence of a global effort to stem greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and soil degradation, “total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.”
At this level of the earth’s warming “scientists have found, the dangers grow considerably. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide could swelter in more frequent life-threatening heat waves. Hundreds of millions more would struggle for water because of severe droughts. Some animal and plant species alive today will be gone. Coral reefs, which sustain fisheries for large swaths of the globe, will suffer more frequent mass die-offs.”
Slim basis for hope
The IPCC report also offers some reason for hope that “humanity can still prevent the planet from getting even hotter [than 1.5 Celsius].” However, “[d]oing so would require a coordinated effort among countries to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around 2050, which would entail a rapid shift away from fossil fuels starting immediately, as well as potentially removing vast amounts of carbon from the air. If that happened, global warming would likely halt and level off at around 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report concludes.”
Economist and columnist Paul Krugman maintains, based on past and recent experience, how those on the Right will react to the IPCC report (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/opinion/climate-denial-covid-denial.html).
He writes: “We can, however, safely predict how influential conservatives will react to the report, if they react at all. They’ll say that it’s a hoax or that the science is still uncertain or that any attempt to mitigate climate change would devastate the economy”
Nations are failing in their commitments
Presently, however, the nations are failing in this effort and risk a future in which the “global average temperatures will keep rising — potentially passing 2 degrees, 3 degrees or even 4 degrees Celsius, compared with the preindustrial era.” Such developments would be catastrophic.
While “a growing number of world leaders, including President Biden, have endorsed the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, current policies in the major polluting countries are still far off-track from achieving that target. The 10 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are [still] China, the United States, the European Union, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran and Canada.”
“Experts have estimated that current policies being pursued by world governments will put the world on track for roughly 3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. That has ramped up pressure on countries to make more ambitious pledges, beyond what they agreed to under an international climate agreement struck in Paris in 2015.”
Every degree makes a significant difference
Plumer and Fountain refer to how “every additional degree of warming will bring ‘far greater perils, such as ever more vicious floods and heat waves, worsening droughts and accelerating sea-level rise that could threaten the existence of some island nations. The hotter the planet gets, the greater the risks of crossing dangerous ‘tipping points,’ like the irreversible collapse of the immense ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica.”
In the opening to his brilliantly documented book, Our Final Warming: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, Mark Lynas provides an overview of what to expect with each additional degree of global warming.
“We are already living in a world one degree warmer than that inhabited by our parents and grandparents. Two degrees Celsius, which will stress human societies and destroy many natural ecosystems such as rainforests and coral reefs, looms on the near horizon. At three degrees I now believe that the stability of human civilization will be seriously imperiled, while at four degrees a full-scale global collapse of human societies is probable, accompanied by a mass extinction of the biosphere that will be worst on Earth for tens or even hundreds of millions of years. By five degrees we will see massive positive feedbacks coming into play, driving further warming and climate impacts so extreme that they will leave most of the globe biologically uninhabitable, with humans reduced to a precarious existence in small refuges. At six degrees we risk triggering a runaway warming process that could render the biosphere completely extinct and for ever destroy the capacity of this planet to support life” (p. ix).
There are options but they require large systemic changes
“If nations follow through on more recent promises — like Mr. Biden’s April pledge to eliminate America’s net carbon emissions by 2050 or China’s vow to become carbon neutral by 2060 — then something closer to 2 degrees Celsius of warming might be possible. Additional action, such as sharply reducing methane emissions from agriculture and oil and gas drilling, could help limit warming below that level.” Such efforts are necessary but the Republicans and their right-wing allies will resist them as continue their absolute support of fossil fuels and resistance to viable alternatives.
The country is torn by deep-seated conflicts. The unanswered question is which side will prevail. In the analysis presented in this post, the Republicans and their right-wing allies represent nefarious policies and interests which, if implemented, will takes us down the path to some sort of anti-democratic political system, an uncontrolled pandemic, and ecological catastrophe. Under the Biden administration, there are efforts to address these big issues, but the administration cannot always count on Democrats in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives and any Democratically proposed legislation faces a Republican filibuster.
However, as the pandemic and climate crises remain inadequately addressed, and as the lives of more and more Americans are negatively affected by these maladies, there is the chance that Trump and the Republicans will lose key elections, despite their hysterical and opportunistic efforts to subvert the country’s democratic processes. In this eventuality, Democrats in government would have to address the “big” issues adequately. And there will have to be a continuing grassroots mobilization and education to keep pressure on the party.
That said, the challenges are unprecedented and there is not much time to set things “left.”