George on Georgia – Blood sacrifices to the God of SpiteGeorge Chidi. Photo by Dean Hesse
Editor’s note: George Chidi now publishes a Substack newsletter called “The Atlanta Objective.” If you want to support him directly, sign up for a paying subscription to his newsletter by clicking here.
People are going to die because they won’t take the COVID-19 vaccine.
People are going to kill other people by spreading disease, because they won’t wear masks.
We can argue the finer moral calculus around reasonable caution and responsibility, but that’s the bottom line. Lives are at stake. Some people care less about that than others.
But why, one wonders, would the governors of states like Texas and Oklahoma and blue-haired-old-lady Florida suborn this horror with anti-mask rhetoric, banning local mandates for indoor masking, or required vaccinations for state employees, or other measures to reign in a disease that threatens to knock America below its population replacement rate?
I think it’s about power.
Swaths of red state America refuse to believe that Joe Biden won the election fairly. They refuse to believe that their loss of power was deserved, or justifiable. They have been told by countless charlatans and pillow salesmen that liberals will tell them how to live, and that preventing liberals from exercising power is a life-or-death struggle.
Republican governors aren’t refusing to mandate masks or demand vaccinations or – heaven forfend – engage in another lockdown in the face of the delta variant out of some abstract commitment to freedom and personal responsibility. They’re doing so because their primary voters hate being told what to do by liberals more than they fear the abstract mathematical probability of becoming sick or dying.
Mandating masks isn’t seen as a bothersome requirement by an overpowered state. Authoritarian Trump voters did not suddenly stop worshiping at the altar of state power. No, it’s more a matter of whose power is being exercised.
Liberals want people to wear masks and get shots. Ergo, masks and shots must be wrong, and being made to wear masks and get shots means conservatives really have lost. Better to die instead. Better for America to die, one COVID-19 death at a time, if liberals are in charge of it.
There’s a whole other conversation to be had about Black people and vaccine hesitancy, rooted in Tuskegee experiment fears of being government guinea pigs. But that’s not what’s driving Republican governors off the cliff. Most of their white conservative constituents had no particular fear or distrust of vaccination before madmen on the right decided to politicize it.
They cannot be seen to be doing what liberals tell them to do. It’s that simple.
The more interesting question, perhaps, is why Georgia governor Brian Kemp isn’t playing the same tune. And, honestly, I’m a little stumped. But here’s one supposition: he knows he’s already lost the MAGA vote.
Unlike all the other southern governors coddling antivaxxers, Kemp may believe he has nothing to gain with that group that’s worth losing suburban swing voters in a race to be decided by a low five-figure number of voters. Rather than court people Trump will undoubtedly steer toward another candidate, Kemp has been burnishing his law-and-order credentials while sniping at Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
If Kemp still has a path to re-election, it means beating the Trump wing of the party in a primary and then, somehow, holding on to enough of them in a general election to win. So he’s threading the needle — not banning mask requirements, but not demanding masks either.
Perhaps that’s seen as more appealing to Cobb and Gwinnett mainstreet Republicans than actions that will leave their children gasping for breath on ventilators as the virus makes its way through schools.