Nations are doomed when existential threats, moral imperatives and self-preservation become culture wars. In America, we could have treated COVID vaccinations, accurate depictions of U.S. history in schools and mitigating climate change as calls to greatness, staying logically and factually centered and united. Instead, nonconformist radicals and cultists broke ranks. Hyper-partisan dissociation replaced science and fundamental tenets of mutual protection and public safety. Example: how do I stay alive and protect others during a pandemic? With over 2 billion doses of sera successfully administered in 212 countries and territories around the world, those “politically red” among us still resist shots against SARS-CoV-2 disproportionately. GOP-leaning white evangelicals are more reluctant than most, but minority groups, mostly Democrats, also distrust. We live in a dangerous time when, once critical issues become political, too many of us allow beliefs to float entirely free of reason and hard evidence.
The Trump administration’s modus operandi, from the outset, was validating falsehoods, damning facts and scientific evidence to netherworlds of allegiance and belief. Once Trump underestimated the dangers, eschewed wearing masks, and COVID skeptics began objecting to safeguards on talk shows, two competing coronavirus factions emerged. One compliant and combating its spread, the other refusing to cooperate. Resisting recommendations of experts, however spot-on, became childish, self-jeopardizing pouts. Conspiracy theories rationalized “don’t tell me what to do” with chips being inserted into arms, reactions being too adverse, rights being denied; immunity and survival being purviews of providence. Now, getting 70% U.S. adults at least partially inoculated by July 4th is improbable, despite 16 states, including Connecticut, having accomplished the goal. America’s South and Midwest, and ages 18 through 26, are particularly recalcitrant, even as brain scans of COVID survivors show Parkinson’s- and Alzheimer’s-like cerebral cortical inflammations. If vaccinations continue to wane, the more virulent and contagious Delta variant, already causing 1 in 5 U.S. infections, will continue to spread, and under-vaccinated areas will be mutagenic breeding grounds. Last year, youthful recklessness and rightwing partisanship subverted lockdowns, mask-wearing, social distancing and other protective measures. Now, they’re delaying herd immunity here and vaccine-sharing abroad. Imagine the preventable death toll had red-blue/urban-rural tribalism impeded penicillin’s development or slowed eradicating diphtheria, polio and smallpox.
The push to get people back to work is clashing with uncertainties about vaccination refusals and safety on the job. True, the second round of boosts to unemployment checks has been a disincentive to toil, temporarily, but proof of inoculation will either be compulsory or lingering anxieties about vaccine hesitant colleagues will continue culling workforces. With only 30 percent U.S. office staff returning to employers’ buildings, white collar labor has embraced remote work as a new and better normal. Many have quit rather than return to cubicle confinement. Legions of employees now know work can be done from afar with efficiency and flexibility, unburdened by the stress, pollution and expense of business attires and time-consuming commutes. Spared dangerous, congested highways and safer but crowded commuter trains, one third of workers recently surveyed say working from home can save at least $5,000 per year. The pandemic should continue to recede with each new shot in someone’s arm. But, given erratic availabilities of childcare and benefits of being with immediate family and pets, productivity from home and remote collegiate learning will continue to increase. As tragic as it has been, the pandemic may have enabled Americans to distinguish between mere glitter and that which is truly gold.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.