Six hundred thousand dead—more than those who fell during the five years of the Civil War, the bloodiest of US conflicts since 1776. This is the provisional death toll of the epidemic in America, a toll that is inevitably destined to worsen, because as of today only 55% of the population has been vaccinated.
Despite the heroic efforts of the Biden administration, which managed to administer 200 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days after taking office, the situation remains uncertain and worrying because the legacy of Donald Trump’s criminal madness weighs heavily. This is demonstrated by a poll released in recent days by CBS, according to which 30% of Republican voters are determined not to get vaccinated.
The reasons given are very diverse: half of this group argues that the vaccines are still too experimental and they’ll wait to see what happens. Forty percent simply say they “don’t trust the government,” and 33% don’t trust the scientists, or the pharmaceutical companies that are making the vaccines.
The problem is that, at the same time, Americans are eager to get back to traveling (80%), going to dinner with friends or at restaurants (71%), and even going to the office (72%). Inevitably, this will create new opportunities for contagion, particularly in states where the epidemic has become a political issue, with Republican governors ignoring, or hiding, the problem and urging people to “breathe free” without a mask. For example, Florida no longer releases daily data on new cases, despite having had over 2.3 million infections and more than 37,000 deaths over the past year and a half.
Donald Trump politicized the problem, with a series of contradictory, fanciful and bizarre statements that have become articles of faith for his followers. The result is that today, looking at a map of vaccinations, we discover a perfect correspondence between the amount of vaccines administered and the proportion of votes that went to Biden last November: many votes for the Democratic candidate means many vaccines (California, New York, Massachusetts). Few votes for the Democratic candidate means few vaccines (Texas, Florida, Wyoming).
It is a situation that, beside being a public health drama and a danger for the future, is a political tragedy: it means that the split in American society has come to reach issues of life and death on which there should be unanimity. The distrust of government and science nurtured for decades by Republicans is now showing its most nefarious result. To think that such deep rifts can be healed with agreements in the halls of Congress, or with generic appeals to unity, would be naive.
The United States is sick, and the causes of the disease are deeper than the mere presence of Donald Trump.
The real cancer that threatens American democracy is the power of money, which exploits the tendency of the institutions towards paralysis: blocking any initiative is ridiculously easy, thanks to the dominance of the minority over the Senate, the “tailor-made” drawing of electoral districts and the unlimited funding by lobbies. Senators and congressmen are, with few exceptions, for sale to the highest bidder, and the blocking of Joe Biden’s programs, even when they involve such banal initiatives as investment in decrepit infrastructure, is there to prove it.
Republicans are desperate to cripple the Democratic president in order to exploit the disappointment of his supporters in the 2022 congressional elections, and polls already show that, among Democratic voters, Biden had raised expectations far greater than his actual chances of turning them into law. Politics has become a zero-sum game which lobbyists and billionaires are able to navigate at ease.
It’s likely that Joe Biden will eventually succeed in leading the country out of the pandemic, but on all the other pressing issues, from voting rights to infrastructure, from raising the minimum wage to cracking down on far-right terrorism, it will be very difficult for his administration to get real results.
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