The COVID Culture War Will Never End

Pandemics end; culture wars are forever.

1. The COVID Culture War

Donald Trump responded to the pandemic by turning COVID into a culture war. He demonized mitigation efforts, peddled a constant stream of misinformation (which created an alternate reality for his followers), and used his office to literally spread the virus itself.

As a result, we are creeping up on 600,000 confirmed deaths. The real total, once we do a full forensic accounting, will eventually be revealed to be much higher.

And even though Trump is out of office, the culture war he waged continues. Here is a story that 100 percent does not happen if Trump had behaved like responsible human being:

A fifth-grade math and science teacher peddled a bogus conspiracy theory on Wednesday to students at Centner Academy, a private school in Miami, warning them that they should not hug parents who had been vaccinated against the coronavirus for more than five seconds because they might be exposed to harmful vaccine shedding. . . .

Nearly a week before, the school had threatened teachers’ employment if they got a coronavirus vaccine before the end of the school year.

That’s right: A school is forbidding teachers from getting vaccinated.

[V]accinated teachers would have to stay away from students, or would not be allowed to return for now if they get the vaccine over the summer. “If you want to get it, this is not going to be the right school for you,” Ms. Centner told teachers about the vaccine on a virtual call.

How did this happen? Why would a school do something this insane?

Centner Academy opened in its current form last year, after the Centners, who previously owned just the preschool, took over the Metropolitan International School, an established private school that focused on foreign languages and served an international clientele. Its owner retired and said the school would merge with the preschool owned by the Centners, who have donated heavily in recent years to the Republican Party and former President Donald J. Trump.


I know what you’re thinking: How is this legal? Doesn’t employment law prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their private health care decisions?

Could a school fire a teacher for taking the birth control pill?

Could a school tell a teacher with cancer that if she takes chemo drugs, she can’t return to work?

Could a school tell a teacher with a severe allergy that he’s not allowed to carry an EpiPen?

I dunno. I’m not a lawyer. But the local pols in Florida tried to avoid having this litigated in the courts by simply passing a law preventing schools from telling teachers they can’t get vaccinated.

And that bill failed.

Why? Because for the Republicans in Florida, the bill wasn’t about vaccines or public health or employment discrimination. It was about the culture war. And they knew which side they were on.

2. Both Sides

Which brings us to Brookline.

Massachusetts has relaxed its guidelines on outdoor mask usage. The policy is now that so long as you can keep some distance between people, then you don’t need to wear a mask outdoors.

This is a sensible, but still cautious, guide. For people who are not vaccinated, if they’re going to be outdoors in a packed space, they should wear masks. And since there’s no way to tell the goats from the sheep, it’s not crazy to say that if you’re in a crowded outdoor space, everyone should wear masks.

Brookline—think of it as East Coast Berkeley—has decided that they’re going to keep the outdoor mask mandate in place for everyone, at least for a little while longer.

I want to say this part out loud: I’m not saying that COVID Academy and Brookline are equivalent. What the Florida school is doing is dangerous. What Brookline is doing is silly and inconvenient. Many more Republicans than Democrats are invested in these fights. Republicans are the ones who started this politicization. Both sides are not equal.

But both impulses are fruit of the same tree: the transformation of COVID into culture war. Masks and vaccines aren’t talismans. They’re tools. They never should have been imbued with political significance in the first place.

How do we leach this poison out of our system? I wish I knew. The only thing to do is slowly and surely push against it. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure that’ll work.

Culture wars are easy to start, but nigh on impossible to end.

To borrow an insight from WOPR, when it comes to global, thermal culture war, the only winning move is not to play.

Frack the Culture War

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3. How Do You Steal a Hotel?

A fantastic longread from Canada:

Frederique and Sinclair Philip had been looking for a buyer for Sooke Harbour House for two years when Timothy Durkin showed up. It was March 2014. In the three decades the couple had owned the business, they’d transformed it from a small waterfront bed and breakfast into a popular destination spot that housed an internationally renowned locally sourced restaurant. 

Located about 40 kilometres west of Victoria, on the southwestern tip of Vancouver Island, the white clapboard hotel looked out over spectacular views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic mountain range. . . .

Among the hotel’s numerous accolades, The New York Times had described it as “an enticing and idiosyncratic retreat for epicures,” noting that its restaurant was among the “half-dozen best” in Canada and that its sprawling kitchen garden contained “more than two acres of herbs, vegetables and edible flowers, many of them rarities.” . . .

Though the business had always been a labour of love, in their mid-60s they felt more than ready to retire. Financial concerns partly motivated their decision. The Sooke Harbour House had taken a hit during the 2008 global economic recession, and its once-reliable stream of American guests had dried up. 

Durkin arrived on the heels of two previous offers falling through. At some point during those negotiations, the Philips had stopped their monthly mortgage payments, expecting to be able to pay off the bank in full after closing. They were almost three million dollars in arrears. 

Durkin appeared to offer a lifeline. He presented himself as a wealthy businessman with diverse experience—someone who, at 63, had worked in investment finance as well as the hotel and restaurant industries. He spoke of impressive business connections—names the Philips recognized—and later, after gaining their trust, he remarked on Sooke Harbour House’s potential for growth. He eventually drew up a development plan that included room expansion, an on-site pub, a freestanding spa, and a dedicated art gallery. To make it happen, he would explain, he planned to court investors, largely through his business partner, a man from Oak Bay named Rodger Gregory.

But early on, he didn’t mention any of that—he just provided the Philips with a letter of intent to buy the hotel. Five months later, after some negotiation, they signed a share purchase agreement. It committed Durkin and Gregory to buying the hotel as co-directors of the investment group, SHH Holdings Limited, which they’d formed for the purpose of the sale. . . .

The agreement allowed Durkin to start implementing his business plan immediately, provided there was no cost to the Philips. And the Philips invited him into the hotel, so he could gain intimate knowledge of the business.

For a while, it seemed that finally the Philips would be able to retire comfortably, proud of what they’d built and what they were leaving the community. 

They were wholly unprepared for what they were wading into: what a judge would later call a “six-year odyssey of lies, excuses, threats, intimidation and bullying.” It was an odyssey that destroyed their beloved business and damaged their reputations; that robbed them of their life savings and saddled them with a mountain of back taxes and debt. It swept up and spit out others too—including a Chinese immigrant, an Oak Bay widow, and a Kamloops octogenarian, all reeled in by the magic of Sooke Harbour House, its possibilities, and the vision that Tim Durkin and Rodger Gregory had peddled.

Read the whole thing.