Discover more from The Bulwark
Why Does This Keep Happening?
Our overworked COVID karma
Monday brings with it a perfect storm of crises: a disastrous Gulf hurricane, the fog of defeat in Afghanistan, and a pandemic of the resolutely unvaccinated.
But let’s start with this palate cleanser:
“Irwin Bernstein, a University of Georgia professor, made clear he was not willing to make exceptions to his policy that masks were mandatory in his class. ‘No mask, no class,’ he wrote on the board. When one student refused to put one on properly, the professor resigned.”
Bernstein had come out of retirement to teach psychology again, but insisted on the masks because of his age and underlying medical conditions. On the second day of class, a student showed up without a mask. Via Slate:
The student was asked to put on a mask and a fellow student gave her one but she refused to wear it over her nose, claiming she couldn’t breathe. The student proceeded to to ignore Bernstein when he continued to ask her to put on the mask correctly so he could continue teaching the psychology seminar. That is when Bernstein stopped pleading and announced he was resigning and left the class.
“At that point I said that whereas I had risked my life to defend my country while in the Air Force, I was not willing to risk my life to teach a class with an unmasked student during this pandemic,” Bernstein said in an email to the Red & Black, the university’s newspaper. “I then resigned my retiree-rehire position.”…
“Professor Bernstein said, ‘That’s it. I’m retired,’ and we watched him pack all of his papers into his bag and walk out of the classroom,” a student said.
We are left to wonder whether the maskless student takes pride in her exercise of “Freedom!”
You’d hope that an incident like this might be a shock to the system; an occasion of shame, and an opportunity for soul-searching. But it won’t be, since not even the COVID deaths of 637,000 Americans have shaken the walls of invincible ignorance, selfishness, and narcissism.
This leads to a non-snarky, serious question: Why does this keep happening?
Talk show host Phil Valentine was not merely anti-vax, he had actually recorded a parody about vaccines.
Before he fell ill with the virus, Valentine had spoken out against mask mandates and written a parody of The Beatles’ song “Taxman” called “Vaxman” mocking the preventative. He sang it on the air.
“Let me tell you how it will be, and I don’t care if you agree, ‘Cause I’m the Vaxman, yeah I’m the Vaxman,” he sang. “If you don’t like me coming round, be thankful I don’t hold you down.”
He was 61 years old when he died of COVID-19.
A West Palm Beach Florida radio host who died of COVID had also mocked medical experts.
Dick Farrel, 65, used his local talk show and social media to rail against Dr. Anthony Fauci, who he called a “power tripping lying freak,” and say that no one should get the coronavirus vaccine. When COVID-19 sent him to the hospital for three weeks, though, he changed his tune, urging friends to get vaccinated, friends told local station WPTV.
But as recently as July, Farrel wrote, “Vaccine Bogus Bull Shid!, Two peeps I know, got vaxed, now have Corona, hospitalized critical. Thank you Moderna, FOR NOTHING!’”
He erroneously told his followers they would not need the vaccine if they had already survived COVID-19. The CDC has advised former coronavirus patients to get vaccinated.
He died in early August of COVID complications.
Jimmy DeYoung had also made a point of spreading skepticism about the COVID vaccine.
One of his frequent guests, Sam Rohrer, said on DeYoung’s show in February that the COVID-19 vaccines had “potential problems” and said they wouldn’t deliver on the promises national leaders put forth.
“Could this be another form of government control of the people?” DeYoung asked Rohrer, to which the guest agreed.
When Roher finished his conversation about the “deceptiveness” of government officials related to the vaccines, DeYoung called it “very, very important information.”
He died in mid-August of COVID-19.
Before he got COVID, Marc Bernier had called himself, “Mr Anti-Vax”.
When Bernier was hospitalised with Covid-19, three weeks ago, WNDB operations manager Mark McKinney told local media: “If you’ve listened to his show, you’ve heard him talk about how anti-vaccine he is on the air.”
In December, Bernier told one guest: “I’m not taking it … Are you kidding me? Mr Anti-Vax? Jeepers.”
The Volusia county sheriff, Mike Chitwood, said the station told him Bernier, 65, died on Saturday night.
One of the last things that conservative talk show host did before he died of COVID was to send out this tweet:
Forty-five-year-old H. Scott Apley was a member of the Texas Republican Party’s governing board. “I wish I lived in the area!” he wrote this spring about a “mask burning” party in Cincinnati.
According to the Washington Post, he once replied on Twitter to a doctor’s post celebrating the effectiveness of Pfizer’s shots against the coronavirus: “You are an absolute enemy of a free people.” He remained a skeptic almost to the very end. Via the Wapo:
[On] Friday, the 45-year-old Dickinson City Council member republished a Facebook post implying that vaccines don’t work.
Two days later, Apley was admitted to a Galveston hospital with “pneumonia-like symptoms” and tested positive for coronavirus, according to an online fundraising campaign. He was sedated and put on a ventilator.
On Wednesday, he died, members of his county’s party announced on social media.
And just last week, the Texas organizer of an anti-mandate “Freedom Rally,” also died of COVID. Caleb Wallace was 30 years old.
Wallace helped organize “The Freedom Rally” on July 4, 2020 — a gathering described in a flyer as a peaceful protest by people “sick of the government being in control of our lives,” the Standard-Times reported.
He also founded “The San Angelo Freedom Defenders,” a group “to educate and empower citizens to make informed choices concerning local, statewide, and national policy and to encourage them to actively participate in their duty to secure God-given and constitutionally protected rights,” the group’s Facebook page stated.
Jessica Wallace said her husband got sick in late July, but “was so hard-headed.”
“He didn’t want to see a doctor, because he didn’t want to be part of the statistics with COVID tests,” she said.
Here is Wallace explaining his position on “basic rights of breathing free air,” and his opposition to “ridiculous restrictions.”
This is not an occasion for schadenfreude, because each story is a tragedy. Families have been devastated. Children left without parents.
But they raise the nagging question: why has this happened so often? Of course, it’s possible these are just random anecdotes, but they feel like a dark and tragic pattern — almost as if natural selection was trying very hard to make a point.
Are we just seeking an overworked COVID karma, or something more pro-active on the part of Team Virus? Did the hosts start to believe their own bullshit and begin to act accordingly? And have they encouraged others around them to do the same?
The through-line of each of these stories is that the victims were not merely skeptics — they were active spreaders of disinformation. They also may have been spreaders of something worse.
They were influencers who mocked medical experts, flouted their defiance, and encouraged their listeners and followers — and the people around them — to do the same.
And they are not alone. Similar messages continue to broadcast daily on talk radio and broadcast on Fox News.
How many viewers and listeners take them both literally and seriously? And will share the same unpublicized fate? We will probably never know.
Good luck finding a coherent strain of conservative principles behind these GOP moves.
Until about five minutes ago, conservatives opposed centralized, top-down regulations and fiercely defended the right of businesses to make their own decisions. They also understood “personal responsibility” was not a license to recklessly endanger others.
Until the latest war on vaccine passports, Republicans had also prided themselves on their belief in the principle of subsidiarity, which former House Speaker Paul Ryan defined as the belief that “government closest to the people governs best.” Big government, he argued, crowded out civic society, which was why conservative supported “having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.”
All of that now feels so last decade.
In its place, conservatives have embraced less an idea than a slogan. Opponents of the vaccine and mask mandates insist they are fighting to protect “Freedom!” But their opposition to basic public health measures would have seemed bizarre to earlier generations of conservatives.
Speaking of incoherence:
Chris Rufo and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Afghanistan Take
There has been no shortage of bad takes on the crisis in Afghanistan, from both sides of the political aisle. But one that stood out last Thursday, even as reports came in of a deadly attack in Kabul on U.S. troops and Afghan civilians, was this contribution from Manhattan Institute fellow and anti-wokeness crusader Christopher Rufo blaming the collapse of the American mission on too much woke ideology:
One needn’t be a fan of Robin DiAngelo, the diversity guru and White Fragility author whom even progressives mock these days, or of other “woke” efforts to be skeptical of Rufo’s glib explanation. For one thing, while the Biden administration certainly bears major responsibility for the Afghanistan debacle, it was the unwoke Trump administration that set the withdrawal of American troops in motion and entered peace talks with the Taliban. (Of course, one could always argue that the withdrawal would have been handled much better if Donald Trump were still President—a “perfect” and “beautiful” exit, no doubt.) For another, there is absolutely no evidence that “wokeness” in the military had anything to do with the American failure in Afghanistan. And, finally, the “gender programs” on which the United States spent close to $800 million between 2002 and 2019 had very little to do with “woke” feminism or gender studies.