Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is not stupid. But he is ambitious and supremely cynical. So when you say things that sound silly, it’s worth asking why. And your recent statements on Covid-19 help us understand why so many Americans continue to die or become seriously ill from the coronavirus.
The context here is the ongoing disaster in Florida health services.
We now have highly effective free vaccines available to all Americans 12 years of age and older. There has been a lot of hype in the media about the delta contagion of previously vaccinated people, and severe cases of Covid-19 among these people continue to be even rarer. There is no good reason why we continue to suffer severely from the pandemic.
But Florida is facing a Covid epidemic worse than the one it experienced before vaccination began. There are more than 10,000 hospitalized residents in the state, about 10 times the number of patients with the disease in New York City, a state with a similar number of residents; 58 Florida residents die from the disease each day, compared to six in New York City. And the Florida hospital system is under great pressure.
There is no mystery as to why this is happening. At every stage of the pandemic, DeSantis has acted in practice as an ally of the coronavirus, for example, issuing orders prohibiting companies from requiring buyers to show proof of vaccination and schools from requiring the use of masks. . More generally, it has helped create a state of mind in which vaccine skepticism flourishes and the refusal to be safe is normalized.
A technical note: Immunization rates in Florida are much lower than those in the northeastern states of the United States, but they remain within the national average. However, the likelihood of vaccination is much higher among the elderly than among young people in Florida and elsewhere; and Florida, of course, is home to a considerably higher proportion of older residents. Among the younger age groups, immunization in the state is well below the national average, and even below the average for states ruled by Democrats.
So, given these disheartening developments, we should anticipate, or at least hope, that DeSantis would reconsider its position. In fact, he’s just looking for excuses, the whole problem is the air conditioning! The governor said passing the new restrictions would come at an unacceptable cost to the economy – although Florida’s recent performance looks dire for anyone who values human life.
Above all, he hammers home the conspiracy of the left, and letters he sends to donors to the Republican Party declare that the “radical left” is coming to “steal his freedom”.
So let’s talk about what the law means when it uses the word “freedom”. Since the start of the pandemic, many conservatives have insisted that the measures taken to limit the number of deaths – social distancing, compulsory masks and now vaccinations – should be a personal choice. Does this position make sense?
Well, driving while intoxicated is also a personal choice. But almost everyone understands that this is a personal choice that puts others at risk: 97% of the public consider driving under the influence of alcohol to be a serious problem. Why do we not see a similar unanimity on the refusal to be vaccinated, a choice that contributes to perpetuate the pandemic and puts others in danger?
It is true that many people doubt science; the correlation between refusal of vaccines and the number of Covid deaths is as real as the correlation between drunk driving and the number of deaths in road accidents, but less obvious to the naked eye. But why are people on the right so receptive to misinformation about it, and so enraged by efforts to expose the facts?
My answer is that when people on the right speak of “freedom” what they really mean is closer to “defense of privilege” – in particular, the right of certain people (usually men, Christians and white) to do whatever you want.
It is no accident that if we go back to the roots of modern conservatism, we find figures like Barry Goldwater, who has championed the right of corporations to discriminate against black Americans. In the name of freedom, of course. Much of the recent panic about the “cancellation culture,” but not all, revolves around protecting the right of powerful men to abuse women. Etc.
Once you understand that the rhetoric of freedom actually revolves around privilege, things that on the surface seem grossly inconsistent and hypocritical start to make sense.
Why, for example, do the Conservatives insist so much on the right of companies to make their own decisions, without regulation, but are quick to deny them the right to refuse service to customers who do not wear masks or do not present proof of vaccination? Why is the autonomy of local school districts a matter of fundamental principle, unless they wish to impose masks or teach their students the racial history of the United States? Everything revolves around protected privileges.
The reality of what the law means by “freedom” in my opinion also explains the particular anger at rules that impose minimal inconvenience in the public interest – as in the detergent wars of a few years ago. After all, we should only ask the poor and minorities to make sacrifices.
Either way, when you hear DeSantis invoke “freedom” to escape responsibility for his Covid disaster, remember that when he says it, the word doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Translation of Paulo Migliacci
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