Americans are currently experiencing one of the most peculiar public episodes of my lifetime. Amid a deadly worldwide disease epidemic, many people are behaving like medieval peasants: alternately denying the existence of the plague, blaming an assortment of imaginary villains, or running around seeking chimerical miracle cures.
Feed store ivermectin? I've administered it to horses, cows and dogs. But to my wife? No, thank you. It says right on the label that it's not for human consumption. But at least you won't die of heartworm.
Donald Trump's idea of injecting bleach somehow never caught on, although one Florida family (where else?) was prosecuted for fraud after making a bundle peddling the stuff as medicine through their church. The charges were federal. I'm only surprised Florida's governor didn't award them a medal.
Incapable of dealing with reality, too many exist in an odd state of denial. In essence, as a friend observed recently, "millions of Americans are engaged in a deeply weird suicide lottery."
Strangest of all, of course, is that a genuine miracle cure does exist. A scientific miracle, that is: vaccines with the capacity to bring the pandemic to an end. Shackled by ignorance and paralyzed by fear, however, millions of our fellow citizens have refused to take it.
Propagandized by opportunists and madmen, and at war with everything known about communicable diseases since the life of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), many have taken refuge in humanity's most basic pre-rational instinct: tribalism.
And the tribe most COVID 'fraidy cats have chosen is Trumpist Republicanism.
Not all Republicans, of course. But far too many.
"No vaccine for us, we're Republicans." Anything to "own the libs." Propagandized by the (fully vaccinated) gang at Fox News -- Tucker, Laura, Sean and the rest are all immunized as a condition of employment -- millions of self-declared "conservatives" appear determined to defy reason, science and basic common sense to the end.
Even Trump himself took the shot, although when he mentioned it to an Alabama crowd, they booed, and he's since shut up about it.
As a direct consequence, the United States leads the developed world in COVID-19 deaths by astonishing amounts. America's daily COVID mortality rate is three times greater than the United Kingdom's and six times that of France. As for the rest of the NATO countries, Canada, Germany and Italy currently have COVID death rates a bit lower than 1 per million of total population. The United States rate is fully SIX TIMES higher, and rising sharply.
In short, it's a self-inflicted wound.
Remember when we Americans prided ourselves on our commonsense practicality, our can-do ability to solve problems together?
That was then. As for now, well ...
CNN's Jake Tapper gave Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves a hard time on "State of the Union" recently about the fact that his state not only leads the nation in COVID mortality, but damn near leads the world. Only Peru among the world's nations has a higher per capita death rate than Mississippi.
Needless to say, the state also has among the lowest vaccination rates. Not for nothing have Arkansans long said "Thank God for Mississippi," on the grounds that whatever embarrasses us here is worse over there.
Tapper asked Reeves what he planned to do about it.
"Deaths unfortunately are a lagging indicator," Reeves said, an unresponsive non-sequitur. He appeared no more capable of being embarrassed than a cow. He recently boasted that Mississippians don't fear death because they believe in the afterlife.
The Mississippi governor was stung because of something President Biden said recently about Reeves' fierce opposition to Biden's mandating OSHA to require that workers in large companies get vaccinated as a matter of public safety.
"In Mississippi, children are required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, polio, tetanus and more," the president pointed out. "These are state requirements. But in the midst of a pandemic that has already taken over 660,000 lives, I propose a requirement for COVID vaccines and the governor of that state calls it 'a tyrannical-type move'?"
He repeated himself for emphasis: "A tyrannical-type move?!"
Partly, vaccine resistance stems from sheer ignorance. On Fox News and elsewhere, people have been duped by opportunists to think vaccines can kill you, make you sterile, implant microchips in your blood, alter your DNA, or even turn your body into a large magnet. It appears that when people are frightened, no lie is too crazy to find believers.
This stuff isn't just irrational; it's anti-rational.
Of course, few actually believe that stuff. It's more a matter of who's making the argument. If Joe Biden, a known Democrat, is behind it, then the Red Tribe's against it. Even if it means risking death.
Your death, specifically -- and, of more interest to an "elitist" like me, mine.
Republicans invoke "states' rights," which is what they always say when their position is indefensible.
Sometimes, an element of coercion is required.
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.)