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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Urgency? Meh ...

by John Brummett | July 11, 2021 at 1:44 a.m.

Suddenly we're an epicenter in Arkansas, where politics is making thousands of people sick, putting scores in the hospital, and killing several.

Illnesses are occurring in increasing numbers locally because of a more-contagious coronavirus variant and because conservative people--presumably mostly Trumpsters, who infest Arkansas widely--have boycotted vaccinations for reasons centering on suspicion and resentment.

It's a statistical fact that, almost uniformly, Donald Trump states in 2020 have lower vaccination rates than Joe Biden states. It's not a direct overlap that 62 percent of Arkansas voters favored Trump in the last election and 60 percent of adult Arkansans are unvaccinated. But that's far more than an incidental overlap, to be sure.

Many of the great unvaccinated conservatives scoff at liberals and scientists who espouse the concept that people instead of God can change the climate. And they get their backs up at the notion that these same sources try to force them to give up their cussed independence and submit to a government injection.

They simply shall not be herded.

They see no urgent need to head off what seems to them mostly to kill old, fat and sick people. Smallpox and polio this ain't, they think.

They say the liberals are just using it to scare people into a socialist state.

When Biden said last week that we need to take the vaccines to the people, maybe even go door-to-door, some of these anti-vaccination people saw government invasion and coercion, kind of like an official taking of names.

Local liberals are aghast that people around them won't do humankind the simple favor of getting an easy and safe vaccine to spare hospitals and save lives. And many of them choose to blame Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

That's fair enough, considering that he is ultimately responsible. But I deem him not quite so singularly blame-worthy.

He's hampered substantively by lame-duck status, by a Legislature that has restricted his executive authority, and by a population widely finding more virtue in individual stubbornness than collective compassion and cooperation.

A mask mandate, no matter the magnitude of a re-emerging crisis, is now against the law in Arkansas. That's thanks to the recent legislative session, both to the legislators who made the law and the voters who dispatched the legislators.

Just last week, extremist Republican state Sen. Trent Garner tweeted, "The most dangerous part of #COVID19 isn't the virus. It is the massive expansion of power the government took under the guise of 'safety.' ... Guns are next."

I can't imagine why the government would want to keep you well and then take your gun. It seems to me your gun would be easier to take if you were on a ventilator or dead.

But I do fault Hutchinson for his non-inspirational tone. His ever-cautious calculation and ever-measured restraint have consistently belied any vital sense of urgency.

If he's tweeted it once, Hutchinson has tweeted a hundred times that the only solution to public health concerns is for everyone to get vaccinated, so people should try to remember to get a shot if it's not too much trouble. I overstate the obsequiousness only slightly.

Only on Tuesday, and only after Biden made the recommendation nationally, did Hutchinson announce his calling of community town halls around the state to try to disabuse people of misinformed suspicions or resentments.

The first meeting was Thursday evening in Cabot, a conservative hotbed. I drove over to see if anybody would show up and what would be said by him and them.

It was a non-event.

About 150 people showed up. Several responsible people in the local community--a principal, two nurse practitioners, a school nurse and a physician's assistant--shared their lamentations about confronting so many anti-vaccine myths.

I wanted to hear somebody stand up and espouse those myths and watch to see if the governor could work up tones of urgency in explaining the nonsense. That would have done a world of good on the 10 o'clock news.

Alas, all I got was Asa rolling his eyes as he read an email forwarded to him earlier in the day from somebody saying the government vaccine drive was mind control and that the virus was transmitted in mask material.

Maybe something will yet come from this evening of understatement. The health-care professionals said they need piles of printed material deconstructing the myths. The governor's office made a note.

Otherwise, the meeting offered one deft euphemism.

Hutchinson pointed out the high vaccination rates in larger and northeastern states and lower vaccination rates in southern states. He said it must be a matter of distrust of government being more pronounced in the South and of citizens living in sparse populations not worrying as much about viral spreading as people bunched up in urban areas.

Why do I call that euphemistic? It's that it's just a veiled way of phrasing the tragedy of the Trumpian South politicizing this generational challenge.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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