Are Republican governors living in a parallel universe?

Are Republican governors living in a parallel universe?
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Throughout the spring, a substantial majority of Americans in red and blue states approved of the attempts of their governors to flatten the coronavirus curve. This summer, as the pandemic has surged, many of them have sourec on the Republican governors — except for New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu, Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, and Maryland’s Larry Hogan — who have ignored the data in their states and the advice of public health experts and politicized their messages and policies. Tethered to Donald Trump, these governors seem to think they are living in a parallel universe, governed by different physical laws.

Boasting that Oklahoma was one of the first states to reopen its economy, Kevin Stitt, the first governor to test positive for COVID-19, did not urge the wearing of masks in public until June 30. Citizens of his state, he declared, will “just have to learn how to live with” the pandemic, an option that falls disproportionately on frontline workers, poor people, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians — and is not available to the more than 140,000 individuals nationwide who have died from coronavirus.

Asked about his responsibility for the coronavirus spike in Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson told reporters he did not feel guilty because people die in car accidents every day. “Each person that gets into these situations, things happen like that in life, they do.” Parson did not reveal his position on seatbelt and DUI laws. Parson also explained his appearance without a mask at an indoor event attended by senior citizens, where social distancing was not observed: “If something happens and I feel like I get anything on me, we try to clean it as soon as possible, whether that’s going to a bathroom or hand cleaner.”


If county officials in Nebraska want CARES Act money, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts insisted, with apparent indifference to the impact on his constituents, they have to be fully open, and according to his spokesman, “that means they cannot deny services to anyone who does not wear a mask.”

As Arizona became an epicenter of the summer surge, Gov. Doug Ducey incorrectly attributed the increase in confirmed cases to a greater number of tests; indicated stay at home orders and restrictions on commercial activity were “not under discussion;” rescinded his order prohibiting cities from mandating the wearing of face masks, but declined to issue a statewide requirement.

After allowing hair salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, bowling alleys, and restaurants to reopen, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp indicated in April that he had “just learned” that the coronavirus could be transmitted asymptomatically — even though in late January, Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Israeli president receives COVID-19 booster shot AstraZeneca CEO: 'Not clear yet' if boosters are needed MORE had indicated that infectious disease experts were “now sure” it could be. In mid-July, as confirmed cases soared, Kemp sued to prevent Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms from requiring face masks or regulating commercial activities. “I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens,” Kemp said. “I have grave concern about our young people and other people getting so reliant on the government that we lose what the basis of the country was founded on.”

In April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis falsely claimed that the coronavirus had not killed anyone under 25 in the United States: “If you’re younger, it just hasn’t had an impact… I think the data on that has been 100 percent consistent.” DeSantis opened up Florida’s economy, deeming World Wrestling Entertainment (whose CEO, no doubt coincidentally, is a major donor to the Republican Party) an “essential business.”

When coronavirus cases did not spike in the aftermath of his decision, DeSantis took a victory lap, berating the mass media for rooting against his “tailored and measured” approach. When cases in the state began to skyrocket, DeSantis insisted that “the trends are absolutely favorable” because most of the individuals who tested positive were young and healthy. When hospital beds and ICUs became scarce and fatalities mounted, he falsely blamed the media for ignoring the virus and encouraging public complacency. His explanation for the surge was a non-sequitur: “When you have a flatter curve, which Florida has… It means it goes on longer, and so you know we said you wanted a flatter curve but this is drawn out over a longer period of time.” And DeSantis provided an inaccurate rationale for keeping gyms open: “I think most people who are going to the gyms are in the low risk group, and I think what they are doing is making them even less at risk for the coronavirus.”


The coronavirus isn’t a hoax.

It can’t be wished or willed away.

Indeed, in an ironic fulfillment of President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE’s “America First” campaign, the United States is closing in on the global leaders of per capita coronavirus fatalities. We can only hope that, like their counterparts in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Maryland, Republican governors will realize that pitting public health against economic recovery in a pandemic is a recipe for disaster. Or not in their partisan political interest. But, alas, their words and deeds to date indicate that they don’t — and won’t — get it.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."