The United States, with four percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of COVID deaths. And, by any measure, this pandemic is only getting worse. Many Republicans, especially Trump supporters, not only disbelieve the outcome of the election; they challenge the scientific basis for understanding the COVID-19 threat. They won’t socially distance. They refuse to wear masks. They see any mandate as compromising their liberty. But the Democratic officials who preach the right public health messages and then, in their personal lives, violate their own guidelines are equally contemptible.
In their arrogance and hypocrisy, they selfishly undermine the work of beleaguered front-line health care professionals, disrupt the calibrated messaging of Dr. Fauci and other scientists, encourage millions to behave irresponsibly and worsen an already devastating public health crisis. Indeed, they give aid and comfort to the Kristi Noems of the world, the South Dakota governor who, in the face of skyrocketing Covid admissions and deaths in her state, encourages maskless shopping sprees.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has become an obscene poster child for the “do-as-I-do-not-as-I-say” problem. Flouting his own regulations limiting the size of social gatherings, the famous foodie was photographed at a posh Napa Valley restaurant celebrating a birthday with a noisy maskless crowd , which included a lobbyist and other members of the California Medical Association. Theses optics would have been bad enough, even before disclosure of the meal and wine list prices at the French Laundry at the same time as people are lining up for free food because the pandemic has eliminated their jobs.
Then there was NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, as eloquently outspoken as any official in this country about “the right thing to do,” a model of rectitude and obvious contrast to Donald Trump’s crass dismissal of the virus. Not surprising then, that the public was disgusted when Cuomo, having insisted New Yorkers should share Thanksgiving only with family members they live with, revealed he had invited his mother and two daughters. Reacting to public outrage, he rescinded his invitations. What a jerk! As was his brother, CNN anchor Chris, who had to be warned by the management of his apartment building for repeatedly going in and out and riding the elevator without wearing a mask, all the while he was on air preaching the opposite.
Senator Diane Feinstein has called for a national mask mandate but was seen walking sans mask through an airport and in the halls of the U.S. Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was justifiably ridiculed for going maskless to a beauty salon while such facilities were supposed to be closed. Other hypocrites include the mayor of Denver (who apologized for traveling out of state over Thanksgiving right after telling others not to).
Republicans are having a field day with these stories, decrying Democratic officials as elitists using a “fake” COVID-19 crisis to shut down the economy to the detriment of working people.
Conspiracy theorists and disinformation peddlers, not bothered by scruples, routinely fabricate and share fake stories about Democratic officials’ hypocrisy, feeding the public’s appetite for believing the worst. They’ve flooded social media with “deep fake” videos and photo-shopped lies of alleged misbehavior. These merchants of fear are successfully engineering suspicions about potentially life-saving vaccines and undermining adherence to public health directives.
Combating this tsunami of fake news is an awesome task when nearly half the country exhibits some style of political paranoia. The Poynter Institute and other media literacy groups respond by regularly debunking claims, pointing out, for example, that some “gotcha” photos of miscreants were taken before the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States, well before any guidelines for mask wearing had been promulgated.
Sadly, fact checkers flagging as “ true” such stories as the selfish misbehavior of the Cuomos, Newsoms and Feinsteins of the world only make matters worse by furthering widespread cynicism about public health edicts.
Democrats lost seats in the House, blew opportunities in the Senate and squandered chances to flip state legislatures that will determine redistricting for the next decade, in part because they lost the narrative to Republicans who, while ignoring the pandemic, were able to define Democratic candidates as socialists, defunders of police departments, and too concerned about health care at the cost of the economy.
These leading Democratic officials have already undercut the Biden health care agenda by encouraging false moral equivalencies that challenge Democrats’ credibility. The immediate consequence could be to undermine the effort to get vaccines from loading docks to upper arms and end the spread of COVID-19.