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The Wages of Trumpism

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Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Apparently, it’s even worse than Paul suggests.

This week, Congress nixed $15 billion in coronavirus funding from a $1.5 trillion spending bill, which President Joe Biden then signed on Tuesday. The decision is catastrophic, and as the White House has noted, its consequences will unfurl quickly. Next week, the government will have to cut shipments of monoclonal-antibody treatments by a third. In April, it will no longer be able to reimburse health-care providers for testing, vaccinating, or treating millions of uninsured Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated and infected. Come June, it won’t be able to support domestic testing manufacturers. It can’t buy extra doses of antiviral pills or infection-preventing treatments that immunocompromised people are banking on but were already struggling to get. It will need to scale back its efforts to improve vaccination rates in poor countries, which increases the odds that dangerous new variants will arise. If such variants arise, they’ll likely catch the U.S. off guard, because surveillance networks will have to be scaled back too. Should people need further booster shots, the government won’t have enough for everyone.

To be clear, these facets of the pandemic response were already insufficient. The U.S. has never tested sufficiently, never vaccinated enough people, never made enough treatments accessible to its most vulnerable, and never adequately worked to flatten global vaccine inequities. These measures needed to be strengthened, not weakened even further. Abandoning them assumes that the U.S. will not need to respond to another large COVID surge, when such events are likely, in no small part because of the country’s earlier failures. And even if no such surge materializes, another infectious threat inevitably will. As I wrote last September, the U.S. was already barreling toward the next pandemic. Now it is sprinting there.

I think it worth remembering how we got here. A combination of incompetency and mendacity led the Trump administration to botch its response to COVID-19. Faced with this failure, his right-wing media personalities and officials decided to deny the problem itself; to do so, they turned to conspiracy theories, quack doctors… they “flooded the zone.” It worked, sending the base into the epistemic equivalent of a circular firing squad. But where goes the base, so goes the GOP, and here we are.

At least Republicans can take solace in the idea that a worse new pandemic wave means a better midterms. Priorities, people.

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