Joseph Biden’s summer was going to be long and hot even without vaccines and the coronavirus. But right wing and extremist conservatives within the Grand Old Party, who have been used to peddling lies and conspiracy theories, have found yet another opportunity to take on the Democratic administration, not by questioning the methodology of the vaccine rollout across the fifty states but based on fiction put out on social media as also on the notion of trust: how could you believe an individual—and by extension an administration – that just “cheated” you out of an election!
This point is being raised by none other than the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, who is still smarting from his loss in November 2020.
“Joe Biden kept talking about how good of a job he’s doing on the distribution of the Vaccine that was developed by Operation Warp Speed or, quite simply, the Trump Administration. He’s not doing well at all. He’s way behind schedule, and people are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don’t trust his Administration, they don’t trust the Election results, and they certainly don’t trust the Fake News, which is refusing to tell the Truth”, said Trump shocking even some of his fellow conservatives.
Only this March Trump called on his supporters to get the jab saying it was the right thing to do but in July he seems to have changed his mind implying that only those who believe in the election results of 2020, including in the media, are taking the vaccines.
President Biden and his White House are clearly frustrated by what is happening. For a person who had put coronavirus at the top of his challenges, Biden saw sure and good results in the first weeks of his tenure.
With as many as four vaccines in the market, the President had hoped that some 70 per cent of Americans would have had their shots by Independence Day on July 4—that did not take place and the only ones who cheered were the right wingers in the GOP who are of the view that any setback to a Democratic administration is a cause for celebration. Now the word is that the infection and death rates are climbing steadily in America, especially among those who are not vaccinated.
The most troubling part is that the vaccination rate seems to be falling along political lines with the Republican leaning states falling behind the Democratic ones with a recent survey of the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that the gap between the fully vaccinated populations of counties that voted for President Biden and Trump growing from 6.5 per cent to 11.7 per cent between May and July. And a recent poll of Washington Post-ABC News showed that if 7 per cent of Democrats could decline vaccination, 47 per cent of Republicans were likely to.
According to an analysis by Reuters, as of Sunday July 18, the number of COVID cases in America has tripled over the last thirty days; hospitalisations have increased by 21 per cent and deaths rose 25 per cent to an average of 250 a day. And taking note of the rising rates among the lowly vaccinated, Biden argued that economic recovery depended on how well the epidemic is controlled.
“So please, please get vaccinated. Get vaccinated now”, the President pleaded. At the same time, Biden and the White House turned on social media blaming it for being the hub for the spread of misinformation. “They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they are killing people”, Biden said as the White House pointed to Facebook’s inability to take down problematic posts quickly.
“There are about 12 people who are producing 65 per cent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. All of them remain active on Facebook,” the White House said without identifying who were behind the posters.
But Facebook had a spirited comeback stressing that it will not be distracted by accusations that are not supported by facts. “The fact is that more than two billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the Internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period”, the social media giant said stressing that it had removed more than 18 million pieces of misinformation as well as disabling accounts spreading false information.
Even as the spat with social media companies was going on, the Biden administration had to prepare itself on another front—from a group of hardcore conservatives who baffled their own leaders in Congress and proved that they were better than Trump in their fantastic thinking. They accused the government of over-reach in their attempt to go knocking door-to-door for people to get vaccinated: today it is vaccines, tomorrow it could be for guns; and who knows, after that for bibles!
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting recently in Dallas, Republican law maker from North Carolina, Madison Cawthorn, summed it all up: “And now they’re sort of talking about going door-to-door to be able to take vaccines to the people. The thing about the mechanisms they would have to build to be able to actually execute that massive of a thing. Think about what those mechanisms could be used for. They could then go door-to-door to take your guns. They could go door-to-door to take your bibles”.
(The writer is a former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and United Nations the writer is currently a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Science and Humanities at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai)