We’ve coddled ignorance for years. Now we’re all paying the price with COVID.

This is not a real column, but it wouldn’t be completely surprising to see it | Susan J. Demas graphic

Sane America has had enough.

After almost two years of a horrific pandemic that’s killed almost 620,000 Americans and deadly, faster-spreading variants emerging because selfish and ignorant people refuse to get vaccinated — those of us who have tried to do everything right have no more f–ks left to give.

Anti-vaxxers, COVID conspiracy theorists and right-wing politicians have made the pandemic far more hellacious than it ever needed to be. We have been lectured endlessly by pundits and attention seekers on social media that we musn’t ever make them feel bad about their awful choices — no matter how many public, violent scenes they cause over health rules, heavily armed protests they organize to intimidate us and how much the death toll soars.

Their feelings have been deemed more important than the health and well-being of our families, because somehow if we kowtow to the worst people in our society, a few will supposedly be nice enough to get vaccinated or wear masks.

Nope.

If you refuse to get vaccinated — and this goes double if you are someone with enough of a platform to influence others — you are to blame for the fourth wave. You are the reason why more children are being hospitalized, so spare me your family values bloviation. You are why good people who have done their part and gotten their shots are getting breakthrough cases.

I am tired of sugarcoating it. I am tired of the perennial hectoring to “both sides” the pandemic like we mindlessly do with political coverage.

The 40% who can’t be bothered to get jabbed because they know more than doctors or they understand freedom better than the rest of us or just know that the magnetic 5G is gonna be injected in their veins are why people continue to needlessly die. And they are why life continues to be hell for the rest of us.

Yes, there is a political divide in vaccination rates — and Republicans are on the wrong side of it. Let’s stop denying the obvious or making excuses for a party whose pandemic response has been a mix of crass pandering to their base and sociopathic stupidity.

For almost a year and a half, most of us have stayed home as much as we could, helped our neighbors, homeschooled our children, faithfully worn masks and gotten our shots when it was our turn. Health care workers, in particular, have seen the most unfathomable human suffering, been forced to isolate from their families and have desperately pleaded with people to follow simple health rules and get vaccinated so that we can put COVID-19 behind us.

We were promised that by sacrificing, working hard and playing by the rules, we could put an end to mass death and finally get back to some of the things that bring us joy: having parties, going to festivals, traveling beyond our backyards and more.

But the dream of post-COVID normalcy is fading fast as Delta and other variants have ripped through our country, even infecting some of the vaccinated.

That’s also threatening our economic recovery, which is why you’re seeing corporate America step up with major companies like Walmart and Google finally issuing vaccine mandates.

And like clockwork, grandstanding dimwits in the Michigan Legislature are debating GOP legislation outlawing vaccine passports on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) giddily leading the charge to snatch away Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers. They have plenty of company, with GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott banning schools from issuing mask mandates, while GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been busy tying local governments’ abilities to fight COVID, too.

Let’s be clear. Vaccine passports should have been mandatory from the jump. Counting on people to do the right thing has worked for most people during the pandemic — but there are millions who have proven they could care less about keeping others — or even themselves — alive.

But it seems to be in our DNA as Americans to cower in the face of an angry (white) minority, and so President Biden and many Democratic politicians were convinced that mandates wouldn’t work. Of course, even efforts by Whitmer and other leaders to essentially bribe people into getting vaccinated with lottery-style raffles were deemed by Republicans as slightly less offensive than critical race theory.

Knuckle-draggers do not deserve veto power over our safety. The only way we will make COVID an occasional nuisance instead of a mortal threat to everyone’s health is with vaccine mandates for everything from school to concerts to travel.

How did we get to a point where the proudly ignorant wield this much power, anyway?

Well, in my more than 20-year career in journalism, there has been one constant: You are never, ever to make people who are loudly anti-intellectual, knowingly spew lies and publicly pat themselves on the back for it, feel dumb. That is the sin of elitism and there is nothing worse, you see. Even casting the argument in positive terms, like lauding the value of higher education, is considered looking down on nice folks who insist that the earth is flat and their theories should command the same respect as those of Galileo.

We’re told there’s nothing worse than living in liberal bubbles (even though those in the media and on the left are obsessed with trying to understand red state America). But you know what? Living in a blue enclave is a pretty great way to survive a plague. Nobody yells at you for wearing a mask at the gas station. Schools actually care about our kids’ safety. Officials aren’t trying to score political points off of our misery.

And so when I have taken publications to task for knowingly printing lies about COVID-19, particularly from GOP leaders who know exactly what they’re doing, the reaction is always dreadfully boring. A seasoned journalist (read: white and male) takes it upon himself to lecture me that I know nothing of journalism (even though I’ve run two publications and they typically have run none), and people must be trusted to make up their own minds and sift between facts and B.S.

How’s that working out as we’re facing another fall and winter trapped in our homes as unvaccinated-propelled variants crash across the country?

After this much unneeded agony, I’m done coddling the craven and crazy. And I know I’m not alone.

Susan Demas is the editor-in-chief of the Michigan Advance, which first published this essay.

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