Cruel as this may sound, I’m having a hard time cringing at the internet trolls now going after noisy right-wingers who propagandized against the coronavirus vaccine and then succumbed to the deadly disease.
One was Nick Bledsoe, a car mechanic in Opelika, Alabama. Bledsoe achieved minor celebrity opposing public efforts to contain COVID-19. He petitioned against school mask mandates and turned refusal to get shots into a political statement, negatively linking them to President Joe Biden. Bledsoe died of COVID at age 41, leaving a wife and four children.
His Facebook page then became a clearinghouse for attacks by vaccine supporters. Some insulted and mocked him. Others left heartfelt sermons on the insanity of risking one’s life in return for partisan hugs.
Let the record show that I disapprove of any dancing on this man’s grave. After all, Bledsoe walked the walk of his ignorance. Unlike some media personalities who dismissed the shots while securing one for themselves — or former President Donald Trump, who quietly put himself and loved ones at the front of the line when the vaccine became available — Bledsoe played the dangerous game of COVID-19 chance with his own life.
On the other hand, the lies and conspiracy theories he and others advanced could well be responsible for thousands of other deaths. There is blood on their hands and, as is being noted, most may be coming from fellow travelers on the right.
COVID-19 now takes its biggest toll in the red, vaccine-resistant parts of the country. Health care analyst Charles Gaba found that since the end of June, the virus has killed about 47 out of every 100,000 people in counties where Trump got 70% or more of the vote. In counties where Trump won less than 32%, only about 10 out of 100,000 people have died from COVID-19.
There is a rule on the right fringes that no one ever has to take responsibility for their own behavior. On Breitbart, John Nolte tests the bounds of idiocy by blaming Howard Stern (and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci) for Trump supporters’ hostility toward vaccination. By making fun of those who didn’t get the shots, he writes, Stern is causing even more resistance to the shots. (Oh, to be retweeted, eh, Nolte?)
It’s time the right wing understood that the opposition can also troll, and very effectively. “Suicide by COVID” has become a popular heading for commentary on the pathetic loss of life among Trump cultists.
Heartless? Perhaps. But earlier in the pandemic, when the blue cities were hardest hit, people spent hours online trying to get an appointment for a shot. Yours truly was among them. When I finally nailed a date, I traveled three hours to a dingy high school gymnasium where I joined lines of Americans scrambling for protection and a return to normality.
Now that shots are being waved, it seems, on every street corner, sympathy for those who refuse them — and then get gruesomely sick — is not commanding much emotional space. When there was less anyone could do to avoid a COVID-19 death or prolonged illness, things were different.
Some of my right-leaning correspondents like to sign off their notes with the words, “You can’t fix stupid,” possibly referring to me. I will concede that progressives can be stupid on some things, but not on this one.
When writing back to the truly delusional, I now attach a clever meme that has been making the rounds. It shows a woman saying, “You can’t fix stupid.” Under her, a cartoon virus covered in spikes adds, “I can fix stupid.”
Froma Harrop, a syndicated columnist, writes for the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.