“Folks [are] supposed to have common sense.”
These are the now well-known words of Alabama’s Republican Governor Kay Ivey when she called out those hesitant or downright resistant to getting vaccinated, declaring that “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”
It’s hard to know who qualifies as regular folk these days, though, given that in the states witnessing the most severe increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths are those with vaccination rates hovering below 50 percent. What constitutes “regular”?
It may be even more challenging to talk about “common sense” in any straightforward way these days.
The term itself, “common sense,” suggests a shared understanding, a common ground of knowledge and understanding upon which members of a community can arrive at agreement, regardless of their differences. “Common sense” is the set of ideas, norms, and ideals that should simply go unquestioned.
But when one sits down to have a conversation with folks who insist Democrats are in league with a bunch of global elites running a vast pedophilia enterprise out of the basement of pizza parlor, or who insist drinking bleach is the cure for a global pandemic that has taken the lives of millions and is a hoax anyway, how do does one find common ground?
A good number of sane Americans have acted in the service of public health in receiving the vaccine, responsibly protecting themselves and others in the effort to end the pandemic.
Is it up to them and those who represent them to coax and cajole those who stubbornly and stupidly threaten the lives of the rest of us?
This is like a hostage situation in which the police have to negotiate with a crazed gunman threatening to kill people if he doesn’t get what he wants or if he can’t escape the consequences of his crime.
As a nation, we can’t have this conversation. The time for a cajoling dialogue is over.
There are not two rational sides that can arrive at some acceptable middle ground.
There is no room for compromise.
And I’m not just talking about how we address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former Republican speechwriter David Frum wrote in The Atlantic last Friday, “Vaccinated America has had enough.”
But haven’t a good number of us who trust science and pay attention to reality had enough of having to convince the recalcitrantly stupid or just plain evil to get on board with saving human life, with protecting the general welfare?
The Great Salt Lake is drying up. Lake Mead, a key source of water supply for Los Angeles and the West, is also drying up and at a crisis point. Cattle ranchers in Arizona no longer have enough water to take care of their livestock. Heat waves of such unusual intensity they can only be attributed to climate change are crippling the nation and spreading wildfires.
Clearly the ecological basis of human life is eroding. We don’t haven time to debate whether or not we are destroying our food and water supplies with those allergic to facts and reason.
We can’t waste time hoping to reach a compromise or relying on our powers of persuasion to bring along those occupying an alternate and inhumane reality.
Enough has to be enough.
In the context of the U.S. Senate, this means putting aside the chimerical pursuit of bi-partisanship and eliminating the filibuster.
Is there really a compromise, for example, on voting rights? Is there some version of democracy that can feature a healthy dose of authoritarianism and disenfranchisement?
We already compromise too much in a country dripping wealth when it comes to basic human dignity and rights. The American Rescue Plan Act, it was boasted, is projected to cut child poverty in half. That’s a compromise we shouldn’t make. We should eliminate it entirely.
Same goes for infrastructure. Should we let part of the nation crumble to pieces? Should some parents not have help with childcare?
The quest for common ground, for bi-partisanship, is a fool’s errand.
Last week a quotation erroneously attributed to French President Emmanuel Macron circulated widely online, supposedly articulating his policy stance on COVID-19 vaccinations:
“I no longer have any intention of sacrificing my life, my time, my freedom and the adolescence of my daughters, as well as their right to study properly, for those who refuse to be vaccinated. This time you stay at home, not us.”
While the quotation might have been the work of an Italian journalist, regardless of who said it, the perspective of “enough is enough” resonated broadly.
Too many of us are being held hostage by those who are content to burn down the house and let those of us living within it burn as well.
I can’t speak to the character or intent of these people, so I’m hesitant to call it evil.
But the behavior is evil and deadly, to be sure.
Republicans like Steve Scalise and Mitch McConnell, and even conservative talking head Sean Hannity, may have crawled out of their caves to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Better late than never, I guess.
But how long to we have to wait for them to care about democracy, the environment, human need, human life itself?
Enough is enough.
In Congress, Democrats can stop worrying about bi-partisanship and give up on the conversation. They can use the constitutional powers they have to eliminate the filibuster and do what they can to protect human life.
Nancy Pelosi started the ball rolling by refusing to seat Jim Jordan and Jim Banks on the commission to investigate January 6 insurrection. She refused to acknowledge their denial of the facts of that day–what we all saw with our own eyes–as a valid position.
Now the rest of us and the rest of Democrats need to follow.
To quote a well-known bard, “Let us not talk falsely now/The hour is getting late.”
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.