Trump held a rally the other day, in which he stood behind a lectern that reads “Save America,” touted his successes. Included among these was the fast-tracking of vaccine development and approval. Then he did something he should have done more forcefully months ago. He told his fans to get vaccinated.

I believe totally in your freedoms. I do agree you gotta do what you have to do, BUT, I recommend, take the vaccines. I did it, it’s good, take the vaccines.

Then, amidst a bunch of boos, he followed up with,

You got your freedoms, but I happened to take the vaccine.

Here he struck the correct tone for a nation born of individual liberty and personal responsibility. He suggested, urged even, that Americans get vaccinated, while still respecting individuals’ choice to opt not to – something that a Youtube commenter called “the most presidential thing that man has ever done.”

This echoes the viewpoint I’ve settled upon regarding the pandemic, a viewpoint that’s very much in line with commentator Andrew Sullivan’s (he of New Republic fame and certainly not a reactionary-rightie) Let It Rip position:

The government cannot be held responsible for sickness and death it has already provided the means to avoid. People are responsible for their own lives.

Yes, indeed, the government has done its proper job with regard to the pandemic. We have a vaccine (vaccines, really) that substantially reduce the probability of catching the bug, and reduce to almost zero the chance of getting severely sick or dying from the bug. That includes the Delta variant, by the way.

Unfortunately, the government has utterly botched another aspect of its role in mitigating the pandemic: that of public trust. While it seems quite incongruous that Trump fans would be resistant to taking a vaccine whose rapid approval Trump spearheaded, it makes more sense when viewed in the larger context of partisan posturing, changes in guidance that appear more political than factual, and a generalized attitude of “if you don’t do X voluntarily, we will force you to anyway.” Those of us with political memories recall prominent Democrats preemptively throwing shade (and worse) at the “Trump vaccine,” but urging its use now that they’re in power. On top of that, we have the rise of a mask-as-talisman cult, with demands that people mask up even if they’re vaccinated, and quashing of any dissenting opinions, studies, or expert analysis serving to increase skepticism and distrust of government.

I know people, good people of sound mind and intelligence, who are refusing to vaccinate, for reasons that I can only translate as reflexive rejection born of broken trust. This is a terrible shame, and I hope against hope that they somehow don’t get sick from this nasty virus (sadly, I know of someone who opted out of the vaccine, despite being in a public-facing profession, who is hospitalized with COVID).

But, it is beyond both the tenets of liberty and the precepts of morality for the government to force citizens to vaccinate (other than those the government employs – as a matter of principle, an employer should be able to set conditions of employment).

We are currently in the finger-pointing phase of the pandemic, where the vaccinated are blaming the unvaccinated (unsurprisingly, singling out the white Right more than the black and hispanic identity groups, despite the latter being “less likely than their white counterparts to have received a vaccine”), a war-of-blame is being engaged between the natural-origin and lab-origin crowd, mask mandators vs anti-mandators, mask Karens against anyone who chooses not to wear one, and of course Democrats vs Republicans.

Here’s the reality: COVID is going to be part of our lives. Just as the flu kills tens of thousands every year, COVID is going to continue killing some among us. That it’s far more likely to be those with co-morbidities in both cases is something we don’t want to talk about much, it seems. That the flu is more dangerous for the young than COVID is something else we don’t want to talk about much.

We can accept a new, normal, wherein we wear masks in public places forever after, turning our kids into under-socialized germaphobes and creating an on-going culture war, or we can go the Sullivan route, accepting that we are at the stage of personal choice and personal responsibility, and foregoing government mandates.

I know which way I lean.

I also know why we’re having this debate. The government has broken the public’s trust in its experts and expertise in this (and probably all future) matter of public health. It did so because too many politicians (both the elected ones and the ones who started out as experts) are selfish, petty, power-hungry, and zero-sum-partisan scoundrels who don’t consider the public as anything more than sheep to be herded as they wish, and thus have no compunction at risking a fragile trust so that they can tear down their opposites.

If you want to point a finger of blame for the lower-than-should-be vaccination rate, point it at the politicians, not at your fellow citizens.

A post-script: While it may seem odd for a libertarian page that advocates distrust of government to speak of broken trust, we do, by both necessity and propriety, place some degree of trust in our public servants even in a minimalist government. We establish checks and balances, distribute power, and “trust-but-verify,” but we have to lay out a baseline level of trust for a society to function.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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