Enemies in our midst

Martin Schram

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Cautiously and cheerlessly, we are tiptoeing into yet another new year, telling each other, through our masks, that we hope it will at least be better than last year.

Yes, it’s just what we were wearing and saying a year ago, when we bid good riddance to 2020. But we know now that things are better.

At least we’re not being led by that guy who was all about luring Americans into his mega-MAGA, mask-less, mass-spreader campaign events. And why did he do it?

Because it would look great on TV for his re-election campaign. Never mind if they got COVID.

But what we don’t like to admit to ourselves is that it’s starting to feel like we’re trapped in a perpetual pandemic. COVID’s omicron variant has swept across America, filling hospitals almost entirely with those who never got their free vaccinations and boosters.

This past month, millions of Americans were unable to get a rapid-result test to know if it would be safe to spend the holidays with their loved ones. Pharmacies ran out of tests. A friend of mine in Connecticut searched all the chain pharmacies he could find — and finally found one independent store that had one box of 25 kits — at a cost of $650. He could afford it, but millions can’t.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., told a story on TV of going home to her district but being unable to find a home test. “I drove 30 miles,” she said. Finally she found a place where she paid $145 and got tested.

“Everybody can’t do that,” she said. “Here in America, we have to have free testing for everyone, available to our homes or in pop-up locations, available to all.”

President Joe Biden realized his administration failed to stockpile tests months ago when they thought they had COVID in check. He ordered his team to get 500 million produced and made publicly available — they’ll be ready [this] month. [Two weeks ago], I wrote about how Biden’s White House spokesperson bristled at a reporter’s question about the failure to have tests available. I noted the Biden I’ve long known would probably say he wished his team had planned for the worst and stockpiled tests for an emergency.

Indeed, that’s just what Biden said, several times in the next days. In a virtual meeting with the nation’s governors on [Dec. 27], he told them his government’s job was to get governors what they needed to keep their people safe.

“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do, and we’re doing it. ... When I took office ... we were 10 months into the pandemic and, even so, we had no — zero — over-the-counter home tests in the United States. ... We went from no over-the-counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November and almost 200 million in December. But it’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough. If I had — we had known, we would have gone harder, quicker ...”

CNN’s Jake Tapper [recently] said America has suffered from a shortage of tests ever since COVID arrived. “This is a failure by the Trump administration and the Biden administration,” Tapper said.

But actually, Biden’s approach to testing was quite different from his predecessor’s. Donald Trump didn’t like testing — because tests produced numbers that would be all over the news media, reminding voters that COVID wasn’t being solved, as he had promised it would be.

In December, the number of children hospitalized with COVID skyrocketed to record highs. Some were too young to be vaccinated, but many had parents who refused vaccination. For many of those parents, it had become a political thing.

And we know the bottom line truth about too many of us: An estimated 20% of America’s adults have said no to getting their COVID vaccinations, even though they’ve been told they would be at high risk of becoming infected with COVID and passing it on to others including innocent, unvaccinated children. But they refused anyway. Just because, politically, it made them feel good to just say a strong “no” to being vaccinated.

From time to time I have noted that we could use a return visit by comic strip legend Walt Kelly’s 1950s and ’60s classic swamp possum and satirist, Pogo. For if he watched a news screen this past year, he would undoubtedly utter, one last time, his classic observation: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

And as we rid ourselves of 2021 — a woebegone year that began with Donald’s Trumpers trying to destroy our democracy and ended with pro-Trump anti-vaxxers infecting and hospitalizing record numbers of children — we all would know who Pogo was talking about.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send emails to martin.schram@gmail.com. © 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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