U.S. politics these days is all too often an Alice-through-the-looking-glass absurdity.
In the last few weeks, there have been at least five GOP-led states — Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee — embraced rule changes to their unemployment benefits systems to allow workers who were fired for refusing to abide by their employers’ vaccine requirements to claim unemployment. Other GOP-led states will likely follow their lead. This despite the fact that workers who choose to leave their jobs, or who are fired for cause — because, for example, they break company rules, such as failing a drug test or refusing to abide by non-disclosure agreements — aren’t usually eligible for unemployment benefits.
Hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to describe this particular policy shift, which panders to the conspiratorial, anti-vaxxer wing of the Republican Party.
First, what good is it to shape public policy in a way that encourages behavior that puts others at risk and threatens to overwhelm hospitals from coast to coast?
An Associated Press analysis of COVID deaths in May of last year found that between 98 and 99 percent of these deaths were of people who weren’t vaccinated. New York, for example, has detailed how the Omicron variant of the virus has caused a huge wave in infections. hospitalization rates for the unvaccinated are 14 times higherThey are more likely to be fully vaccinated than those who have not been. Higher numbers of unvaccinated residents in Republican counties and states, particularly in the South, are common. hospitals have been swampedThis has led to a decline in the availability of services and beds for people with other illnesses and ailments. Many of these states have contributed to the devastation of the health of their citizens. refusing federal Affordable Care Act funds to expand MedicaidThese countries have seen a large number of their citizens struggling to get basic health care.
The Republican Party has perfected the art of political gymnastics, of doing 180-degree policy turns on a dime simply for short-term partisan advantage; it is a party that touts itself as upholding “law and order” while embracing the coup-plotting antics of Donald Trump and his murderous paramilitary henchmen; it is a party that refused to consider a Democratic nominee for the Supreme Court a year before the presidential election in 2016, but which rammed through Trump’s nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg just days before the 2020 election closed. However, even within this context, there’s something particularly bizarre about its handing out of welfare benefits ParticularlyUnvaccinated.
After all, this is the very same GOP that has been pillaging and plundering the safety net and social welfare programs for years — cutting benefits to the poor in order to free up money to provide tax cuts to the rich. It is the same GOP leaders who have, over the decades railed against. “welfare queens.”It is the same GOP that has in recent years accused immigrants of being terrorists. draining benefit funds from the public system.
It is also the exact same GOP that has ended pandemic-era expanded unemployment and other benefits programsThe general public believes that such benefits discourage workers returning to the labour market. So, thanks to the GOP at the state level and its congressional representatives in D.C., if you choose not to work because your employer hasn’t put COVID protections in place and you’re fearful that you might bring home a deadly disease and infect an immunocompromised or elderly relative, you no longer qualify for unemployment. Similarly, if you’re a parent with young children, and your kids are repeatedly sent home from school because their classmates have contracted COVID, or you have preschoolers at home and can’t find an affordable, safe daycare center, and you choose to stop working so as to care for your children, well, thanks to the GOP, you also don’t qualify for unemployment.
It’s also the same GOP that successfully pushed to prevent the renewal of pandemic-era eviction moratoriumsMillions of economically marginal households are now at risk of being evicted and homeless as moratoriums in the country end in 2022.
Philosophically, the GOP’s embrace of a select group of unvaccinated workers to qualify for more expansive benefits if they resist employer mandates flies in the face of decades of political and legal posturing by conservatives in favor of expanding the rights of employers at the cost of protections for employees.
Why now suddenly have a road to Damascus moment and realize the value of workers’ rights, but only vis-à-vis the unvaccinated? For, to be crystal clear, this is a party that doesn’t believe in workers’ rights. It is the same GOP who believes in workers’ rights. employers should have the right to fire at-will workers who try to organize into trade unions, or who otherwise express political beliefs contrary to those of company owners, and whose handpicked conservative justices on the Supreme Court have recently ruled that union organizers do not have right of entry to go onto employers’ propertyto organize workers. It is the same GOP which embraces the Orwellian-named “right to work”This makes it almost impossible for low-wage workers who want to organize to demand a living wage, pension and health benefits, or paid family leave, to be organized.
Social benefits programs have been criticized by the GOP for encouraging sloth for years. GOP legislators have attempted — though failed — to slash food stamp benefits They have been a champion of the cause for the past ten years. They have championed welfare-to-work policies that include making Medicaid recipients work for their health benefits (though, to be fair, both parties have drunk from this noxious trough at times — it was Bill Clinton, a Democratic president, who oversaw the gutting of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, and its replacement with the far less munificent, more punitive, Temporary Aid to Needy Families). Trump’s GOP promoted the bizarrely sadistic. public charge rulesDesigned to exclude millions DocumentedAll parts of the social security net are available to immigrants and their children, including emergency housing and health care assistance. This triggered a series of court cases until the Biden administration finally revoked the Trump-era regulatory changes.
Now, all of a sudden, the GOP has discovered the value of social programs — but only to protect its most extreme, most vaccine-resistant and most dangerous political wing. With more than 1,500 people a day currently dying in the U.S. of a disease most could be protected from simply by getting vaccinated, there’s nothing noble about encouraging anti-vaxxers to double down on their behavior. And, in a less extreme, less irrationalist political moment, it’s hard to imagine that one of the country’s two main political parties would want to so solidly align itself with such a destructive cultural and political movement. But this isn’t a calm moment; instead, it’s one increasingly defined by irrationality, rage and political gamesmanship.
In Alice in WonderlandThe Cheshire CatThere is talk of the night becoming the day and the sky becoming a sea. And in Through the Looking Glass, when Alice tries to convince the queen that, “One can’t believe impossible things,” the contrarian monarch responds by saying, “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age I used to do it for half an hour per day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
That, I’m afraid, is where things stand in the U.S. today. The GOP panders and supports the fantasies of a minority, and it also destroys any notions of scientific truth and sets in motion the most destructive social policies possible.