It is a dangerous time. A friend who runs a major New York company is in fear of his life these days. He has a police car outside his house 24-7, is driven to work by an armed bodyguard in a security-heavy vehicle and is receiving emailed death threats and calls to his private number.
His family is living in fear. He has been told, bluntly, by the police that the anti-vax marauders are very dangerous folk who might think nothing of risking a long-range pot shot at him. He is in the line of fire until further notice, a top cop told him.
He sees them for himself. Every weekend the anti-vax militia arrive outside his home in suburbia, 30 to 40 or so of them, with posters of him wearing a Hitler moustache, and swastikas drawn across his face, threatening him and his wife with violence.
His crime? He instituted a mandate that all of his employees show proof of vaccination against Covid-19. He is quite clear he never fired anyone but made it a condition of employment in his company that every person be vaccinated.
About 3 per cent – roughly 1,300 people – refused, leaving no option for them but to leave. He has no regret in the matter, believing that unvaccinated employees constitute a grave risk to the health of others, yet his treatment since has brought home, in a personal way, the massive malignancy at the heart of the US.
Some of the mails talk about the anti-Christ, others refer to the eternal damnation that awaits him.
He is not alone. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that attorney general Merrick Garland ordered the FBI to work with local leaders nationwide to help address the “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against local employers and leaders.
Reality has changed at a head-spinning rate in America. Back what seems like a millennium or two ago, Barack Obama was president and the promise of the US never shone brighter. An African-American in the White House promised to herald a new politics where issues such as race and class and fairness could be debated amid a long-sought spirit of comity and fellowship.
Well, scratch that vision. Earlier this month Ross Wilburn, the black Democratic Party chairman in Iowa, was threatened with lynching after he wrote an opinion piece criticising Trump. All over the US, emboldened by Trump, racist groups are thriving. Seemingly members have gained significant support among some police and army troops.
What has happened to the US? Fundamentally, the Republican Party has lost its mind
The US is much more dystopian than utopian now. The “pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the constitution is a bad joke with Americans at each other’s throats.
The deep fissure in the US now is not only along class lines or race or income but whether or not you believe in science or superstition. Such a statement a few years ago would have seemed absurd, yet it is now the reality that science is losing in millions of American homes.
As my friend has discovered, it is a very dangerous time to put your head above the parapet. It appears the American obsession with a John Wayne cowboy version of themselves will forever prevent them seeking a vaccine even if they tempt death by refusing. In their mind’s eye, they are fighting the good fight like the pioneers before them, and if a few disappear off into the sunset it is a price worth paying.
Rewriting the present
It appears that about 30 per cent of the country is wedded to such a vision, prepared to die rather than be proved wrong on vaccines or Trump.
Insanity is in the air. In Congress, leading Republicans who ran for their lives when the mob broke in on January 6th have now twisted that incident like a pretzel, with many concluding the entire event was peaceful and the rope strung up to hang Mike Pence was actually gallows humour.
What has happened to the US? Fundamentally, the Republican Party has lost its mind, desperate to re-engage with the man who lost the White House, the Senate, the House, in 2020 yet who is like a pied piper leading a nation down a road to perdition. The long answer is that the US is facing its greatest challenge since the war over slavery. This time there appears to be little hope of a leader such as Lincoln who can rise to the occasion. Meanwhile, my friend is considering bullet-proof vests for him and his wife. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine remarked when the American revolution looked doomed. We are reaching that tipping point again.