For more than six years now, Donald Trump’s hold over his political base has withstood revelations of corruption, scandal, grift and incompetence. Even evidence that he’d colluded with Russia, once the Republican Party’s greatest geopolitical enemy, and tried to overturn the results of a democratic election didn’t faze them. But it seems, at long last, that he’s found a line his unvaccinated supporters won’t follow him across: science.
Trump is obviously no friend to science, given his long-standing status as one of the world’s most influential climate change deniers. But when it comes to his own health, at least, he’s not nearly as willing to bet against it. In a recent interview with far-right provocateur Candace Owens, Trump repeatedly touted the effectiveness of vaccines and their ability to reduce the negative outcomes associated with the COVID-19 — and pushed back over her objections.
That did not sit well with the MAGA universe. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, for example, said Trump was either “completely ignorant” or “one of the most evil men who has ever lived,” while long-standing Trump-brand Kool-Aid purveyor Wayne Allyn Root suggested the former president needed “an intervention.” Owens, for her part, explained it away by pointing out that Trump is old and “came from a time before TV, before internet, before being able to conduct independent research.”
Trump, of course, helped seed much of the anti-vaccine skepticism that is running rampant on the political right these days. And he isn’t the only politician who’s having to contend with the anti-vaccine monster he helped create. In Alberta, a group of 50 protesters picketed the Calgary-area home of Jason Copping, the province’s health minister, with two arrested for breaching bail conditions associated with their behaviour at previous protests.
Premier Jason Kenney tweeted that the right to peaceful protest “does not extend to trespassing at private homes and harassing the families of public officials,” and that “this is not the first time that fringe anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists have tried to intimidate government officials in this manner.”
Ironically, Kenney seemed more than willing to countenance former health minister Tyler Shandro’s 2020 driveway tirade against a Calgary-area doctor who had dared to criticize his government. And throughout the pandemic. he’s shown a conspicuously soft touch when dealing with anti-vaxxers in his own midst, whether they’re in his caucus or merely part of his political base. When you tell people over and over again that you’ll do almost anything to defend people’s freedoms only to end up curtailing or constraining them, you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s a backlash.
With his popularity sinking below 20 per cent and Brian Jean now gunning for him from within the UCP caucus, Kenney’s political fate seems sealed at this point. Trump, meanwhile, is still so massively popular with his base that he remains a lock for the 2024 Republican nomination if he wants it — and if the Department of Justice doesn’t get to him first.
But the Frankenstein they’ve both helped feed will live on long after they’re gone from public life.
That's why it’s time for the rest of us to bring that Frankenstein to heel. And while Trump and Kenney may not be willing to face it down head-on, other political leaders are. In a recent interview with a French newspaper, Emmanuel Macron said he’s had enough of dealing with his country’s anti-vaxxers. “I really want to piss them off,” he said. “And so we will continue to do so, to the bitter end. That’s the strategy.”
It’s a strategy Justin Trudeau seems more willing to experiment with here at home. His recent comments about a charter flight filled with unmasked Quebec influencers suggest he’s willing to take a harder line than he has in the past. “It’s a slap in the face to see people putting themselves, putting their fellow citizens, putting airline workers at risk by being completely irresponsible,” he told reporters. Back in September, he was even more blunt, describing anti-vaxxers as misogynistic and racist. “They are a small group that occupies a loud space and a decision needs to be made: do we tolerate these people?”
It’s a question that far more Canadians are asking themselves right now.
Opinion: The rest of us have already wasted far too much time trying to humour anti-vaxxers' beliefs and accommodate their demands, writes columnist @maxfawcett. Now, it’s time for us to move on — and leave them behind. #COVID19
People have the right to continue raging against reality and refusing to follow the rules. But the rest of us — the vast majority, with nearly 80 per cent of the population having two or more COVID-19 vaccinations — have the right to move on with our lives. We have the right to put our kids in school without fear of them interacting with unvaccinated children. We have the right to expect that the medical system won’t postpone our surgery or other medical procedures because anti-vaxxers keep filling up our hospitals and ICUs. And we have the right to expect that conservative politicians will stop playing footsie with the most anti-social elements of our society simply because it helps them win elections, as Erin O'Toole did just the other day when he said we should "accommodate" the unvaccinated.
Yes, the anti-vaxxers will complain bitterly about this. Let them. The rest of us have already wasted far too much time trying to humour their beliefs and accommodate their demands. Now, it’s time for us to move on — and leave them behind.