Trickle down extremism describes the state of county government where I live in northern Nevada. It is shorthand for the local version of the authoritarian, Trump-cult intoxication that now owns the Republican Party.
The lead actors on the local stage are our five Republican County Commissioners, assisted by the County Health Officer, who also happens to be the Republican minority leader in the State Assembly.
They’ve treated us to some unforgettable political theater, from farce to—in the end—tragedy. In service to Trump’s Big Lie, the Commissioners tried to add a caveat to their certification of the 2020 election results stating they could not vouch for the accuracy of the count. The County Clerk shot that down in short order. Earlier this year, they declared us an imaginary “constitutional county,” thus elevating the County Sheriff to Supreme Potentate and Law Giver. This drew a reminder from the State Attorney General about the primacy of state law.
Finally, the piece de resistance. They renamed the building housing the District Court, Sheriff’s Office, and County Jail the “Donald J. Trump Justice Complex.”
None of this got anybody killed. The same can’t be said for their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, although technically speaking helping to create the conditions in which people die doesn’t mean you killed them.
We are a county in crisis, although that word is too small to convey the needless tragedy grinding away at us week after week. Since August, when the Covid-19 vaccines became available to all adults, 3,022 county residents have contracted the virus. Fifty-eight died, including nine in the week ending November 10.
As incomprehensible as it seems, these people got sick and died from a virus for which a safe, effective vaccine—a simple, life-saving shot—is there for the asking.
But, essentially, no one is asking.
Fewer than 300 people per week in our county, out of a population of 58,000, are receiving vaccinations. The proportion of vaccinated adults has crept upward, barely, from 44 percent at the end of July to 53 percent through the second week of November. At this rate, gaining just over half a percentage point per week, it will take until June, 2022, to reach the 70 percent vaccination level which marks the bare minimum for even thinking about herd immunity.
By any standard, or at any other time, a disaster costing five or ten lives a week and sickening hundreds more would prompt an all-out, all-hands-on-deck emergency response from county government. This would include the Commissioners, who also act as the County Board of Health.
Such is not the case. Throughout the course of the pandemic, the County has never taken a pro-active, public position recognizing the danger of Covid-19 or advocating masking, social distancing, or vaccination.
On the contrary, in one meeting after another, the Commissioners have responded to presentations from regional health officials either with disinterested silence or, worse, criticism, sniping, and stories of their own personal skepticism about everything from the scope of the pandemic to the state government’s mitigation measures.
At other times, they have parroted the most egregiously false and misleading social media postings about the pandemic. One particularly vocal commissioner recently expounded upon how he could not accept the idea of vaccinating younger children because—in contrast to the scores of scientists, doctors, and health officials who developed, tested, and approved the vaccine—he did not think it was safe.
The last time the Commission convened as the County Board of Health, members of the public (including your columnist) implored the County Health Officer and the Commissioners to please make a high-profile, public effort to persuade their constituents to get vaccinated. The response was a quick deflection to “we don’t believe in mandates.” Apparently, they don’t think their constituents are smart enough to tell the difference between sound medical advice and a political buzzword.
So here we are. I repeat, again because it is so utterly unbelievable, people are getting sick and dying even though a life-saving vaccine is only a click, phone call, or short car ride away. Now, with final approval of vaccines for children between 5 and 11, even the most precious among us are about to be sucked into this absurdity.
We are witnessing a failure of the worst and most consequential sort. It is baffling, but not unexplainable. The hypothesis that follows disturbs me, as it should disturb all of you. It cuts like a razor through any assumption of basic human goodness. I not only hope I’m wrong, but welcome anyone who can demonstrate for a fact that I am.
The pandemic today is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and studies across the country have shown Republicans are more likely than other political affiliations to reject the vaccine.
They have their reasons, from a basic mistrust of science and government to an all too easy acceptance of misinformation they see and hear on cable news, social media, or other fringe sources. Misguided or not, they believe in what they are doing and are convinced they are doing right by themselves and their families.
Any public official who advocates vaccination, or even basic measures like masking or social distancing, risks contradicting these firmly held beliefs and angering those who hold them.
In our county, 58 residents have died from Covid-19 since the vaccine became available to all adults. There are 21,220 registered Republican voters in the county. They comprise almost half the electorate and, combined with Republican leaning non-partisans, hold any local politician’s future in their hands.
The calculation is a dark, perverse political no-brainer. Taking action, like publically arguing for people to get vaccinated, might have convinced some, or even all of the victims to take that simple, life-saving step. But it would have angered, and likely insulted 21,000 others. Fifty-eight versus 21,000. It wasn’t even close.
Since August, our County officials have faced an obligation and a choice. The obligation was to understand and accept the medical reality that the vaccines are safe and effective, even for young children. The choice was between strongly and publically advocating vaccination, or silence, lest they anger the voters who controlled their fate as politicians.
Their failure has been complete, as the death and sickness counts will confirm in the coming weeks. Their willful denial of reality—the life-saving vaccine—is the ultimate disservice. But it nicely rationalizes their silence on the second point. After all, where is the fault in not promoting a vaccine that might not work?
Circumstances have dangled a last chance in front of this small handful of people whose responsibilities include protecting the health and safety of their constituents. Vaccines have now been approved for children as young as five. So let me ask: Do you accept the possibility that there is a child alive today in our county who won’t be alive in a year, because their parents refused to get them vaccinated? If you had the chance, would you do everything in your power to persuade those parents to change their mind, even if it meant jeopardizing your political standing, or even your political career?
I’m afraid I already know the answer. It’s been right there in plain sight for many months. That is why, finally, there are no more words for trickle down extremism in Lyon County, Nevada.
Erich Obermayr is an author, community activist, and career archaeologist specializing in sharing historical and archaeological research with the public. He writes about Nevada politics and social issues. He lives in Silver City, Nevada, with his wife.
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