Opinion | Southern Republicans Cannot Be Trusted With Public Health


By Margaret Renkl

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

NASHVILLE — For those of you keeping score at home, here is where things stand in the 2021 National Calamities Sweeps, Southern Division:

In the ever-expanding Climate-Augmented Natural Disasters event, results cannot yet be tallied. Tennessee and North Carolina are both digging out from catastrophic flooding, while parts of Louisiana were flattened by Hurricane Ida, and most of New Orleans remains without electricity. Ida’s remnants also brought even more rain to areas of the South and beyond that were already dangerously waterlogged.

In the Utter Failure to Understand What “Pro-Life” Really Means tournament, normally a very close battle in the red states, Texas is currently uncontested: Its leaders just made it easier to carry a gun and harder to end an unwanted pregnancy in the same week.

Finally, in the Colossally Botched Medical Emergency competition, it’s neck and neck across the region as Republican governors double down on efforts to block mask and vaccine mandates, along with every other pandemic-mitigation attempt made by people who are not allergic to science.

Every single one of these disasters is, at its heart, a public health emergency. And in every case our leaders have responded with disinterest and disinformation at best. In many cases they have worsened the emergency in every way imaginable.

Instead of taking concrete measures to limit climate change, they send up prayers for rescue workers. Instead of making it possible for poor women to get quality medical care, they limit reproductive options for everyone — though the poorest, of course, will suffer most. Instead of espousing common-sense gun laws that keep citizens safe, they ally themselves with the gun lobby. (Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee, actually signed this state’s new permitless-carry bill in a ceremonial event at a gun factory.) Instead of trying to keep people safe during this pandemic, our leaders offer ludicrous platitudes on the subject of freedom.

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