Viewpoint: New Year signals start of ferocious campaigns leading to midterm elections

Karen Rubin

Jan. 1, 2022 is a signal shot to start off the midterm campaigns in which Republicans are doing all they can to control access to voting and who and how ballots are counted.

“Grim Reaper” Mitch McConnell, salivating at resuming the position of Senate Majority Leader, has said Republicans will not present an actual agenda or platform – well, except for impeaching Biden (as Ted Cruz has promised), shutting down the Jan. 6 special committee, censuring and throwing Democrats off committees and reinstalling Trump or a Trump-like candidate in office in 2024.

That means they won’t tell you that as soon as the Republicans regain control of Congress, they will likely take their 90th vote to repeal Obamacare, shut down any investment in clean, renewable energy, restore the tax-free haven for the wealthiest individuals and corporations, dismantle civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, criminal justice.

They will make sure that no vacancy on the Supreme Court is ever filled by a Democratic president ever again. And they will set the stage for the return of Trump or another fascist dictator wannabe – which means they will install the Trump acolytes who weaponize the Big Lie.

Republicans have made a huge campaign issue over the rise in crime (based on 2020’s atypical figures) but the rise in violent crime tracks with the normalization of violent rhetoric by Trump and his minions and the ever-increasing availability of guns.

Yet Republicans continue to block any sensible gun regulation, and now have the support of the Trump Supreme Court, and have done nothing to rein in violent rhetoric and intimidation. And the strategy of intimidation and violence has filtered down to state and local levels – public health officials and health workers, school board members principals and teachers are not safe.

Trump set the stage for the use of violence and intimidation as a political weapon – literally extorting elected officials to do their bidding, or driving them from office altogether. The 2022, 2024 list of Republican candidates at all is jammed crammed with those whose entire platform is based on a banner of the Big Lie and restoring Trump to power.

But before getting to 2024, they have to set the stage in 2022 – hence all the Trump endorsements for candidates for secretary of state, state attorney general, indeed at every level – with people who, unlike what happened in 2020 with officials rejecting Trump’s extortion, will do his bidding and subvert elections – quite literally rigging the election, stealing elections.

The right-wing extremists are focusing now on local elections, especially school board elections.

We are already seeing the ramifications locally.

I was struck by the “inauguration” speech of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, Republican, who after a quixotic nod to “bipartisanship”, spent her five minutes repeating ad nauseum an attack on Democrats and the Democratic administration (no matter the actual record or facts) and generally showing her ignorance of the town government she is now supposed to lead.

More disturbing was the speech of Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, Republican – who, like DeSena, held an in-person inauguration proudly declaring no mask or vaccination required – and I guess thinks he will score points with the MAGA crowd by an ostrich-like approach to COVID-19.

Indeed, Blakeman’s message, as Nassau County faces extraordinary spike – 6,040 cases and 5 deaths on January 1; 5195 cases and 5 deaths on January 2; 4,306 cases and 5 deaths on January 3; a 7-day average of 407.77 cases per 100K population, second to NYC, and highest rate of positive cases, 25.49%, in state and 10,411 hospitalized statewide – was to declare “Starting today, Nassau Is Normal Again.” (For comparison, the rates for Nassau County on Dec. 1, the first day Omicron was detected in New York State: 890 cases, one death, 4.61% positivity, 41.63 cases per 100K, and 3093 hospitalized statewide.)

When Blakeman declared “public safety” his priority, he didn’t mean protecting residents from COVID-19 or keeping children and teachers safe and schools open (several have had to close for lack of staff), or even promoting gun safety, but rather, sending lobbyists to Albany to repeal the Bail Reform Act.

And when he declared, “To all the police, fire, EMTs and other first responders here with us today and those on the job, my heartfelt thanks to you all for everything you do to make this a safe, secure and healthy Nassau. I have your back!” he never bothered to thank the doctors, nurses and health workers who literally are suffering PTSD over their strain and are putting their own lives on the line for the rest of us.

Trump, who is holding a press conference to celebrate the January 6 insurrection and his attempted coup, is gleeful over the rise in COVID-19, actually blaming Biden – calling for him to resign – for “failing” to fulfill his campaign promise to eradicate the coronavirus in his first year – never mind that Omicron is spreading around the world, that those who are vaccinated are able to get through it relatively easily, and it is the unvaccinated Trumpers who are five and ten times more likely to be hospitalized or die, straining hospital systems and causing others to die of other causes for lack of care.

And yet, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (both up for reelection) who have sabotaged efforts to protect their citizens and end the pandemic, are now asking federal assistance – DeSantis actually demanding $1 billion from Biden to buy the monoclonal antibody therapeutics from his biggest donor’s company – at the same time they are attacking Biden (who unlike Trump, did nothing but pit states against each other like Hunger Games and did not distribute aid based on political support and is doing his damnedest to protect people, including mobilizing health workers, distributing 500 million tests, PPE and hospital equipment).

COVID-19 is the first politically weaponized pandemic. (Reminder: vaccinations have virtually eradicated small pox which killed 300 million just in the 20th century, as well as measles and polio.)

As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, “Sure enough, the anti-vaccine strategy has worked politically. The persistence of Covid has helped keep the nation’s mood dark, which inevitably hurts the party that holds the White House — so Republicans who have done all they can to prevent an effective response to Covid have not hesitated, even for a moment, in blaming Biden for failing to end the pandemic.

“And the success of destructive vaccine politics is itself deeply horrifying. It seems that utter cynicism, pursued even at the cost of your supporters’ lives, pays.”

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Karen Rubin

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