A few months ago, my son introduced me to Reddit and one of its funnier subreddits (I’m still getting acquainted with the terminology, so bear with me), Toilet Paper USA, and I have a regular visitor to the site ever since.
As you probably already know, there’s a grand tradition of shitposting at Reddit, and as you also probably know, I am a frequent shitposter. So when I saw a subreddit titled Herman Cain Award, I dove right in—it is a bottomless and ruthless well of shitposting about Covid deniers, anti-vaxxers, and proponents of quack medicine. Specifically, each post is made up of screenshots from these folks’ social media accounts. Each one is the same: a series of posts about how “the vaccine doesn’t work,” “Fauci needs to go to jail,” “I have an immune system that works,” and so on, ultimately culminating in “I need your prayers, I’m in the ICU,” and then “This is So-and-so’s wife. He died yesterday, and I will miss him forever.”
The pandemic has made me a harder, angrier, and meaner person overall. Between leaving my home in Tennessee, spending winter in near-total isolation in Vermont, and not being able to see my kid in person for 18 months (that’s two summers, his high school graduation, and more, time that can’t be replaced), the sheer rage I feel toward Covid-deniers is unmeasurable. So I have to admit—and I know this reflects poorly on me—that the first few posts I read, I was nodding my head in approval. What did you expect, dumbass?
But these stories, as I said, almost always end the same way: unimaginable grief for the decedents’ family and friends. It rapidly becomes a hideously depressing account of unnecessary death and suffering left behind by gullible, foolish, and utterly pig-headed people. And as mean as I may be, I can’t revel in the suffering.
This fellow left a wife and kids, one of who is “texting God to bring him back.”
This one ends with RIP MY SWEET HUSBAND. I will forever miss you.
This married couple left behind four children, two of who are orphans at 11 and 16. That’s the one that broke me.
Every single one of these individuals did it to themselves—but their deaths ripple through their families and communities. In some cases, the friends or spouses tried to convince their loved ones to get vaccinated or wear a mask. Many recant their previous beliefs once it’s too late—there are quite a few that end with “I wish I’d worn a mask, I wish I’d taken the vaccine.” It’s hard, for me, to muster sympathy for these people. Their selfish decisions, borne of ignorance and partisanship, have extended the pandemic far longer than necessary, have severely damaged our economy and job market, and contributed to some of the worst and most aggressive divisions I’ve seen in my lifetime—and some of the damage simply can’t be fixed. I don’t trust my fellow Americans anymore, and likely never will again. And yet I don’t feel any happiness or joy in their passing—instead I find myself grieving for their survivors. It is horrifying to watch one person after another go down, and each in the same way. “It’s not real; It won’t happen to me; I got it, but I’ll be OK with these quack cures; I’m in the hospital, pray for me.” And always, always, followed by a brief post from a friend that the person in question died.
But more horrifying is that right now, we have people like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Fox News, as well as the likes of Senator Ron Johnson and many other GOP politicians who know better, egging these people on like marks at a carnival game. They are like Macbeth, “in blood stepped in so far that, should [they] wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” These self-inflicted deaths, in my opinion, rest on the shoulders of those lying politicians and media figures (including social media like Facebook, where Covid- and vaccine-denying groups are proliferate like a parallel pandemic) who deliberately spread deadly misinformation. And for what? If anyone should be on a ventilator or intubated—or better yet, in prison for their rest of their lives—it is those liars.
Someday there needs to be a reckoning. A lot of people were convinced to kill themselves, for all intents and purposes. Someone (a whole lotta someones) need to pay for that.