Meet Phil Valentine.
He’s a conservative talk radio host from Tennessee, author of books like The Conservative’s Handbook. He produced a film called An Inconsistent Truth which denies climate change. He had a cameo role in Atlas Shrugged Part 3. He’s been listed as one of the hundred most influential talk show hosts in America.
Like many conservatives, he’s also a professional COVID-19 scoffer. Throughout 2020, he decried economic shutdowns, promoted quack therapies like ivermectin, and streamed the anti-vaccine documentary Plandemic from his site. In June, he aired a parody song, “Vaxman“, that equated vaccination campaigns to tyranny.
Explaining his stance, he wrote on his blog:
I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m just using common sense. What are my odds of getting COVID? They’re pretty low. What are my odds of dying from COVID if I do get it? Probably way less than one percent.
…People get the cold and flu every cold and flu season. We don’t shut down the country for it, although maybe now we do. Maybe we’ve reached the new normal where the government tells you every move to make. Not me. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going back to America.
I bet you can guess where this is going.
On July 11, Valentine posted on Facebook that he’d contracted COVID: “Unfortunately for the haters out there, it looks like I’m going to make it.” He added that he might take just one day off work, “as a precaution.”
On July 22, he was hospitalized with pneumonia:
“I think I’m on the other side of it,” Valentine said of the virus, as he described coughing, congestion, and fatigue that “hurts like crap.”
Only when he was in the hospital did Valentine realize the error of his ways. He expressed his regret for “not being more vehemently ‘Pro-Vaccine'” and vowed to advocate vigorously for vaccination when he was back on the air. But if this was an effort at bargaining, it didn’t work.
On July 28, Valentine’s family said he was being put on a ventilator “out of an abundance of caution” – an obvious falsehood, because mechanical ventilation is a traumatic and invasive therapy that requires round-the-clock sedation. It’s only used as a last resort for the sickest of the sick:
— SuperTalk 99.7 WTN (@997wtn) July 28, 2021
Valentine’s condition continued to deteriorate. On July 30, his brother Mark posted that he needed ECMO, an even more radical life-support therapy that oxygenates blood outside the body, bypassing the heart and lungs. But according to another report, he’s suffering from secondary infection and kidney failure and isn’t stable enough to be moved to a hospital where it’s available.
Valentine’s story is a microcosm of what’s unfolding across red America. As the Delta variant rips through unvaccinated conservative areas, it’s back to the way it was at the beginning of the pandemic: hospitals are swamped, ICU beds are full, non-emergency care is being postponed, and doctors are overworked, exhausted and demoralized.
Texas has now passed New York in total COVID-19 deaths, even though most of the deaths in New York were very early in the pandemic, before effective treatments were devised. Florida just set a new all-time record of 21,000 daily cases, a year and a half after the start of the pandemic and months after the vaccine was generally available.
I just have to quote this article from Religion News Service: In many COVID hot spots, a pattern: High concentrations of white evangelicals:
Despite efforts to promote the vaccine, new data suggests white evangelicals make up a higher share of the population in counties where vaccination rates are low. This is particularly true in portions of the Southeast and rural Midwest such as Missouri, where scientists have detected surges in COVID-19 cases linked to the more transmissible delta variant of the virus.
… “It’s clear that the pattern is more white evangelical Protestants equals lower vaccination rates,” said Natalie Jackson, PRRI’s research director.
None of this had to happen – the sick gasping for breath, the dying with tubes down their throats. The vaccine could have saved them. These people would be alive and healthy if they’d listened to doctors and scientists, instead of right-wing poison-spreaders and conspiracy-mongers like Phil Valentine.
Of course, COVID sufferers are realizing that too. But that realization arrives too late, as one Alabama doctor wrote:
Dr. Brytney Cobia said Monday that all but one of her COVID patients in Alabama did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated patient, she said, just needed a little oxygen and is expected to fully recover. Some of the others are dying.
“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,” wrote Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, in an emotional Facebook post Sunday. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”
Another story from Texas:
Lydia Rodriguez and her husband Lawrence, of La Marque, Texas, were both admitted to the hospital nearly three weeks ago with the virus, family members say.
…Once she was in ICU, Lydia changed her mind about the vaccine and asked to get it, but doctors told her it was too late.
“Before she got intubated, one of the last things she told her sister was ‘Please make sure my children get vaccinated,'” Jones said. “It’s hard to do that in hindsight. To think that she wouldn’t be there, she would be there for her kids right now if she had been vaccinated.”
“It is heart-wrenching to see unvaccinated individuals come into the hospital with regret,” said [Dr. Ryan] Dare, an infectious diseases physician. They are patients who, “if they could do it all over again, would have had the vaccine in a second.”
…[Dr. Mayrol] Juarez said many of his hospitalized Covid-19 patients are “shocked” that Covid-19 truly exists and that it can make people very sick and even kill them. “A comment they make all the time is that they wish that they knew they were going to end up in the hospital this sick and they would have made a different choice and got the vaccine,” he said.
As a humanist, I’m compelled to believe that every human life has value, even those who make bad choices. It’s always more praiseworthy to admit you were wrong than to stubbornly persist in error. But I admit, I can’t muster sympathy for these people.
They had every opportunity to get the vaccine, but chose not to. When doctors, public health officials and elected leaders pleaded with them to take the shot, they mocked, sneered, dismissed it as propaganda or worse. They chose to listen to the voices of conspiracy and hate. They thought themselves invincible and ignored all evidence to the contrary.
If they feel regret now, it’s for purely selfish reasons. They’re not motivated by concern for others, by the desire not to spread a deadly infection to the vulnerable. Like many conservatives, they don’t care about a problem until they’re personally suffering from it. Then they beg for the doctors and the state they scorned to swoop in and save them.
Granted, among the sick and the dying, some may be innocent dupes, given bad information by sources they trusted. But I don’t think this is the case for a majority of them, as I wrote last week. On the contrary, I believe most of the conservatives who’ve refused the vaccine have eagerly joined the revolt against reality. If they’re deceived, they’re active participants in their own deception. They start with what they want to be true and reason backwards from that.
When you behave in such an irresponsible way, you lose the right to complain when you reap the consequences. Mercy, or compassion, or empathy – the desire for others not to suffer, whatever you choose to call it – is an essential moral impulse. But so too is the principle of justice: people should be treated as they deserve. Those who make bad decisions should expect bad results. And that goes double for those like Phil Valentine, who not only didn’t get the vaccine but encouraged others not to get it either. How many of his listeners are dead because they followed his advice?
Mass death isn’t the outcome any of us were hoping for. I would much rather see the anti-science, anti-progress faction of the U.S. come to its senses and resolve their differences with us peacefully. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen. They’re so determined to believe that they can never be wrong that they’ve ignored all warnings about the danger their choices are putting them in.
Such a course of action was always destined to collide with reality. Now a threat like the coronavirus is upon them, which can’t be denied or wished away, and they’re completely unequipped to deal with it. A fortunate few may wake up in time, but most are spitefully stampeding toward their own destruction. I can’t find it in myself to pity them for receiving the outcome they chose.
UPDATE (8/21): Phil Valentine has died of COVID.