Two former behemoths of the liberal thought have shown their asses in separate but similarly unamusing tweets about Texas lifting its mask mandate.
On Tuesday night, former MSNBC political commentator Keith Olbermann offered a sneering response to Texas Governor Greg Abbot’s foolish executive order to lift the state’s mask mandate and open all businesses to their full capacity. The decision defies safety guidelines pressed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is especially baffling considering less than 13 percent of the state’s population has received at least one vaccination. This decision puts recently storm-ravaged Texans in danger and spits in the face of vulnerable populations who have yet to receive the vaccine.
But Olbermann’s tweet didn’t acknowledge these populations at all. He wrote, “Why are we wasting vaccinations on Texas if Texas has decided to join the side of the virus?”
Olbermann’s fury toward Abbott, a Republican who has long regarded covid-19 safety protocols as more hindrance than a help, is valid. But the Texans, regardless of party affiliation, trying to survive under his poor leadership shouldn’t be thrown into the fray. Texans still deserve vaccines despite Abbott’s ignorance.
Olbermann was roundly criticized for the remark. Filmmaker Michael Moore should have gotten a hint.
On Wednesday morning, Moore tweeted the following attempt at clever political snark: “Texas - we hear you. You didn’t want to be part of our electrical grid. And now you’ve removed your mask mandate & are allowing large crowds to gather. We hear you! COVID is a hoax! So u don’t need our precious vaccine. We’ll send it to ppl who are saving lives by wearing masks.”
So much for Moore’s high regard for America’s working class.
Both Olbermann and Moore were being hyperbolic, but the root of their commentary is based on a kind of red state disdain that has never felt more outdated.
In the mid-2000s, when both of these men were at the peak of their cultural relevance, shitting on red states and the people who live in them was the height of political humor. America was in the middle of the Bush-era, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were raging, the president was a buffoon with a Southern drawl, and Christian conservatism still dominated everything from the opposition to gay marriage to the popularity of purity balls. Ridiculing the dominant culture was cathartic, but the humor that accompanied it—dished out by the likes of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and Bill Maher on his titular HBO late-night program Real Time With Bill Maher—was often misplaced.
Condemning powerful Republican politicians often led to mocking their imagined constituents, flattened into one dimensional, deeply classist renderings: uneducated rednecks and hillbillies living in trailer parks, the result of shotgun weddings and connoisseurs of Fox News and COPS reruns. It’s much easier to dismiss red states as awash with bigots and fools than regions rich in ideological and cultural diversity, marred by racist gerrymandering and inadequate political organizing from the left (Georgia circa 2020 says “hello”).
Anyone in a blue state can confirm that outside of major urban areas, their state might as well be red, and even within cities and suburbs, Republicans aren’t too hard to find. Why, then, should anyone regard red states like Texas as entities entirely made up of people who support their Republican representatives and leaders? And even if they did, why does that mean they shouldn’t have access to life-saving vaccines?
Neither geography nor political affiliation makes one worthy or unworthy of the covid-19 vaccine. Even a Trump-voting, Abbott-supporting, mask-hating piece of shit Texan deserves the covid-19 vaccine, because they’re still a human being who doesn’t deserve to drown in their own lung pus.
Everyone is guilty of painting pictures with broad brushes. There are situations in which making a generalization about Texas and those who live in it is mostly harmless. But as covid-19 continues to destroy lives and disproportionately impact black and brown Americans—demographics of which Texas has plenty—it’s hard to find humor in Olbermann and Moore’s statements. Texas is not just Gov. Greg Abbott and cavalier anti-maskers; in fact, those groups do not represent the majority of Texans, or those living in states that have decided to prematurely drop their covid-19 safety measures. Should we also say “fuck Mississippians” or “fuck Georgians” or “fuck Alabamians” and suggest punishing them with reduced vaccination distribution because of the decision their governor made?
Even in jest, this kind of humor only lands when you’ve already decided that some American lives are worth more than others which, funnily enough, is a fundamentally Republican argument. The intent may be to chastise regressive American conservatism, but it ultimately erases the people suffering under its boot.