This story was excerpted from the July 26 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
(CNN)French President Emmanuel Macron has had enough.
His government has introduced an expanded “health pass” scheme for those who want to visit restaurants and bars, take long train trips and to get on a plane from August. The pass requires proof of full vaccination, a recent negative Covid-19 test or evidence of recent recovery from the disease. It has already stirred mass protests and claims that the French President is taking on powers with dictatorial overtones that crush basic freedoms. But in order to try to force more citizens to get life-saving vaccinations, other nations — like Greece and Italy — are also introducing their own restrictions.Macron’s move comes at a moment when frustration is rising fast among vaccinated Americans with their compatriots — disproportionally in conservative states — who refuse to get the shot and have allowed the pandemic to vengefully rebound. So could anything like the French proposals fly in the US? Very unlikely. And no leader, let alone a Democratic President with tiny congressional majorities, would think it politically prudent to try it. Distrust of government and federal mandates runs deep in a nation born in an act of rebellion against distant authority. For many Americans, individual rights are paramount — even if they appear to infringe the freedom of others to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People just don’t think government can tell them what to do or where to go. And, the argument that taking a vaccine helps protect everyone has low traction in some regions. Read MoreThis individualist streak is one of the defining differences between the United States, in many ways still a conservative, frontier nation, and the social democracies of Europe with their greater embrace of communitarianism. If many Americans aren’t getting the vaccine because they feel their individual rights are infringed by government advising them to do so, then federal restrictions on where the unvaccinated can go seem unlikely to work. And the diffused power of the US system means many states already have, or will, act to prevent any such restrictions. So, while some conservative politicians are now getting on board and urging their supporters to get inoculated as the Delta variant scythes throughout the heartland, the vaccinated are going to have to live with the fact that the longed-for deliverance from Covid-19 across the entire country may be months away. Trump’s half-hearted vaccine recommendationAs an example of how treacherous their own misinformation has made life for conservative politicians who politicized the pandemic, check out these two quotes. On Saturday, ex-President Donald Trump staged a rally in Arizona that pulsated with his usual lies about fraud in the 2020 election. Trump also demanded credit — some of which is due — for the development of effective Covid-19 vaccines while he was President. But even he, with his almost mystical hold on Republican base voters, is not prepared to take a politically courageous step and unequivocally call for their use. The ex-President told his crowd: “I recommend that you take it.” But he also added the caveat: “I also believe in your freedoms 100%,” allowing people an out from embracing the vaccine and protecting himself from any political cost from being pro-inoculation. And in a fresh twist, after months of misinformation and assaults on science from Republican politicians and conservative media, he blamed Joe Biden for slowing vaccine rates: “Because they don’t trust the President, people aren’t doing it.” Trump’s former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now running for governor in Arkansas, came out as pro-vaccine this weekend, penning a newspaper opinion piece. But the amount of disinformation, false accusations against public health officials and lies about the media and Democrats undermining confidence in the vaccine that she spouted to give herself political cover was extraordinary. “Dr. Fauci and the ‘because science says so’ crowd of arrogant, condescending politicians and bureaucrats were wrong about more than their mandates and shutdowns that have inflicted incalculable harm on our people and economy,” Sanders wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She added: “Some pundits and politicians have resorted to bribing, mocking, and even name-calling to coerce people into taking the vaccine.” In the end, Sanders cloaked herself in the aura of her former boss, declaring that if it the vaccine was good enough for Trump and his family, it was safe for her. Given the vital importance of wider vaccine penetration to ending the pandemic, Republican leaders who follow suit can save lives. But the price everyone else has to pay is gaslighting by politicians who are covering their change of position.