The GOP's science problem

  • Susan Estrich

    Susan Estrich

By Susan Estrich
Posted3/28/2021 1:00 AM

Two stories I've been thinking about make clear that Republicans have problems Donald Trump's departure has not begun to solve. The problems are not with the Democrats. They are with science.

The first was the finding in the latest NPR/"PBS NewsHour"/Marist poll that some 49% of Republican men and 47% of Trump supporters say they will not choose to be vaccinated if a vaccine is available to them.


For all the talk of Blacks being unwilling to be vaccinated because of misplaced distrust of government, the percentages of Blacks and whites who said they would choose to be vaccinated were nearly the same.

Vaccine refusal is nearly twice as high among Republican men than it is among Blacks.

Throw that stereotype away. Maybe the public health efforts are working. Maybe Republicans aren't listening.

The availability of a vaccine to protect us from a virus that has killed over half a million of our friends and family members is not a product of a government conspiracy; it is not a product of government at all, except in terms of the billions of dollars the Trump administration invested in the effort to develop a vaccine at "Warp Speed." That had never been done before for a virus, much less in a year's time.

It is a scientific miracle. So why do Republicans have such a problem with it? Why has support for Trump now translated, for some half of his supporters, into distrust for lifesaving science? How can a party like this succeed in the 21st century, a century already marked by scientific miracles and disasters?

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And what happens when these unvaccinated Republicans get sick and die? It will only take a prominent few.

Not getting vaccinated, I should add, is not only the wrong choice, scientifically speaking; it is a selfish one. We need to create herd immunity to protect those who, for medical reasons, cannot be vaccinated. It's not a matter of assuming the risk for yourself, and it's not simply about the public resources that will be spent to treat and hopefully save vaccine deniers. Will we do unto others, or not?

The second story from last week is the final confirmation of Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health. Levine is the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate for a position in any administration.

The vote was 52-48.

All but two Republicans, both women -- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine -- voted against her. Rand Paul of Kentucky was among them, who had relentlessly questioned Levine about medical treatments for transgender youth, including puberty-suppressing drugs that may be used in particular cases. How that relates to her ability to manage Department of Health and Human Services offices around the country I don't know, and why a choice of medical treatments would be better made by government than by a family and its doctors I don't know. But all that deserves more discussion.

What is clear already, however, is that the notion that human beings are either male or female, one or the other, defined by the sexual organs they are born with, is simply not right. And because it is not right, it is dangerous, as it discriminates and stigmatizes based on what can only be insecurity and anger, all of which is dangerous tinder for a political platform.


Dr. Levine is a pediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general; she has been the state's top health official since 2017 and a steady and strong voice throughout the pandemic. Her appointment would have drawn no attention if not for the gender issues attached to her very being.

Republicans have been introducing legislation in more than 20 states to deny transgender athletes the right to compete in school sports. It's not about sports, and it's not about Dr. Levine. It's about finding wedge issues that can create political traction -- at the expense of those who are victimized. Instead of providing an encouraging example for young people struggling with their own sexuality, it provides a rather frightening one.

That 48 United States senators, all of them Republican, could have voted against Levine solely because of gender, when many of them have to know better, is a measure of the power that the deniers hold within the Republican Party. It is also a very big reason many younger Americans and better-educated Americans have trouble with the party. Science has saved all our lives, time and again. The existence of a nonbinary world is not a Democratic hoax but a scientific reality. Why do Republicans keep denying it?

© 2021, Creators

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