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It’s well past time to have a serious discussion about the fault lines that divide American society. In the past 50 or so years, the issues that have spurred political debate have largely been ideological, whether it be the role of our military as a global police force, the size of the American welfare state or the source of campaign finances. Recently, however, the U.S. has entered into a new debate: what constitutes truth?

The problem is that one side of this debate has severed all connection to truth. In large part, only the political left has chosen to live in objective reality. There are a number of issues that clearly demonstrate the right’s turn toward gaslit nonsense, but one stands out as so asinine, so denialist, so flagrantly in rejection of reality that the Democratic-controlled federal government must take aggressive action to combat it: the fight over COVID-19 mitigation. 

Republicans, predominantly at the state level but undoubtedly in the federal government, too, seem hellbent on ensuring that the age of COVID-19 is interminable. There is no shortage of examples of blatant science denial in the Republican Party during the pandemic, but even in a party that regularly relies on lies, there are those who stand out above the rest. 

Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, essentially declared his state open for business during the surge in COVID-19 cases in the South last September. In December, Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., defended her refusal to institute a mask mandate, while also refusing to encourage people to wear them.

But perhaps no man in America is more responsible for the prolonged nature of the pandemic in his home state than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

While many in his party have publicly humiliated themselves by denying the repeatedly verified benefits of COVID-19 mitigation strategies — the foremost being masking and vaccinations — DeSantis seems to be staking his political future on the idea that Republican voters loathe science. He seems to believe that he only represents those who voted for him, not the whole population of the state he governs. He continues to pander to a Republican voting base of COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, science deniers and self-proclaimed fighters for “personal responsibility,” ignoring constituents who actually want to end the pandemic.

While many prominent Republicans have lambasted those who espouse the continued necessity of fighting COVID-19, DeSantis has codified his indifference into law, banning schools from instituting mask mandates as the pandemic rages in his state. Innocent people are dying as a result of policies aimed at building a voting base for a likely 2024 presidential election run, as opposed to fighting COVID-19. 

While Florida is far from the only Republican-led state currently institutionalizing science denial, DeSantis’s recklessness stands out. When a Florida court struck down his order, DeSantis immediately filed an appeal in a friendlier appeals court, one on which every judge was appointed by a Republican governor, which promptly reinstated the ban.

While DeSantis, in his typical Donald Trump cosplay act, referred to the decision as a win for “parents’ rights,” it truly was a win for DeSantis’s 2024 primary prospects. A party whose voter base largely opposes mask mandates will undoubtedly rejoice at the freedom of parents to put the lives of strangers’ families at risk and will idolize the man who made it possible. DeSantis is betting on the Trump playbook to carry him to national political prominence. 

As such, in order to protect American lives, the Democratic Party must act swiftly and decisively to counter DeSantis and demagogues like him and reel the pandemic under control before a second “dark winter” takes shape.

The Biden administration is on the right track. On Sept. 10, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the mask mandate ban in Florida schools. The findings of such an investigation could be the basis of a future lawsuit to be filed by the Department of Justice.

While new vaccination mandates are a massive step in the right direction, because children under 12 still can’t get vaccinated, the shots alone won’t be enough to overcome the self-righteous ignorance that the right is proliferating. 

If Republican-led state courts continue to enable Republican-led state governments to deny science, the administration must be prepared to take aggressive preventative action, whether via executive order or pursuing legal recourse. 

While the Republicans would unquestionably fight tooth and nail in court over any action, someone has to take a tangible stand against those who will let innocent people die, including a growing number of children, to fill their political coffers. It is on President Biden to lead us out of this crisis and to defeat the egoism of malicious actors like DeSantis.

Jack Roshco is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at jroshco@umich.edu.