I was very disappointed to see Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger attack members of the body he’s supposed to be leading. In a medium post, he accuses Democrats of being “mask hypocrites,” showing photos of Democratic Senators not wearing masks. I cannot imagine Senator Berger’s predecessor, Marc Basnight, doing something similar. Berger clearly sees Democratic senators as his enemy instead of his colleagues. That’s not leadership.

Berger is upset because when Senator Danny Britt tested positive for COVID-19, several Democrats went to social media channels to decry the lack of masks in the Senate. One, Senator Jay Chaudhuri, said they should be mandated. Berger says that Britt suffers from a military-related breathing disorder that “complicates wearing a mask.” So Berger posted photos of several Democrats either not wearing a mask at all or pulling them down below their chins when they’re talking.

First, if Senator Britt has a breathing disorder, Senator Berger should have had him stay home. COVID-19 is a potentially fatal respiratory disease without treatment or cure. Masks and social distancing are the best protections against the disease. Senator Berger should have taken his colleague’s health into consideration when he decided that the senate should meet in person, instead of remotely. At least he should have had the awareness to make accommodations for Britt.

Second, wearing a mask to do business is hard, but at least those Democrats appear to be trying. They have masks but, for the most part, are pulling them down to try to communicate. Sure that’s defeating the purpose of the masks but at least they are covering their mouths and noses much of the time. They should get credit for trying to prevent the spread of a deadly disease instead of criticism for failing to be perfect.

Third, Republicans haven’t even tried to offer solutions for containing COVID-19 and have, instead, mocked everything from masks to social distancing. They’ve sat passively by while the President of the United States told us the disease was a hoax, that it would go away on its own, that masks aren’t cool, and while he attacks the top public health experts in the country. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

So far, Senator Berger has done little to protect the people of North Carolina from the spread of a disease that has already taken more than 1,500 lives in our state. On the contrary, Berger has led the effort to re-open as many businesses as possible. Had Berger gotten his way, North Carolina would be looking more like Texas or Florida or Arizona with cases spiking, hospitals overwhelmed, and deaths climbing. That’s a fundamental failure of leadership.

Scoring political points while ignoring the suffering of the people he’s supposed to be leading is a very bad look. It gets to the heart of the problem: Republicans still aren’t taking the disease seriously enough. They see it in terms of how it affects the economy, not how it affects families. They’re in denial about how pathetic the U.S. response has been compared to the rest of the world. They would rather support their gun-toting, mask-averse base than take the responsibility they were given to lead the state. Keeping us safe is a core function of our legislators. Not only is Senator Berger failing at it, he’s doing so on purpose.

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