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Daylight in Vermont

Governor Phil Scott of Vermont has been a study in cool, calm competence when it comes to containing the spread of COVID-19. He says the praise should be directed at ordinary Vermonters, who have shown personal responsibility for their neighbors' well-being by wearing masks and socially distancing. The envy of much of the nation, Vermont plans to open its schools Sept. 8.

Governor Phil Scott, leaving a media briefing last week.
Governor Phil Scott, leaving a media briefing last week.Associated Press

MONTPELIER — This is a tale of two Republican politicians.

One of them is the president of the United States.

The other is the governor of Vermont.

President Trump has minimized the threat of COVID-19, promoted dangerous quackery like drinking bleach to combat the disease, undermined the nation’s most trusted physician, and explicitly and implicitly mocked the idea of wearing a mask, inviting those who think he walks on water to dismiss the idea of personal responsibility and infect themselves and others with a disease that has killed nearly three times as many Americans as the Vietnam War.

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Governor Phil Scott has led a calm, science-based approach, mixed with a heaping of Vermonter common sense, leaving his state with the fewest infections. Granted, Vermont is second only to Wyoming with the smallest population and, with only nine cities, is largely rural and uncongested.

It’s more than that.

Three times a week, Scott and his COVID-19 team hold an unscripted, open-ended press conference here at the State House, updating Vermonters on the state of the disease and efforts to contain it. He always defers to Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s genial health commissioner. The diminutive Scott and the tall, lanky Levine are an odd-fellows tag team, all substance with a fleeting nod to style, projecting an aura of calm competence.

Scott has adopted an “aw shucks” approach to all the praise, including a shout out this week in The New Yorker from the environmentalist Bill McKibben, who doesn’t support Scott politically. The governor is quick to deflect credit and instead praise ordinary Vermonters, who he says took seriously the advice to wear masks and keep their social distance to protect not just themselves but friends and neighbors.

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“That’s what Vermonters do,” he said.

That neighborly sense of personal responsibility is more than cliché. My wife and I were living in Vermont when the pandemic broke out but spent much of the month of June in New Hampshire, 20 miles from the Vermont border. While most people in Vermont wear masks religiously, there’s a far more lax approach in many parts of New Hampshire. Similar demographics, demonstrably different approaches to masks and social distancing.

For months, Scott resisted mandating masks, insisting that Vermonters had the common sense to wear them without being forced. But as out-of-state vacationers began showing up in earnest, he changed his mind. Starting Saturday, masks will be mandatory in public.

With Trump and his acolytes in governor’s chairs, several red states are getting redder on the COVID-19 charts. Among others, Texas and Florida let maskless revelers go back to bars with predictable results.

This week, President Trump sang the praises of a doctor named Stella Immanuel, apparently because she is as nutty as him when it comes to hyping hydroxychloroquine, even though studies show that it doesn’t help those infected with COVID-19 and can actually do harm.

Dr. Immanuel, who, God love her, runs an evangelical church in Houston, thinks scientists are cooking up a drug to make people reject religion and that DNA of aliens has been used in experiments.

So, the president vouches for a quack while undermining Dr. Anthony Fauci. Swell.

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A majority of states are heading in the wrong direction on COVID-19. Texas is one of them. So, naturally, the president was there Wednesday, maskless, raising money for his reelection campaign.

Unfortunately, Texas Representative Louie Gohmert could not bask in the presidential spotlight, as he tested positive for the virus.

Gohmert, a Republican, spent months refusing to wear a mask. After he tested positive, Gohmert (pronounced Gomer, as in Pyle) blamed the mask he only recently began wearing on the House floor for giving him the virus.

Vermont, the envy of so many other states, is preparing to open its schools in September.

The point here is fighting a pandemic is not about dealing in ideology. It’s about dealing in reality.

Like Phil Scott, there are plenty of smart, sensible Republicans out there.

Unfortunately, none of them reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.



Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.