The message from President Trump and Republicans on the novel coronavirus has gone through multiple phases, each as misleading and/or bizarre as the last. First they told us the virus would barely touch us. Then they said it was serious but Trump’s management would quickly make it disappear. Then they said it could have been worse, and anyway it isn’t Trump’s fault.
Now they’re arriving at what may be the most appalling message of all:
Sure, hundreds of thousands of Americans may die. But suck it up, America: We’ve got to get the economy going.
Let’s take a look around:
- “There’ll be more death” as we resume economic activity, says President Trump, but "we have to get our country back.”
- The White House may pursue a strategy of lying about the number of Americans dying, plus spreading conspiracy theories so people disbelieve what they hear about the death toll. “A senior administration official said he expects the president to begin publicly questioning the death toll as it closes in on his predictions for the final death count and damages him politically,” reports Axios.
- According to the Associated Press, “The Trump administration has shelved a document created by the nation’s top disease investigators with step-by-step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the still-raging coronavirus outbreak." The administration apparently wants states to figure out how to do this largely on their own while Trump encourages them to remove lockdown orders whether they are prepared or not.
- The states rushing to reopen do not meet even the modest guidelines the Trump White House issued about when it would be safe to do so.
- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who is eager to lift his state’s lockdown order, “shut down the work of academic experts predicting the peak of the state’s coronavirus outbreak was still about two weeks away.” Better just not to know how many people are going to die.
- The Ohio government is asking employers to report workers who refuse to return to work because of safety concerns so the state can take away their unemployment benefits.
- Iowa issued a similar warning to workers: Risk your life or lose your benefits.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on a secretly recorded phone call that he was well aware that reopening businesses now would increase coronavirus transmissions. “The fact of the matter is, pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening ... that it actually will lead to an increase in spread.” But he’s opening up the state anyway.
- Trump signed an executive order declaring meatpacking plants “critical infrastructure” so that they stay open, even though there are now 10,000 covid-19 cases associated with such plants; workers at 170 facilities in 29 states have tested positive. But the president is getting personally involved to make sure there are enough burgers at Wendy’s.
When you point out how insane it is to be rushing headlong into a resumption of economic and social activity while the virus continues to spread and about 2,000 Americans die from it every day, you’re likely to be told that you’re trivializing the suffering of those who have lost their incomes or their businesses.
But the problem is that we can’t decide to allow huge numbers of Americans to die in order to save the economy, because allowing huge numbers of Americans to die is exactly what will prevent us from being able to save the economy.
If we throw open the doors of every business, we’ll almost certainly see a second wave of infections — one that could be even worse than what we’re experiencing now — and then we’ll just have to close down all over again.
It’s almost impossible to overstate what an appalling dereliction of duty it is that the Trump administration, having screwed up its pandemic response so spectacularly, is now essentially washing its hands of the whole effort, no longer bothering to try to enact a coordinated nationwide testing and tracing system, and just telling everyone to get back to work.
Meanwhile, the idea that we’re just going to have to accept tens or hundreds of thousands more Americans dying is becoming distressingly common among Republicans. “There are more important things than living,” says Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
We’re moving toward an utterly horrifying partisan divide, in which Democrats want to contain the virus so that we’re able to get the economy back on its feet, while Republicans decide that the only brave and manly thing to do is to stop worrying about the virus and “get back to normal” immediately, no matter how many Americans it kills. In fact, we may soon reach the point where dismissing all those deaths is precisely how you show your loyalty to Trump.
I’m sure there are plenty of Republicans who know what a moral disaster this is. But they’ve decided they have to follow Trump’s lead and praise him for the great job he’s doing, no matter how catastrophic it has actually been. And we haven’t even seen the worst of it.