Since when should dying be the price of freedom? What kind of liberty could be won? And when we hear authority figures saying that we should accept that risk, should we feel liberated? Or just the opposite?
Perhaps if one might answer that question in a certain way if they volunteered for the armed forces. But even then, they risk life and limb for others’ independence, not their own. Certainly, they don’t do so for the fortunes of their commander-in-chief. However, this is what Donald Trump asks of Americans, speaking of them on Tuesday as “warriors” while acknowledging that some will be “badly affected” as the country opens up.” Casualties of an invented war, dying all the same.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIH epidemiologist working alongside the White House, asked an essential question on CNN Monday night. “How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be, some form of normality, sooner rather than later?” Judging by the demand for exponentially more human sacrifice from Trump and many in the Republican Party of late, the number seems unquantifiable. They actually seem to have actually stopped trying to fight it with the required urgency. Releasing a triumphant and militaristic campaign ad Tuesday that paints his virus response as unfailingly effective, Trump all but declared victory over the ongoing pandemic. He clearly wants to look like a wartime president, and a winning one. He is neither.
In less than three months, COVID-19 has killed more than 62,000 people inside the the United States. The White House expects the disease will kill up to 3,000 people in the U.S. daily by June 1. That’s more than a 9/11, every single day. The model projects that more than 134,000 total will die, per a New York Times report on Monday. Less than three months after the first fatality, we have seen macabre reports of bodies stacked in U-Hauls and warehouses and cities burying unclaimed dead in local parks. But despite the federal government itself buying 100,000 body bags last week, White House advisers like Steven Moore appear more concerned about dead companies.
Speaking about businesses closed due to stay-at-home protocols throughout the United States Moore, a member of Trump’s council on “reopening” the country, told Politico on Monday that “if they stay closed for another month, month and a half, you’re gonna have body bags of businesses that will never recover.” Quite the word choice.
The nation has no business opening up right now and most Americans are deeply wary of it, but several of Trump’s fellow Republicans have now relaxed or ended public safety protections in their states. Governors from Georgia to Missouri to Texas abandoned or declined to extend shelter-in-place orders, allowing both local customers and COVID-19 to enter their businesses. Sure enough, sharp spikes in infection rates accompanied: The Daily Beast‘s Olivia Messer reported on Tuesday that even Texas governor Greg Abbott knew what he was doing would lead to greater transmission of the disease. He did it anyway. saying on a private call that “the goal never has been to get transmission down to zero.”
Then there was Chris Christie, who during Hurricane Sandy eight years ago managed to talk like a government official interested in protecting people. Now, he talks like someone interested in coming to Donald Trump’s rescue. “Of course, everybody wants to save every life they can — but the question is, towards what end, ultimately?” he asked recently. Just off the top of my head, Chris: preventing premature death? Then anchor Dana Bash asked Christie whether Americans will need to swallow that projected 3,000-per day death toll in June. The bridge traffic aficionado told her, “They’re gonna have to.”
Death overtakes us all at some point. However, we’re now being told to numb ourselves to mass casualties and the increased possibility of our own COVID-19 infections in order help a president win re-election. Or to help some stocks rally, or even save a business from folding. That is what is happening here. “If a majority believe that we got through this, they’re not afraid anymore about their health, the health of their family and they feel like the health of the economy is heading in the right direction, then I think he’s in good shape,” former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently told McClatchy. “If they have doubts on either or both of those, then I think it becomes really, really tough.”
The Republican rush to “reopen” is projecting a simulacrum of the American “normal” that existed before the pandemic. The genuine article needed improvement, seeing as the pandemic has revealed the fragility of our systems in health care, education, tech, criminal justice, and throughout our federal government supply infrastructure, just to name a few. And rather than noting how it has sought to unbalance and defund many of the very systems that have proven deficient during this crisis, the GOP has kept behaving as if the coronavirus’ calamities are part of some divine plan. As such, before they ever “reopened” a single state, Republicans were demanding that we willingly embrace a lesser life before we bow out early.
Many cultish movements have deadly culminations, so it only seems natural that some of Trump’s most avid fans might be willing not merely to use the fiction of what they understand as freedom, risking their health for Dear Leader. But whether or not that is true, Republicans offer this fraudulent version of liberty because their true goal, plutocracy, is the diametrical opposite of freedom. It is a life lived to spite other lives, and often take advantage of them. They have profited from the vulnerable, whose literal freedoms are limited in various ways that, at times, overlap: communities of color, incarcerated populations, service workers, the homeless, disabled people, and others for whom liberals regularly advocate.
The right has built a thin veneer that looks like independence and freedom, but the pandemic has stripped away that myth in a matter of weeks. We can love our country enough to want to build it stronger than it was before, not paint some shoddy lacquer over top of it and call it brand new again. Why should we lay our lives down for a system this fragile and rotten, and for people this desperate?
This phase of the pandemic won’t be over until there is, at least, sufficient testing, contact tracing, and eventually, one day, a vaccine or treatment that everyone in the world can access. That won’t happen with this president. He simply won’t do it. It isn’t in his interest to make it happen. He doesn’t have adequate training in the job to accomplish it, nor does his party have any interest in helping him do it. He’d rather have us leave the house before it’s safe to go to restaurants, malls, and nail salons, just so he can lie about America being all the way back. Never mind the lady in plastic doing your nails, the bodies in the moving trucks, or the mass graves in the public park.