Of all the failures of the Republican Party over the past few decades, their response to the coronavirus will be seen as the catalyst that led to the party’s demise. A little over a year after the first person succumbed to COVID, we now have more than 450,000 dead. Throughout the pandemic, the GOP and conservative activists have consistently opposed measures that would save lives.
At this point last year, President Trump was telling the country that the virus was under control. He was then praising the president of China and told us on this day last year that “by April or during the month of April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus.” Over the next couple of weeks, he would tell us that the virus was both under control and it would “just disappear.”
While his denial hindered taking the proper precautions, on February 28 he started a lie meant to politicize the pandemic. He told us that the virus was “a Democratic hoax.” He understood his base and knew that they would willingly believe his ever changing narrative and blame Democrats for any pain associated with dealing with the virus. Republicans largely stayed silent or went along with the lie.
As the reality began to sink in, public health officials determined the only way to slow the spread was to keep people apart. Most states ordered lockdowns. In North Carolina, Roy Cooper closed schools and then ordered most businesses to shutter until we could reduce the spread of the disease. Conservatives howled. Trump supporters insisted that the shutdown was a plot to destroy the economy to hurt the president’s re-election. They offered plenty of criticism but little in the way of solutions.
As the economy tanked and social distancing became the norm in March and April, most Americans expected the federal government to implement a plan. We believed they were buying time to put in place testing and tracing that could isolate infected people while allowing the rest of us to continue to live relatively normal lives. It didn’t happen.
Instead, conservatives began an almost year-long tirade against any measures designed to protect people. They wanted businesses opened NOW. They wanted schools opened NOW. They insisted masks don’t work and were a violation of their freedom. They opposed stimulus checks because they discourage working among people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. In the meantime, the death toll continued to rise.
For the rest of the year, conservatives downplayed the impact of the virus. They used all kinds of the excuses. The only people dying were people with “comorbidities,” a term most of has had barely heard. The virus was no more deadly than the flu. More people would die from the effects of social isolation than from COVID-19. None of it was true, but it was enough to keep a GOP base engaged and enraged.
The virus really exposed a lot about our country and a lot about the GOP. The party that passed a massive tax break for the wealthiest Americans in 2018 opposed significant support for working class Americans in the midst of a global pandemic. Today, as the stock market breaks records while the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high and the poverty rate climbs, Republicans insist that we cannot afford assistance to those suffering from the economic effects of the coronavirus. That’s a values choice.
While we all went into lockdown last spring, the federal government led by Trump and Senate Republicans failed to take any action to protect Americans. We had no national response to the pandemic. Instead, they insisted on a state-by-state response that resulted in a mishmash of policies that likely caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people. While conservatives insisted we could not have done much to curb the spread, the actions and results in other countries laid bare the fallacy of their philosophy.
Finally, the strain of the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it exploded with the death of George Floyd. A combination of pent up energy and outrage over yet another death of an unarmed Black man forced the country to look at our country’s failure on civil rights. While the economic impact of the coronavirus highlighted the economic disparities between working- and middle-class America, the death of George Floyd exposed the racial discrepancies that still plague our nation. Conservatives focused on the damage from the riots instead of the racial injustices that led to them. In a country that has a growing Black middle class and one that is becoming increasingly diverse, they are truly on the wrong side of history.
Republicans have insisted since Reagan that the government cannot do anything right. They’ve spent the past 40 years sabotaging attempts of offer help to people in a country with too much economic disparity. They’ve undermined the Affordable Care Act and refused to expand Medicaid that would save lives, not because they believe another system would be better for people, but because they don’t believe it’s the role of government. Similarly, when the pandemic hit, they’ve blocked government efforts to provide assistance to people, again, not because they have another plan, but because they believe we should not have one. They oppose efforts to curb the virus, like mask mandates, not because they have a better idea but because they don’t think government should interfere with people’s personal decisions. They fundamentally do not believe that government can make a positive difference in our lives. The coronavirus showed Americans how wrong they are.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >