From pro-life to Viva la muerte

So, good news and bad news about the pandemic.  The good news is that the number of new cases may have peaked in the US. The bad news is that the GOP has become a full-on death cult.

We’re at 740,000 cases and 39,000 deaths.  Hey, that’s more than the flu deaths in the 2018-19 season, maybe Republicans could take it seriously now?

No, the new Republican obsession is “re-opening the economy.” Trump first wanted this to happen by Easter, but was somehow dissuaded. Some governors want to try, and GOP pundits are test-driving ideas like “the cure is worse than the disease” and “closing businesses is tyranny” and “God will keep us safe” and “why keep old people around anyway.”

To be clear, here’s what happens when you stop social distancing early.

St._Louis_social_distancing

That’s the excess death rate in St. Louis in 1918-19, during the flu pandemic.  Note the timeline of the social distancing measures.  The city seemed to be doing better, deaths were down, and the city responded by ending restrictions.  Deaths shot up to twice the previous peak.  Oops.  Social distancing had to be resumed. The same thing happened in every city that tried “reopening” and in none of the ones that didn’t.

(What’s the “excess death rate”? Deaths above the normal level in a particular place and time. That’s the best way to measure the real effect of a pandemic, since But deaths are recorded far more accurately than causes of death. The numbers we have now, scary as they are, are probably way under the real values, because we’re still not testing enough.)

So, to be clear, what the Republicans are demanding is that people die in large numbers.  And suffer in even greater numbers.  Recall that up to 20% of all cases are severe, requiring hospitalization.  Under GOP plans, that means up to 20% of the population, or 65 million people.  Most but not all of them will be older people, meaning their own voters.

Here’s what a severe case is like: you have trouble breathing, so they stick you on a ventilator to force air into your lungs. You may get pneumonia or, worse, acute respiratory distress syndrome, which makes oxygenation extremely difficult. You get fluid instead of air in your lungs: you’re essentially drowning in those fluids. You may try to pull out the ventilator tube because you feel like you’re choking, so they’ll restrain you.  (That’s if you have a ventilator at all, since Trump is playing games with the states and hijacking shipments of supplies.) Through all of this, for the month you’re in intensive care, you can’t see family and barely see care workers; if you die you won’t be able to say goodbye. Oh, and while all this is going on, good luck if instead you have a garden variety heart attack or other emergency condition: the ICU is full.

That’s what the “protestors” are asking for: for tens of millions of people to suffer like that, with many of them dying. They’re clamoring to get the illness themselves, infect their workers and church members and families and the general public. Because… jesus christ who knows why, to own the libs.

Back in the Spanish civil war, supporters of Franco had slogans like ¡Viva la muerte! ¡Muera la inteligencia! — “Long live death! Death to intelligence!” That was their response to anything or anyone they didn’t like.

How did the GOP get to this point? Didn’t they call themselves “pro-life” once?

There is probably a lot to learn from the history of European fascism… but it’s really a logical development of home-grown, all-American trends.  American conservatism is the result of two basic facts:

  • Rich people are terrified of high taxes.
  • Rich people are a tiny minority of voters.

See my liberalism page for what they’re afraid of– especially the chart of tax rates. For half a century, from Roosevelt on, marginal taxes on the richest were twice what they are today. For the rich, the one and only purpose of the Republican Party is to keep tax rates down.

The rich generally get what they want, but it’s a lot trickier when they have to deal with a democracy. They need votes; therefore they need allies. But very few potential allies really care about other people’s taxes.  The best the rich can do is to co-opt movements that are popular enough to win elections.

During the liberal period (Roosevelt to Carter), they didn’t find the winning formula. In the 1980s they did: a potent mixture of religious reactionaries, bigots, and libertarians. Each of these had a grudge against liberalism, and that provided enough zealotry to win elections. Mostly their grudges were too unpopular to become law, but by God they got taxes as low they could and kept the 90% from sharing in increased productivity.

(Old history: The bigots used to be in the Democratic Party. They were by no means liberal, but they liked redistribution, so long as it didn’t go to colored people. But they switched sides, in a long process that finished with Reagan.)

So, the Nixonian model was that GOP politicians would make use of this potent but unstable coalition, and keep it from doing too much damage. Then came the ’90s, for which the formula is: talk radio + losing the Presidency = GOP loses its mind. Talk radio meant that power moved from elected officials who retained some interest in real governing, to unelected entertainers whose only interest was in riling things up. And the defeat of Bush I meant that moderate Republicans were seen as failures. Clinton had already raised taxes, so the rich were OK with a program of anything goes to oppose the Democrats.

It still took 25 years to get to ¡Viva la muerte!  But the groundwork was laid, by going through ¡Muera la inteligencia!

It’s been remarked that we have two elites in this country: one financial, one cultural/educational. The money is of course far more powerful. But rich people lack charisma; frankly, they’re often stupid and venal. They would love to have the soft power of universities, newspapers, and Hollywood, but they can’t buy them, mostly.  (They own a lot of them, of course, but it turns out that when you let the rich guy dictate the content, its popularity plummets. So they have to let the creative people actually produce it.)

But the cultural elite insists on a more or less liberal message, and the scientific world is even worse, pointing out little problems like the threat to Earth’s ecosphere caused by industry. What’s the solution here?  Why,  ¡Muera la inteligencia!  Attack science and attack government when they’re inconvenient for the rich; and if that the base embraces every other anti-science fad it can, well, remember Goal #1.  (Did you forget? It’s “low taxes.”)

The nice thing about climate change– for the GOP– is that it’ll bite people in the ass only in decades to come, after the chief perps are dead. The problem with a pandemic is that it makes expert advice, good health care, and government help a necessity right now.

But they can’t turn off the propaganda machine.

  • One, that might mean people would vote for the other party, and taxes would go up.
  • Two… well, the rich no longer have control of the off button.
  • And three, too many people are inside the con. Without a steady diet of fear, lies, and outrage, how could the talk radio people keep their public? How could the new generation of GOP politicians stay in power? How could the late-capitalist hucksters keep profiting by making crappy Internet products or bankrupting old businesses or inflating drug prices? How could the sellers of guns and Bitcoin and dubious alternative investments or medicines stay in business?

Which isn’t to say that they have a plan for success. What would they even do if the liberals all disappeared and they had to run the country without an enemy to hate?  Turn on each other in about five minutes, of course.

The thing is, when you actually despise expertise and competence of all kinds, and as a topping on the cake elect a narcissistic thug, and you win, you do not get the long centuries of conservative dominion of, say, the Spanish Empire, or even Franco’s decades. Fascism crashed and burned. The Confederacy crashed and burned. George W. Bush, whose control was so total that conservatives were writing self-congratulatory tomes on how conservatism was going to be in power forever, crashed and burned. (Scant consolation, I know. These people all caused a hell of a lot of damage going down.)

OK, a few people have read this far and are jabbing their hands up, eager to ask, “Yes, but when can we reopen the economy?”

And you know, the infuriating thing about this whole mess is that there is another path. The alternatives are not “stay on lockdown forever” vs. “accept tens of millions of dead Americans.” Option three is to handle the damn virus as well as South Korea has.

Vox has a good article on this.  In short: test, test, test. We’re testing maybe 160,000 people per day, and that number isn’t even growing. We need at least four times that level– and maybe 40 times that level. We can’t reopen businesses while not knowing who has the virus.  And once we know, we have to trace contacts zealously.  (Recall: Covid-19 spreads extremely easily at a point when the carrier has no symptoms. One person can literally infect a thousand.)

I wish I could say the GOP will come round to this. But they made the choice long ago to politicize everything, which means saving lives is now evil Democratic tyranny. 

Do you think a few of them wonder how they got to this point?  Did anyone look at, say, the landslide election won a few days ago by South Korea’s Democratic Party, and wonder if maybe just once, they should do the right thing and maybe even get rewarded for it? But that’s crimethink; they just watch Fox News long enough to make the feeling pass.