Timothy Egan: How the Republicans became the party of death

(Jay Janner | Austin American-Statesman via AP, File) In this Friday, June 21, 2019, photo, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks at a news conference at the Capitol, in Austin, Texas.

I look at the numbers every day, sometimes every hour, sometimes before dawn. China is not to be trusted. Nor is Russia. I’m always curious about the latest death toll out of Sweden, a country with a riskier, more self-regulated approach to keeping people apart. And cheers for long-suffering bell’Italia, finally seeing a drop in active COVID-19 cases.

All of us want the same thing — a road map to the way out. The scientific consensus is clear and not that complicated: We need a significant upgrade of testing, contact tracing to track the infected, nuanced and dutiful social isolation, all to buy time until a vaccine is developed.

But the political way out reveals a stark divide, and some true madness. For Republicans, that pro-life slogan of theirs is just another term for nothing left to lose. They are now the party of death.

When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas doubled down this week on prior remarks elevating commerce above life — There are “more important things than living,” he said on Fox News — he was speaking for a significant slice of his party. People are disposable. So is income. But one is more important.

I’m not talking about the trade-offs that governors are making daily, trying to save businesses and countless jobs, while nursing homes and meatpacking plants remain killing fields.

But the lies spread by the crackpot media wing of the GOP, led by President Donald Trump’s favorite radio host, Rush Limbaugh, can be lethal. COVID-19 has killed more Americans in a month than the flu kills in a year. Yet Limbaugh has compared it to a common cold or seasonal flu. Those who believe him are likely to sneeze freely or crowd together in a grocery store.

There’s a direct line of responsibility from the Republicans in Wisconsin who forced voters to risk their lives in order to participate in an election to those citizens of the Badger State who have since tested positive after voting — and may die.

For the majority of state leaders, who favor listening to medical authorities rather than political hacks, Attorney General William Barr has threatened legal action if they err too cautiously on the side of public health. His Justice Department may have to intervene, he said, to help businesses that “need more freedom.”

All of this follows Trump’s obsession with money over human life, with markets over medicine. On Wednesday, just as the United States reported its largest daily death toll yet, Trump tweeted: “States are safely coming back. Our Country is starting to OPEN FOR BUSINESS again.” So much for the departed.

He said this after the number of coronavirus deaths in the nation doubled in little more than a week, giving the United States the horrid distinction of posting the highest body count of any nation on earth by far. We will soon lose more people to the novel coronavirus than all the Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

Trump’s open-for-business cheerleading will cause many more deaths. Even Robert Redfield, Trump’s whipsawed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that Trump’s tweets about “liberating” states now on medical lockdown were “not helpful.” These are code words for crazy.

Given that Trump is an Alpha male simpleton with no filter, it’s never difficult to find the true motive behind his tactics. As he has said, he wants all the authority and none of the responsibility. If we lose a quarter-million Americans, it’s the fault of governors running their respective shows. If the number is far less, it’s because he took charge.

He’s against vote-by mail, the least life-threatening way to allow Americans to exercise their most basic constitutional right, because “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

He’s encouraged life-threatening demonstrations. What’s particularly galling is using children as props in those protests, endangering their health.

Who wouldn’t love to bring back the buzz and vigor of normal life? I miss everything, from the Neapolitan pizza joint to my perpetually losing baseball team, to hugs and high-fives, even security lines at the airport. I wish we were getting close to herd immunity, when a large enough percentage of the population has contracted the disease that it nearly stops the spread.

I was initially encouraged by the studies out of California which, though flawed, showed through antibody tests that the number of people who may have contracted the coronavirus was far greater than the official tally of confirmed cases. This would indicate that the actual mortality rate is much lower than the body count.

The problem is that even if the higher number were true, more than 95% of the population is still vulnerable. The number of people who would die in order to get to herd immunity would be unfathomable.

When I think about how many doctors and nurses, how many cops, firefighters and other first responders, how many grocery store clerks and delivery people, how many parents and grandparents would lose their lives to get to that immunity threshold, I realize there’s only one choice.

That is: to err on the side of life. Lucky for us, most Americans already feel that way. Most Americans expect no quick fix. Most Americans are willing to be patient. And if this holds, most Americans will reject the party of death in November.

Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan is the winner of The National Book Award and a Seattle-based columnist for The New York Times.