Republicans Are Hazardous to Your Health

S. T. Joshi

The one certainty that has emerged in the wake of this global pandemic is the utter moral collapse of the Republican Party. I refer to a moral collapse because, all apart from the appalling and inexcusable fecklessness of its leader in dealing with the medical issues of the outbreak, the party as a whole has descended even further in contemptibility by its open advocacy of measures that will result—and are designed to result—in the needless deaths of many citizens, all in a quixotic attempt to restore economic activity to pre-pandemic levels. There is no question that the GOP has now become the party of death.

We are all familiar with the comments of Dan Patrick, the hard-right lieutenant-governor of Texas, who said that “there are more important things than living” and urged grandparents to die for the sake of getting the American economy humming again. Even though Patrick magnanimously included himself in the number of those willing to perish (in which case I wonder why he hasn’t already done so), few oldsters seem inclined to sacrifice themselves on the altar of the Almighty Dollar—to say nothing of being collateral damage to the re-election campaigns of Republican politicians.

The right-wing protesters of stay-at-home orders in various states have been even more blunt on the issue. One woman was found holding a sign reading “Arbeit macht frei”—the slogan of the Nazi death camps. And yes, this woman really did say, “I have Jewish friends.”

Then there is the ineffable conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who seems to be envisioning some sort of imminent collapse of civilization—in which case, he maintains with an apparently straight face, he plans to survive by engaging in cannibalism, chiefly of his neighbors. Mercifully, I am not a neighbor of his, so I do not consider it very likely that I will be on Mr. Jones’s lunch menu. This kind of ranting has been going on in right-wing circles well before the coronavirus outbreak, as with the ludicrously bombastic threats by some extremists that they will seek to trigger a civil war if the current occupant of the White House is defeated this November.

Let’s be clear: any loss of life is tragic, and the most tragic is unnecessary loss of life. It would be regrettable if any of our Republican friends fell sick and died because they gathered unsafely in statehouses (with or without AR-15s) or ingested bleach or recklessly self-medicated with hydroxychloroquine. Yes, very regrettable indeed. Let me dig out my handkerchief.

Meanwhile, the religious Right is engaging in its own charming whines and protests and spasms of self-pity, with predictable results. I suppose we’re allowed to enjoy a fleeting dollop of Schadenfreude from the following instances of pious buffoonery:

Item: A preacher in Virginia who claimed that the virus was merely a product of “mass hysteria” has ended up dying of it.

Item: Jerry Falwell Jr. took it into his head to defy his state’s stay-at-home orders and reopen Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, with the result that dozens of students promptly fell ill of the virus.

Item: A woman in Texas who asserted that all she needed to ward off the virus was “faith … and of course guns” subsequently died of the virus.

Item: Enclaves of Orthodox Jews in New York City and elsewhere have become hot spots for the virus because of their habitual distrust of government and disinclination to observe social distancing practices.

Our religious friends are particularly exercised over their inability to gather en masse at church services, which they maintain are “essential” and should be permitted without safety considerations. Recently, the White House overruled the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations on the issue. Roger Severino, a religious fanatic who managed to get himself appointed director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, opined: “Protections against religious discrimination aren’t suspended during an emergency. This means the federal government cannot single out religious conduct as somehow being more dangerous or worthy of scrutiny than comparable secular behavior.”

There are so many fallacies in this utterance that it is difficult to know where to begin. First, in what way can there conceivably be “religious discrimination” if church services are only one among many mass gatherings that are temporarily suspended during this crisis? And what exactly is the “comparable secular behavior” that also needs to be policed? I am aware that certain sports figures are the equivalent of secular saints, and I am also aware that that ridiculous audience-participation gesture known as “The Wave” originated (to my eternal mortification) right here in Seattle. I suppose someone could argue that this act is somehow analogous to the hand-waving hysteria at certain evangelical churches. But I beg to remind Mr. Severino that such events are also under the ban.

Once again, it would be tragic if church services resumed before appropriate safety measures were in place. The number of those “coming to Jesus” might skyrocket beyond all bounds. Very sad! Where is my handkerchief? I know it’s here somewhere!

It is abundantly clear why Republican politicians are slavering for some kind of return to “normalcy”—whatever that may even mean in this perilous moment. The less ignorant of them are well aware that in times of crisis, such as the Civil War or the Great Depression or the Vietnam War, massive social, political, and economic change can easily occur—and is usually of the sort that Republicans do not favor. The strengthening of unions, the raising of the minimum wage, universal health care, universal child care, universal paid sick leave—all these things are anathema to the current GOP, and they live in fear that social pressure will force these things down their throats. The Right will go to any lengths to stop these budding developments in their tracks—and if that requires the deaths of inconvenient Americans, then so be it.

S. T. Joshi

S. T. Joshi is the editor of Atheism: A Reader (2000) and other works on atheism, agnosticism, and freethought.

The one certainty that has emerged in the wake of this global pandemic is the utter moral collapse of the Republican Party. I refer to a moral collapse because, all apart from the appalling and inexcusable fecklessness of its leader in dealing with the medical issues of the outbreak, the party as a whole has …

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