After forcing voters to risk their health to go to the polls and perhaps making seven people sick that we know of so far, Wisconsin Republicans are doubling down. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Wednesday that state legislative Republicans, the same people who brought you those terrifying voting lines—and one of whom, Robin Vos, went to that polling place to say “see, this is perfectly safe!” while wearing more protective gear than the extras in The China Syndrome—are suing to block Governor Tony Evers’ rule keeping schools and businesses closed.
Technically, they’re seeking to take away the power of the Department of Health Services to impose such rules unilaterally and to require legislative approval. And given what we know about the state’s Supreme Court, whose makeup we all just got a primer on before the voting, they’re going to win. Conservative Judge Daniel Kelly, who got stomped in the April 7 election by his liberal challenger, is still on the bench, and will be until August. So the Republicans will force an early reopening upon a state with 4,600 cases and 242 dead so far that is just now getting its testing rates ramped up.
Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the governor is a Trumpy Republican who understands that God commands that every population contains a built-in spoilage factor. He’s starting to open up the state, including tattoo parlors and bowling alleys.
This in the very state where the Centers for Disease Control is based, mind you—the CDC, whose head, Robert Redfield, just gave an interview to The Washington Post in which he warned that these reopening protests were “not helpful” (he’s more diplomatic than I am) and would help lead to a second wave of the virus. But Governor Brian Kemp knows better, and the state’s hairdressers are no doubt busying themselves practicing cutting hair with scissors duct-taped to six-foot broom handles.
The first-level explanation for this is politics, and that’s true enough; they want to see an improved economy to help Donald Trump’s chances in November. But this stuff runs much deeper than that. Those people out there honking their horns and waving their Gadsden flags—Gadsden the man, natch, was from South Carolina, the most seditious right-wing state in our history—are driven by something deeper than electoral politics. They’ve taken the leap now from Live Free Or Die to Live Free And Die, or least to accepting that lots of other people will.
Every day of this heartbreaking saga brings a new surprise, a new low. But nothing has been more sobering to me than learning, over these last few days, that millions of my fellow Americans, indeed millions of my fellow human beings, since I doubt very much that this sentiment is restricted to our shores, believe that saving every life we can save is not our first priority.
This is about more than Trump. Societies have values. And often, as we know, these values clash. That’s what political fights are about. But I’d have thought that protecting living human beings from death was the highest value. I’d have thought it was a universal value, not a mere “liberal” one. I’d have thought, in fact, that that was the essential difference between civilization and that which preceded civilization.
I’d have thought that what Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday at his briefing was a given, for everyone. “We’re not gonna have people lose their life because we acted imprudently,” he said. “I’m not going to do this.”
I’d have thought that. But I’d have been wrong.
Death—not just death; needless death, and of total innocents—as an acceptable price to pay for order and stability? Look, I understand the people whose businesses won’t survive this. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the people carrying freedom placards at these rallies. They may not represent most of us, but we’re talking about thousands of people spread out across the country who think this way, strongly enough to show up in person and stand arm in arm to share those thoughts.
Back to Wisconsin. I spoke Wednesday with Ben Wikler, the chairman of the state Democratic Party who spearheaded the organizing that led to Jill Karofsky’s victory over Kelly in that judicial race. The Republicans, he said, “want to throw the public back into the jaws of the virus to feed the conspiracy theories of their base and please their big business interests.” And yes, he said, “there is every chance that the conservatives on the court will side with the Republican Party and against the public health.”
Wikler told me that the reopen caucus is planning a rally in Madison this Friday. Grassroots activism? Not entirely. Stephen Moore, the right-wing economics commentator, told The New York Times that he had “one big donor in Wisconsin” who pledged to him, “‘Steve, I promise, I will pay the bail and legal fees of anyone who gets arrested.’”
What will happen if and when the state supreme court sides with the legislature and against the governor and the health department? Hard to say. Wikler said that “there are conscientious public health officials in every county” who might refuse to go along with the legislature. Then again, there may be other public health officials in counties across the nation who will kick against enforcing public health regulations, like the clerks who rebelled again gay marriages, the law be damned.
We are staring at months’ worth of showdowns over all this, months that will only drag out with more needless death and more economic downturns because we’re not doing what’s obviously right now, which is staying home and testing. It’s so depressing.
And by the way, we’re at 46,000 deaths as I write, increasing by 2,500 to 3,000 a day. That hasn’t slowed a whit. I think that Trump’s 60,000 number is going to have to be revised soon.
The silver lining may be that these idiots are digging their hero’s political grave, since too-quick a reopening is likely to prolong the economic agony into the fall. There would be boundless justice in that. But at such a hideous price.