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I’m going to make a confession: I am half inclined to let the fringe Republicans agitating to “liberate” America go out and catch Covid-19 and die in whatever way seems best to them. Safely ensconced in my house, living under the protection of a Democratic governor, I am not required to care about maskless fools in Ohio, frosting the statehouse windows with their communicable diseases.
In related news: I’ve never once cared about a recreational mountain climber who goes missing halfway up Mount Killayadumass. You pays your money, you takes your chances.
And yet, I care about the sherpas. I care about the impoverished community of workers who make their living propping up the rugged individualist fantasies of richer people, and who sometimes die in the process of making the mountain-climbing economy work.
It takes a village to climb a mountain, or to “open” an economy. The “liberate America” protesters—and calling them “protesters” is being generous to the small band of fake-news enthusiasts who have been deployed in battleground states to fight this newest front in the culture wars—seem to be under the impression that individual hardiness can protect them from Covid-19 and jump-start the economy. They claim to want the freedom to make their own choices about their health and safety during the pandemic, but what they really want is to force other people to risk their lives so the economy can rebound.
These protesters act like all they want is the liberty to, say, go to a baseball game this summer—without a mask, if that’s what their freedom-confederacy demands. But think about how many people will be forced to play by Republican death-cult rules if we reopen the stadiums. Concession stand workers and parking attendants will have to go back out in public, whether they feel safe or not, with or without access to personal protective equipment. Transit workers who are already feeling the brunt of keeping the “essential” economy going will be pressed into game-day schedules to shuttle people to and from the stadium. Police officers will be pulled off of more important duties to go to the ballpark and keep the peace. The only people who will have a “choice” about whether or not to risk their health are the fans, and most of the people protesting only want the stadiums open so they can catch a game on television.
It’s not just sports. There will be a disparate impact on the people who have to do the work versus the people who will benefit from the work in every industry Republicans are able to bully into reopening. Consumers will retain the freedom to make choices about where they’ll be most safe, but workers will lose that freedom.
Even David Frum understands that the health burden of reopening the economy will fall most heavily on the poorest workers who are the least able to protect themselves. Writing in The Atlantic, he points out that
if the reopening starts in May, it will be phased not by medical advice, but by the hard grammar of wealth and poverty: poorest first, richest last.
In the event of an early and partial reopening, the disparities can only widen. Those who can telecommute, who can shop online, or who work for health-conscious employers like public universities will be better positioned to minimize their exposure than those called back to work in factories, plants, and delivery services.
That’s not liberty; that’s wage slavery. People who cannot risk missing a paycheck or losing a job will be forced to risk their health, while people who can afford to shelter in place a little longer will have the “freedom” to do so.
That these protesters are couching their demand to force people back to work in the language of patriotism is a sick joke. Patriotism contemplates sacrificing your individual desires for the good of the country. Patriotism involves the idea of solidarity and self-sacrifice in the face of national danger.
But these protesters aren’t willing to sacrifice anything for the greater social good. They are literally unwilling to wear masks to help keep other Americans healthy, even when those other Americans are their fellow protesters. They are not willing to stay home to ease the burden on hero health care workers. They are not interested in channeling their cavalier attitude about being outside into ministering to the poor or the lonely, or even to cheering on first responders who are trying, with both hands, to keep communities together. All these people can think to do with all the time they evidently have on their hands is to tie up traffic and bitch and moan.
These people are not “patriots.” They’re punks. They’re selfish punks who spent all of their time pre-virus tooting about how they didn’t need to contribute to society in the form of taxes, and how they could hold out for years in their doomsday bunkers. But it turns out they couldn’t last four weeks without public meeting places and double-ply toilet paper.
None of this right-wing lunacy can be considered surprising if you consider its source. After all, these are the same so-called freedom-loving individuals who want the government to have so much power it can outlaw a woman’s autonomy over her own body. In The New York Times, Charlie Warzel called the “liberate” protests “the logical conclusion of the modern far-right’s donor-funded, shock jock–led liberty movement.”
The freedom to die is the only form of liberty Republicans want their base thinking about. And Covid-19 is only the latest pathogen. These people also want the freedom to die in mass shootings; the freedom to die from not being able to afford medicine; the freedom to not take the vaccines they can afford; and the freedom to drive 90 mph on a highway with no seat belt, without “the government” telling them to slow their roll.
It’s easy for these people to write off the death of 2 to 3 percent of the country’s population as an “appetizing” “trade-off,” because right-wing media has already conditioned these people to think that the death or suffering of millions is an acceptable price for Republican economic and social policies. These are the people who derisively call food assistance a government handout that’s bleeding the richest nation on earth, and who think women and children fleeing oppression and trauma are faking it. These are the people who oppose universal health coverage that doesn’t give a cut to insurance companies. These are the people who consistently vote against their own economic interests based on the mere promise that racial minorities will get it worse.
It’s a shame that the people most willing to defy social distancing are the least empathetic among us. Because people really concerned about freedom for everybody have a lot of reasons to take to the streets right now. We should be pressuring the government, demanding it provide the financial resources that would allow people to make their own choices about their health and safety. Nobody who can work from home should be forced back to work to chase a paycheck. Nobody who is sick should be forced out of their homes to work to make rent. People who have been laid off because of the pandemic need the full social safety net, including forbearance on rents and mortgages for the foreseeable future.
We ask soldiers and firefighters and reality TV crab fishermen to risk their lives to go to work. Nobody working at a damn chicken plant should be asked to make the same choice.
Philosophically, I’m okay with right-wing agitators’ going out there and getting the coronavirus at a protest, if they want to. Maybe I’m a bad person, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to care about the latest wound Republicans have decided to self-inflict in their never-ending quest to “own the libs.”
But they must not be allowed to infect everybody else. My freedom to live is every bit as important as their freedom to die.