Why Republicans have no coherent answers for the Covid-19 crisis

April 10, 2020

As the crisis deepens and the president seems more interested in putting on a daily television performance than managing an effective public health response, there hasn’t been enough attention paid to how the modern Republican party has insufficient answers because all their proposals depend on attributing outcomes to individuals’ choices alone.

Cutting unemployment benefits and refusing Medicaid expansion were common GOP policy priorities from before the pandemic that now threaten millions of vulnerable people facing down the worst effects of a sudden recession. In the before times, leftists could argue that reducing unemployment benefits doesn’t actually encourage people to get a job faster, and the nature of health care is such that ensuring more people have care reduces costs for everyone, but it’s hard to use large-scale economic effects in a discussion with someone who’s relying on an instinctual principle. How do you explain to someone that life outcomes are heavily correlated with when, where, and to whom he was born when the air he breathes tells him he alone is responsible for everything he has, and that if people are wanting it’s because they, personally, are lacking?

Republicans have struggled to achieve coherence since coming under the thrall of Trumpism, whose putative leader has no principles other than that it’s good when he’s the center of attention, but with Covid-19 ravaging the country they’re struggling even more to find a clear path because getting sick isn’t any individual’s fault, and therefore they can’t tell people they should have made better choices if they wanted a better outcome. Businesses are shutting down to help contain the spread of the virus, which isn’t those business owners’ fault. Workers who lost their jobs because of the necessary shutdowns to contain the virus’s spread has nothing to do with the choices those workers made.

It’s a collective problem that demands a collective solution in which we all, collectively, bear the burden. Yet, Republicans are still presenting solutions based on the framework of individual virtue, with more money going to richer people and less money going to poor people, with attempts to reduce unemployment benefits included in the coronavirus relief package, effectively rewarding the less vulnerable for being less vulnerable in the first place, and refusing to enact appropriately large enough stimulus spending because… well… well...

Thinking through the lens of the self makes little sense in the face of epidemiological realities. It’s unlikely, but here’s hoping at least a few GOP leaders — and perhaps large swathes of their voters — realize our interconnectedness and dependency on each other is our greatest virtue and not a sin for which we need to pay penance.

(Photo: "Mutt & Jeff's Beauty Shop" by Dan Keck, in Logan, OH. Photo published into public domain.)