The Republican Party is objectively pro-coronavirus
Monday saw the beginning of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Staggeringly, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) actually appeared in person, a mere 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19. He apparently has not tested negative or even been examined by a physician to confirm he has no symptoms — and removed his mask before giving his opening remarks. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, who was exposed to Lee in an Oct. 1 hearing and had one negative test, has since refused to take another one even as a precaution. In one particularly ghoulish moment, both Lee and Graham stood chatting over Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is 87 years old (and has also refused to get tested).
Mike Lee is in the hearing room and chatting with Graham pic.twitter.com/EKT2vnCtnv
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) October 12, 2020
The hearing was just one of several instances over the past couple weeks in which Republicans have worked assiduously to spread coronavirus across the land. The party has mutated from merely hampering efforts to control the pandemic to actively accelerating it, even among their own top leaders.
It all started, of course, with the super-spreader event at the White House celebrating Barrett's nomination on Sept. 26. President Trump and something like 30 other people were likely infected as a result — how many exactly we can't say, because the White House has refused to allow contact tracing. Very possibly hundreds of infections will end up being caused by this failure to find and arrest the chain of transmission. While ill, Trump forced his Secret Service agents to drive him outside the hospital to wave at supporters before returning to the White House long before he was fully recovered, causing flailing panic among his staff. He has since held a brief outdoor event on Sunday, with many maskless attendees crammed together, and resumed regular campaign events with a big rally in Florida Monday night.
At the recent debates, Trump lied about having been tested beforehand, and Vice President Pence resisted basic protective measures. After coming down with the virus, Trump refused to participate in a remote second debate, insisting that he potentially expose Joe Biden and hundreds of staffers to infection or he would not debate.
The irresponsibility of all this is practically beyond description. Everything we know about the coronavirus suggests people should use extreme caution around people known to be infected or exposed, particularly in indoor spaces. According to the CDC, anyone who tests positive is supposed to isolate themselves for a minimum of 10 days, and longer if they still show symptoms. Ideally, they should also show two negative tests at least 24 hours apart — a simple matter for a senator or president. By the same token, anyone who is exposed should quarantine for 14 days, because the virus can take that long to manifest itself (also why a single negative test is no guarantee). The reason is this virus is very contagious, and COVID is not to be trifled with. We are still learning things about the disease — for instance, it appears some people with even mild cases can experience a terrifying "brain fog" syndrome that can linger for who knows how long. (It is worth noting that Ted Cruz, who was also exposed like Graham, actually was quarantining himself and thus video-called into the hearing.)
Lee and Trump violated the first CDC rule, and Graham is violating the second one. One hopes that nobody else will be infected as a result of the Barrett hearings, but it is quite possible that this will be the second super-spreader event directly associated with the Supreme Court nomination. Grassley (or Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is also 87) may end up being killed by COVID just like Herman Cain was probably killed by an infection from a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa.
All that is of a piece with various Republican attacks on state- and local-level efforts to contain the pandemic. The recent right-wing terrorist conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and overthrow the state government was rooted in incandescent conservative outrage at her pandemic control measures — which, while strict (and effective) by U.S. standards, are not even close to the kind of lockdowns instituted in several European countries. But state Republicans sued Whitmer and got their partisan hacks on the Michigan Supreme Court to rule that her containment measures violated the state constitution — just like a Trump-appointed federal judge did to Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania several weeks earlier. (An attempt to take down Wisconsin's mask mandate in the courts has failed so far.)
In Shasta County, California, Michael Lewis reports on a carefully organized Republican campaign to protest and disrupt the state's containment protocols, where a local restaurateur who refuses to take precautions became an overnight right-wing celebrity. Another protester whose mother died of COVID "called the coroner and demanded that the county change the cause of death." In a bar in upstate New York, when an 80-year-old man asked another patron to put on a mask, the man pushed him to the ground, killing him.
Certainly part of this is about cynicism and will to power — Graham et al don't want to get tested because it might interfere with their plot to stuff the Supreme Court full of staring reactionaries so they can ban abortion and environmental regulation through judicial rule-by-decree. But this kind of behavior goes well beyond cynicism. A cynic would not be casually chatting two feet from someone who very likely still has COVID, even with a mask (surgical masks, mind you, not even N95 masks).
When a political movement fails as catastrophically as the Trump-era Republican Party, there is a problem of cognitive dissonance. Nobody wants to be implicated in a world-historical disaster. So even as the virus spreads throughout Republican ranks, and the White House itself becomes a plague zone, they are simply bulling ahead with their previous strategy of pretending everything is fine. If some Republican members of Congress die as a result, not to worry — they can just bully the D.C. coroner into changing the cause of death.