The Republican dream has arrived

As the economy teeters on the brink of collapse, as the death toll from the SARS-CoV-2 virus mounts and threatens to skyrocket far beyond our nation’s ability to control it, many Americans are shaking their heads in dismay, wondering just what has happened to their country. As the crisis prolongs, as our schools struggle vainly to reopen, as businesses continue to founder, it’s as if a curtain is gradually lifting. It’s as if the willful, hopeful blindness of millions of people has finally given way to a collective shock of understanding and recognition of the actual horror that lies before us all.

Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times,patiently explains that what is happening right here, right now, is nothing more than the natural endgame of all Republican, “conservative” philosophy. This is where it was all headed, and where it has always been headed. And anyone paying the slightest bit of attention should have seen it coming:

You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest. In their vision, unrestricted profit maximization by businesses and unregulated consumer choice is the recipe for a good society.

Only yesterday, it seems, was the fuzzy, generalized push to “deregulate,” to “free the economy” from any constraints that might have held back corporate profits in the name of the public health, safety or welfare, that dominated Republican “philosophy.”  The idea of any collective responsibility—of a social compact between Americans– was always inherently poisonous to that shiny, conservative ideal. And that aversion to any responsibility for the country as a whole has manifested itself in ways we have seen constantly unfolding during the course of this horrific pandemic, as conservative attitudes have been exposed and highlighted over and over under the harsh glare of reality:

This rage is sometimes portrayed as love of freedom. But people who insist on the right to pollute are notably unbothered by, say, federal agents tear-gassing peaceful protesters. What they call “freedom” is actually absence of responsibility.

The Covid-19 pandemic collided head-on with that philosophy because it was unique: it impacted everyone. It may have seemed to some jaundiced eyes to disproportionately attack poorer, “essential” Americans but in the final analysis it was coming for everyone. It simply didn’t care one whit about economic “status,” and even less about philosophy. And the only way to respond to a calamity that affects everyone is by invoking shared responsibility to defeat it. But this is exactly the message that Republicans belligerently, obstinately, even suicidally, have even now refused to accept.

Rational policy in a pandemic, however, is all about taking responsibility. The main reason you shouldn’t go to a bar and should wear a mask isn’t self-protection, although that’s part of it; the point is that congregating in noisy, crowded spaces or exhaling droplets into shared air puts others at risk. And that’s the kind of thing America’s right just hates, hates to hear.

So now we have a Republican-dominated Senate pathologically hamstrung by its ideological refusal to accept that responsibility towards other Americans. But rather than face its shortcomings, they don’t want to acknowledge the bankruptcy of their philosophy. In fact, they’d rather die than acknowledge it. Krugman cites the zombie-esque, Republican mantra that providing further benefits to distressed American workers will incentivize their desire to remain unemployed. It’s a mantra that in fact ignores their own belief system (because it repudiates the inherent nature of all Americans to better their own lives), but they have fixated on it, like an illusory totem.

In an economy experiencing Depression-level morbidity, with a population desperate for work and return to “normalcy,” it’s impossible to find any rational support for this attitude. Yet Republicans continue to cling to it because it provides them with cold comfort, even as the country threatens to crumble all around them.To admit the necessity of a social compact—the idea that those most fortunate should come to the aid of those less fortunate for the preservation of our society–is an implicit admission of failure that Republicans, blinded by their ideology, cannot make.

Because for conservatives it is more than mere philosophy at stake —it is the core of their existence that is now threatened. Everything they’ve believed and lived, oblivious or indifferent to the harm it caused, for decades, is now at mortal risk. And they would rather die than see the entirety of their prior existence trivialized, or worse, completely discredited.

The point, instead, is that they’ve sacralized selfishness, hurting their own political prospects by insisting on the right to act selfishly even when it hurts others.

What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us.

The American experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has never been a battle simply against the virus. If it were, we would be in the position of other developed countries that have seen through the battle and now, having pushed it back, are once more coming out into the light.

But we cannot be one of those countries. In this country, the fight against the virus has been a war against an unyielding, inflexible conservatism–and Republicanism– from the very start. Everything we are seeing and experiencing now—and every failure still to come until the country finally throws the yoke of Republican policy into the dustbin of history– is a product of that conflict.

November 3rd literally cannot come soon enough.

______________________Complete Article in the NYT Opionion ________________________

by Paul Krugman – Opinion Columnist

An antimask protester in Columbus, Ohio, on July 18.
Credit…Jeff Dean/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

America’s response to the coronavirus has been a lose-lose proposition.

The Trump administration and governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis insisted that there was no trade-off between economic growth and controlling the disease, and they were right — but not in the way they expected.

Premature reopening led to a surge in infections: Adjusted for population, Americans are currently dying from Covid-19 at around 15 times the rate in the European Union or Canada. Yet the “rocket ship” recovery Donald Trump promised has crashed and burned: Job growth appears to have stalled or reversed, especially in states that were most aggressive about lifting social distancing mandates, and early indications are that the U.S. economy is lagging behind the economies of major European nations.

So we’re failing dismally on both the epidemiological and the economic fronts. But why?

On the face of it, the answer is that Trump and allies were so eager to see big jobs numbers that they ignored both infection risks and the way a resurgent pandemic would undermine the economy. As I and others have said, they failed the marshmallow test, sacrificing the future because they weren’t willing to show a little patience.

And there’s surely a lot to that explanation. But it isn’t the whole story.

For one thing, people truly focused on restarting the economy should have been big supporters of measures to limit infections without hurting business — above all, getting Americans to wear face masks. Instead, Trump ridiculed those in masks as “politically correct,” while Republican governors not only refused to mandate mask-wearing, but they prevented mayors from imposing local mask rules.

Also, politicians eager to see the economy bounce back should have wanted to sustain consumer purchasing power until wages recovered. Instead, Senate Republicans ignored the looming July 31 expiration of special unemployment benefits, which means that tens of millions of workers are about to see a huge hit to their incomes, damaging the economy as a whole.

So what was going on? Were our leaders just stupid? Well, maybe. But there’s a deeper explanation of the profoundly self-destructive behavior of Trump and his allies: They were all members of America’s cult of selfishness.

You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest. In their vision, unrestricted profit maximization by businesses and unregulated consumer choice is the recipe for a good society.

Support for this proposition is, if anything, more emotional than intellectual. I’ve long been struck by the intensity of right-wing anger against relatively trivial regulations, like bans on phosphates in detergent and efficiency standards for light bulbs. It’s the principle of the thing: Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.

This rage is sometimes portrayed as love of freedom. But people who insist on the right to pollute are notably unbothered by, say, federal agents tear-gassing peaceful protesters. What they call “freedom” is actually absence of responsibility.

Rational policy in a pandemic, however, is all about taking responsibility. The main reason you shouldn’t go to a bar and should wear a mask isn’t self-protection, although that’s part of it; the point is that congregating in noisy, crowded spaces or exhaling droplets into shared air puts others at risk. And that’s the kind of thing America’s right just hates, hates to hear.

Indeed, it sometimes seems as if right-wingers actually make a point of behaving irresponsibly. Remember how Senator Rand Paul, who was worried that he might have Covid-19 (he did), wandered around the Senate and even used the gym while waiting for his test results?

Anger at any suggestion of social responsibility also helps explain the looming fiscal catastrophe. It’s striking how emotional many Republicans get in their opposition to the temporary rise in unemployment benefits; for example, Senator Lindsey Graham declared that these benefits would be extended “over our dead bodies.” Why such hatred?

It’s not because the benefits are making workers unwilling to take jobs. There’s no evidence that this is happening — it’s just something Republicans want to believe. And in any case, economic arguments can’t explain the rage.

Again, it’s the principle. Aiding the unemployed, even if their joblessness isn’t their own fault, is a tacit admission that lucky Americans should help their less-fortunate fellow citizens. And that’s an admission the right doesn’t want to make.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Republicans are selfish. We’d be doing much better if that were all there were to it. The point, instead, is that they’ve sacralized selfishness, hurting their own political prospects by insisting on the right to act selfishly even when it hurts others.

What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

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