The Republican Party is pro-COVID

I have been thinking about the substantial and, apparently, still growing pro-COVID energy among Republicans.

For one thing, I don’t think any other term is really adequate. When Republicans are simultaneously “antilockdown,” “antimask,” “antivaccine,” “antimandates,” etc., etc., the big picture is effectively pro-COVID. Republicans are pandemic accelerationists.

Masks make a difference. Republicans gleefully want to discourage them, with both policy and stigma. Vaccine mandates have been working really well! Republicans are busily working to thwart them, through preemption or riddling them with exemptions.

Above all, vaccines work, yet the Republican Party is letting crackpot antivaxxers pull it their way rather than making any attempt to celebrate vaccines as a triumph of the Trump administration.

None of this is shocking, it’s just of some interest, if only as a reference point within the stampede of daily events.

I recall, with some effort, a few fleeting days in July when Republican elites were supposedly attempting a new, pro-vaccination message; that went basically nowhere. Among other things, it’s quite obvious that neither Republicans’ voting base nor the party’s middle ranks support that message.

What strikes me is that the overall pro-COVID energy among Republicans seems like a boundary marker between rational sabotage, and irrational self-destruction.

I don’t think this is a clear, black-and-white boundary. People including myself have suggested for quite some while that the Republican Party’s fictions have taken on a life of their own, and assumed power over the fabricators. Yet, generally, on balance some rational, and successful, agenda has still appeared to be at work: poison politics, cripple democratic governance, empower capital and other social privilege. This is evil, and seems like it involves serious risk of blowing up. But in the near term it does seem like the party has maintained this program and furthered the major ends desired of it. On economic populism, for example, Trump’s self-interest in a second term and party elites’ commitment to class warfare were in direct conflict, and party elites mostly suborned Trump to their interest rather than vice versa.

Active pro-COVID enthusiasm seems like a hint that even the most narrowly defined, most toxic self-interest may be slipping for the Republican Party. Granted that there is not an obvious categorical difference between actively harming economic recovery—mainstream Republican policy when a Democrat is president since 2009—and actively harming public health. In a real sense, pro-COVID enthusiasm is now just another form of sabotage. Except that there is no real break visible between Republicans’ COVID attitude under Trump and under Biden. Pro-COVID enthusiasm—which gets Republican voters and chat show hosts killed, placed the party at cross-purposes with big business, and gifts vaccines to Democrats as an exclusive policy—seems like it may genuinely transcend even the narrow interests of party and oligarchy.

The two interests may not be in direct, intense conflict, for the moment, so this isn’t conclusive about which would win in such an event. But it seems like indication of which interest has the momentum on its side.

In the long-term, this also suggests that the Republican Party is just very unhealthy and unlikely to recover. In the near-term, though, it’s just terrible for all of us.

At a certain point, a powerful minority of destructive chaos gremlins running amok in a system must be understood as the responsibility of more than just the chaos gremlins. You can go on pointing out the chaos gremlins’ harm, and exposing dishonesty and bad-faith, and insisting that duty demands better. But they’re fucking gremlins. Either you fight to stop the gremlins—not just to win the argument, or to persuade some other authority to act for you, but to stop the gremlins—or you don’t.

In America (as in Brexit Britain) the non-gremlin institutions seem pretty firmly on the side of avoiding confrontation with the reality of destructive pro-COVID chaos gremlins amok in the political system. “When they go low, we go high.”

Postscript 10/16/21: It seems worth adding something here about the role of negative partisanship. Within a faction which has largely devolved from having much agenda at all, to just grievance and cruelty, negative partisanship is powerful but it only works one way. For the time being, Republican machinery can mostly still mind-control the voting base to embrace or hate almost anything as long as it isn’t the position of Democrats. This is why I still think that a genuinely populist authoritarian can’t come to power through either party, in America. Republican elites could, I think, successfully turn their base against populist economic proposals because Democratic hate-figures on the left would voice honest approval of those proposals. But Republican elites cannot change their base’s opposition to vaccination, when so many Democrats are very visibly pro-vaccine.

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