Paul Krugman offers an elegy for the 'thousands about to die for the Dow'

Paul Krugman offers an elegy for the 'thousands about to die for the Dow'
Image via CNN Screengrab.

It’s not entirely clear what is motivating Republican politicians across the country to agitate for the premature reopening of businesses, boldly ignoring the all-but-certain increase in human deaths from the COVID-19 virus that will doubtlessly follow. But Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, writing for the The New York Times, tries to distill it into three possible rationales.

The first is that Republicans, sensing an electoral disaster looming for their party in November, are desperately offering up American citizens as human sacrifices in a ritualistic obeisance to their Dow Jones deity, in hopes that Americans flooding back into an infected and potentially deadly work environment will magically “turn around” the economy.

One answer is that thousands of Americans may be about to die for the Dow. We know that Trump is obsessed with the stock market, and his long refusal to take Covid-19 seriously reportedly had a lot to do with his belief that doing otherwise would hurt stock prices. He may now believe that pretending that the crisis is over will boost stocks, and that that’s all that matters.

The second possible reason, according to Krugman, is that the GOP has become a victim of its own propaganda.

Might Republicans believe, Krugman muses, that the tiny number of astro-turfed, fringe, right-wing demonstrators brandishing automatic weapons and harassing governors in state capitals across the country represents the true desires and wishes of the American people?

Another answer is that Republicans may actually believe that the gun-waving, red-hatted anti-social-distancing demonstrators represent the “real America.” And there are indeed Americans who fly into a rage when asked to bear any inconvenience on behalf of the public good. Polls suggest that they’re a small minority, but the G.O.P. may consider such polls fake news.

But it may be something even more mundane than either of these explanations. Krugman observes that Republicans historically have really shown themselves to be concerned with only two objectives: tax cuts and “deregulation,” which both amount to pretty much the same thing—more money for their corporate donors. In furtherance of this single-minded imperative, the GOP has absolutely no clue (or really any interest in) how to formulate any policy—or response to a crisis—that doesn’t involve one of these two end results.

That is why the only “achievement” of the Republican Congress prior to the Democratic takeover of the House in 2018 was a grotesquely skewed tax giveaway to corporations and the nation’s wealthiest. For all the power they held in the House, Senate and presidency during the first two years of Trump’s administration, all those opportunities they had to actually work for the benefit of ordinary Americans, they have nothing else to show for it. No accomplishments, least of all anything that remotely helped the American people.

And that was fine for them, at least when there was no important, existential, life-threatening crisis to deal with. In their mindset, “no one could have foreseen” a viral pandemic threatening the continued vitality of the entire nation. And they are just not equipped to deal with such a thing.

When officials find themselves confronting an unexpected crisis, they’re supposed to roll up their sleeves and deal with it — bring in the experts, devise and implement an effective response. That’s how the Obama administration responded to Ebola back in 2014.

But the G.O.P. doesn’t like experts, and it doesn’t have policy ideas beyond tax cuts and deregulation. So it doesn’t know how to respond to crises that don’t fit its usual agenda. Trump, in particular, can do policy theater — sending Jared Kushner out to make noises about dealing with problems — but has no idea how to do it for real.

As Krugman observes, the novel coronavirus doesn’t care about politics. It doesn’t give a damn who it infects: It’s an equal opportunity Grim Reaper. It thrives in a Petri dish of incompetence and willful disregard.

I actually think it may be a combination of all three reasons.

Stephen King wrote a novel sometime back in the 1970s called The Dead Zone. It’s about the rise of a ruthless politician who essentially cons the American people into office, carefully disguising his evil nature with bald promises and demagoguery. His rise to power seems inevitable, almost preordained, until the very end when he’s brought down because, trying to defend himself from a sniper, he picks up a little baby and uses him as a human shield, all in front of an aghast crowd of onlookers.

Perhaps the American people, who Republicans clearly intend to sacrifice in the coming months, are just like that little baby. And perhaps this is the Republican Party's "human shield" moment, when the full extent of their moral depravity is finally revealed.

It sure looks like we’re about to find out.

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