August 24, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The Republican masochists among us
Do not underestimate their power.
Almost 3,000 Americans died on Sept. 11, 2001. That day led to the militarization of local police, the hardening of the southern border, the erosion of civil liberties and the destruction of a country that did us no harm. Republican voters said it was worth it, and for the most part, everyone else agreed. After all, nearly 3,000 died in a single day.
Everyone else has since reconsidered, but not Republicans. According to a Pew survey taken 15 years after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which killed nearly 4,500 Americans and countless Iraqis (no one truly knows how many), most Republicans (61 percent) said it was the right thing to do. In 2018, when the poll was taken, you might have been in a generous mood and thought to yourself: well, I get it. They’re wrong, but they’re wrong for the right reasons. After all, nearly 3,000 Americans are still dead.
That 180,689 dead Americans in 2020 is “acceptable” while 2,977 dead Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, wasn’t tells you something about a majority of Republican voters.
Turns out they were wrong for the wrong reasons. The worst reasons. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans say the number of Americans dead from the Covid-19 pandemic is “acceptable,” according to a CBS News poll released over the weekend. The death toll is over 180,600 people, per Worldometer. That’s more than 60 times the number of people murdered on 9/11. That 180,689 in 2020 is “acceptable” while 2,977 in 2001 wasn’t tells you something about a majority of Republicans. That loyalty and patriotism are less important, or not important at all, compared to partisanship. More precisely, that “acceptable” depends on who the enemy is. In 2001, it was “Muslims.” “They” killed “us.” The Iraq invasion was “our” revenge. In 2020, it’s other Americans. “They” are trying to destroy “our” country. That “they” are dying is quite all right.
It isn’t just “they,” of course. The new coronavirus is moving rapidly into rural states, where the president’s support is strongest, and it’s set to decimate areas that are aging faster than the national average while having less access to hospitals, urgent care and emergency services. Reuters reported that new pandemic cases have jumped by 15 percent in Oklahoma, 14 percent in South Dakota, and 9 percent in Missouri in the last week. The head of the White House coronavirus task force told CNN Sunday the pandemic is “extraordinarily widespread” in red states. Dr. Deborah Birx said: “To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus.”
I’m guessing Birx was pushing back against the mistaken notion that the pandemic is a city thing, not a country thing. But even if Republicans living in rural areas finally figure out that they’re just as susceptible to disease and death as Black and brown people are, they’ll still insist that Donald Trump is doing a fine job, and that even if a few of their kin are killed off, it won’t be the president’s fault. What this tells you is that partisanship trumps patriotism. What this tells you moreover is never ever—ever—underestimate the power of masochism. Four and a half thousand soldiers died seeking vengeance against make-believe “Islamofascists.” That was the right thing to do. Dying to stop make-believe “Antifa” from destroying America is just as right.
I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to anticipate a majority of Republican voters, perhaps 57 percent, flipping their view by the time of Joe Biden’s inauguration (if he wins, which is still a big if). They will accuse Biden before he even takes office of failing to contain the pandemic. They will say one death is too many. Remember that most Republicans said the economy was terrible while Barack Obama was in power. A majority of Republicans changed their minds before Trump’s swearing in. The economy had not changed in a month. What changed was who was in charge.
And they will do this even as they mount resistance to the new president’s order to mandate wearing face masks in public (Biden has promised to do this if that’s what public health scientists recommend). They will defy the order in the name of “individual liberty” and rebellion against “the tyranny” of “big government.” And they will defy the order even if doing so kills them, adding to a death toll that Republican voters themselves say is evidence of the new Democratic president destroying America. Remember that red states could have expanded Medicaid, as provision of the Affordable Care Act, and they could have done so in accordance with an old Republican plan for universal health care (Obamacare was hatched by conservative intellectuals in the 1980s). But most didn’t because it was the enemy’s idea. Yes, many Republicans died sooner than they might have, but so what? Better dead than tread.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.