State officials, like Gov. Tim Walz, are coming under pressure from well-funded political operatives, posing as a grassroots uprising, to halt efforts to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The …
State officials, like Gov. Tim Walz, are coming under pressure from well-funded political operatives, posing as a grassroots uprising, to halt efforts to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The push, which is coming from far-right elements within the Republican Party, is designed to organize and incite anger against public health officials and Democratic governors who have taken effective action to slow the spread of this highly contagious disease.
It has the hallmarks of what is likely to be the central thrust of the Republicans’ campaign this fall: that Democrats are tyrants for telling people to stay at home or use social distancing or face coverings to protect the public health.
Organizers of a protest held in the state of Virginia last week made it explicit in a statement that read: “Government mandating sick people to stay home is called quarantine. However, the government mandating healthy citizens to stay home, forcing businesses and churches to close, is called tyranny.”
Such claims, of course, are nonsense. The biggest impediment to reopening the economy is that we currently lack sufficient testing capacity to determine which citizens are, in fact, healthy and which are not. We know that infected individuals can go for weeks without symptoms, spreading the virus everywhere they go. We also know what happens when we fail to take sensible steps to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In South Dakota, for example, where far-right Gov. Kristi Noem has refused to enact a stay-at-home order or take other sensible measures, the rate of infection has skyrocketed in recent weeks. South Dakota now has five times the rate of infection as Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Walz has taken appropriate steps to keep the rate of infection under control.
Yet the public health implications don’t appear to concern those paying for or encouraging the growing number of protests. Unfortunately, that now includes President Trump, who is clearly searching for a new campaign theme heading into the fall. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Trump planned to run on the strength of the U.S. economy and the fear of Democratic socialists. But with the economy in the greatest freefall in modern history, and with Republicans leading the most dramatic deployment of big government socialism in American history, those campaign themes are no longer operative, even with Trump’s true believers.
So, it appears the GOP is set to wage war against the public health, with gun-toting protesters blocking streets and filling capitol corridors, like a Tea Party revival. The Trump campaign knows an organizing opportunity when they see one, so it was no surprise to learn last week that the largest of the recent protests, held in Lansing, Mich., was funded by the family of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s controversial education secretary.
Here in Minnesota, former rightwing radio talk show host Jason Lewis, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, is sounding the same themes as he barnstorms around the state fomenting opposition to the current public health measures. The public should not confuse any of this for a spontaneous eruption of grassroots anger. It’s 95-percent political theater, organized and paid for by big money interests who gain advantage whenever the GOP is in power in Washington.
There is no question that the current public health measures are an inconvenience and have impacted the economy. We’ve certainly felt the effects here at the Timberjay, like most other businesses in our region. But Minnesota has managed to avoid the crisis situations seen in places like New York City or Louisiana, where failure to control the outbreak early led to huge numbers of infections and a medical system that has been completely overwhelmed.
It’s a balancing act. And, fortunately, the vast majority of Americans understand the importance of the steps that most states are enacting, according to recent polling. We all want to see America re-opened, but it matters how that happens. For now, leaders like Gov. Tim Walz, need to continue to follow the advice of the public health experts who have kept the outbreak largely under control here in Minnesota. We can’t let crass political posturing take the place of sound public health policy.