Ruth Conniff
Op Ed

Republicans Test Ugly Campaign Theme

Message for 2020: ’Some of you will have to die’.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - May 11th, 2020 11:38 am
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Robin Vos decked out in Personal Protective Equipment.

Robin Vos decked out in Personal Protective Equipment.

Republicans appear to be going all-in on the idea that some of us will have to suck it up and die in order to get the economy restarted.

Can they win in 2020 with this message? Party leaders at both the state and national level seem to think so.

President Donald Trump made his pitch for reopening the country, even if it leads to more infections and deaths, during a visit to a mask factory in Phoenix last Tuesday,

“Will some people be affected? Yes,” Trump said. “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos promoted a similar message of comfort during a Wisconsin Health News webinar last Wednesday:

“We certainly want to minimize the number of people who die,” Vos said. “But whenever we reopen the state, it is not going to be possible for us to prevent all deaths. That’s not possible.”

The United States now has the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression. But instead of expanding jobless benefits and emergency aid, Republicans are ginning up the idea that somehow we can’t wait for a more considered, public-health-minded approach before we start reopening business.

Part of the reason Republicans seem OK with killing people in order to get businesses running again might be statistics showing that the people who most likely to die are disproportionately black and brown — i.e. not Republican voters.

Racism and regional reopening

Wisconsin’s GOP legislative majority is pushing to reopen the state on a “regional” basis, on the theory that we could shut down denser (and more diverse), urban areas like Milwaukee, while white, rural and suburban communities can go back to business and stay safe.

“If you look at the data, we don’t have the issues that we have in some other areas of the state here in western Wisconsin,” said Rep. Treig Pronschinske (R-Mondovi) at a press conference supporting regional reopening in Chippewa Falls. “I believe that’s because we’re responsible and we want to move forward and we’re safe.”

There is an unpleasant racial undertone to this sort of talk. For a variety of reasons, the victims of COVID-19 have been disproportionately black and brown.

In Milwaukee County, African Americans, who make up 26% of the population, accounted for 69% of all COVID-19-related deaths by April 8, and had twice as many positive tests for COVID-19 compared to whites, according to health department statistics highlighted in a brief by community groups and labor organizations supporting Safer at Home.  Latinos in Milwaukee County accounted for nearly 25% of all positive COVID-19 cases by April 26, despite constituting only 15% of the total population.

The brief implores the state Supreme Court to consider the welfare of “scores of thousands of Wisconsinites employed in essential jobs, roughly one-third of the state workforce,” whose wellbeing, it says, the Legislature ignores when it demands a quick reopening.

But reopen proponents are increasingly using the same statistics to support a more callous, us-versus-them attitude toward a disease that is hitting people of color the hardest (because they are more likely to live close together in urban areas, be frontline workers who are more frequently exposed to the public, and have underlying health conditions that put them at risk). This attitude came to the surface when Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said of the spike in infections in Brown County “that was the meatpacking, though . . . it wasn’t the regular folks of Brown County.”

The ‘regular folks’ delusion

In addition to being heartless, this kind of thinking is downright delusional. “Regular folks” — including rural white people — are just as likely to get COVID-19 as anyone else.

Gov. Tony Evers pointed this out on Friday, in answer to a question from the Examiner about legislative Republicans’ push for regional reopening.

“Number one, the virus doesn’t really know regions, it just goes where it goes,” Evers said.

There’s no telling if an area that appears to have a low infection rate one day will still have a low infection rate the next day.

“Second of all,”  Evers added, “our rural areas of state … don’t have the same kind of public health support that other areas do.”

And finally, he said, “many of the businesses in rural areas depend on tourism … they rely on other people from outside that region coming to that region.”

“The virus isn’t particularly attuned to infecting somebody locally versus somebody that’s there [visiting]” Evers added dryly.

Political suicide

Nonetheless, as a matter of politics, the GOP is doubling down on the idea white people should circle the wagons and reopen white communities, while subjecting urban communities to quarantine.

Apart from the folly of this approach from a public health perspective — because no wagon circle is going to keep out a virus — it may also turn out to be political suicide. Most people are not buying the idea that we need to toss aside statewide stay-at-home orders in order to fight “tyranny.”

While Republicans are barnstorming the state to demand reopening small towns and rural areas, and President Trump is tweeting his support for protesters demanding “freedom” from stay-at-home orders, according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, citizens trust their governors significantly more than Trump to keep them safe from COVID-19. In Wisconsin, Evers beats Trump on this score by a margin of 54% to 39%.

Reopen protesters who are storming state capitols carrying semi-automatic weapons and railing against “tyranny” do not represent a majority of voters.

The language of these protests comes directly out of the white supremacist conspiracy theories that inspired militia members in the 1990s, including domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Far-right extremists with ties to neo-Nazis and the militia movement turn out to be behind one of the most prominent reopen groups, which has helped organize rallies all over the country, including in Wisconsin, according to a recent investigation by the Guardian.

Sadly, Trump has helped bring such rightwing groups, and their toxic master-race ideology, into the mainstream.

Stephen Miller has deployed his hateful anti-immigrant views to shape U.S. immigration policy as a key Trump advisor,  and used the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on immigrants, whom he had already claimed were bringing disease across the border. (Miller’s wife, who is Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, recently tested positive for COVID-19, proving that the virus does not discriminate based on race or immigration status.)

Here in Wisconsin, it was shocking to hear state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley invoke far-right conspiracy language about “tyranny” to describe Safer at Home, suggesting that the Evers administration might start rounding people up and putting them in social-distancing internment camps.

The Trump era has brought out the ugly and the crazy in American politics. Not all conservatives embrace this sort of thinking, of course. But the whole Republican Party is being dragged along by it.

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: Republicans Test Ugly Campaign Theme”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    Possibly one of the worst articles i have ever read. Simply a bizzare rant that paints half of our state as racist? Does this reader honestly believe anything she wrote? If so then this is a very sad and narrow minded view of the world.

  2. Edward Susterich says:

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    Is the statement from Roggensack “racist” or “xenophobic”, or is it “…a bizzare rant that paints half our state as racist?”?

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