Sunday, April 26, 2020

What Would Jesus Do?

vice |  Earlier this week, someone showed up at a protest in Nashville, Tennessee with a sign reading "Sacrifice the weak." Real Housewives of Orange County star Kelly Dodd offered a similar message when she called the novel coronavirus "God's way of thinning the herd." Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has said, "There are more important things than living." President Donald Trump goes on television every night to say effectively the same thing. What was different about the person who made the sign was that they were an ordinary person, not a politician or celebrity or pundit. That was the point.

The protest was fake in the way all the recent protests against social-distancing policies and the closure of the U.S. economy have been: Organized and supported by right-wing activists and politicians, and presenting the iconography of a populist uprising while expressing a position unpopular even within the Republican Party, these sham protests' purpose is to draw attention to their own existence. They're a function of an attention economy in which the willingness to say the most outrageous thing you can think of is a kind of power that can be effortlessly weaponized.

The protest was also real, though: An ordinary person actually did make the sign and carry it out into the world, achieving their ends, and those of others. The purpose of calling for the weak to be sacrificed is to let people know that you've done so; the purpose of ginning up a protest at which someone will do so is to amass power. The only question is the use to which that power will be put. We already know the answer: It will be used by those who want people to go back to work and make their employers richer even if it kills tens of thousands or more, because they would rather have that happen than adopt the social welfare policies of a civilized nation.

In Philadelphia, where I live and which has been, in comparison to other places in the Northeast, mercifully lightly hit by the pandemic, dead bodies were recently seen being delivered to the medical examiner's office in a pickup truck. Across the United States, around 2,000 people are dying of COVID-19 every day, and that's with much of the country having been locked down for multiple incubation cycles; the numbers don't even make headlines anymore. Due to the exhaustively reported-on failures of the federal government to do anything useful as public health authorities warned of what was coming or to use the time during which Americans have been in quarantine to do so, there's no obvious way out of the current situation. With social and economic life frozen—tens of millions can't work because the government has banned it while offering them next to nothing in support—thousands die every day. If the unsustainable status quo is changed, it seems likely even more will.