It's hard to say where we'll be as a country when the worst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic recedes and we're finally able to take an accurate accounting of just what sort of damage this has wrought. Likely there will thousands, if not millions, dead, and a seismic reordering of our current financial infrastructure — to say nothing of the fact that this health crisis has begun to force us to look at just how fundamentally flawed America's existing societal systems are in the first place.
But despite the severity of what we face now, and what lies ahead, there exists a persistent inclination among some Republican lawmakers to wholly undersell the entire situation.
Take, for instance, Wisconsin's Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who tried to find a silver lining to our current national crisis this week by telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "right now, all people are hearing about are the deaths. I’m sure the deaths are horrific, but the flip side of this is the vast majority of people who get coronavirus do survive."
I’m not denying what a nasty disease COVID-19 can be, and how it’s obviously devastating to somewhere between 1 and 3.4% of the population. But that means 97 to 99% will get through this and develop immunities and will be able to move beyond this. But we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about. We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu.
As a reminder, the novel form of the COVID-19 coronavirus is deadlier than the common flu by orders of magnitude, putting up to an estimated 1.7 million people at risk of dying from the disease. (And, in fact, America does plenty to try and mitigate the risks posed by highway driving. That's why we have speed limits.)
But Johnson isn't alone in his laissez-faire pandemic diagnosis. He's joined by Alaskan Republican Rep. Don Young, who once held a knife to former House Speaker John Boehner's throat during a debate about earmarks. Speaking to a group of senior citizens and Chamber of Commerce members in the Alaskan city of Palmer last week, Young insisted things weren't nearly as bad as they seem. "It’s deadly," he said, "but it’s not nearly as deadly as the other viruses we have, but we respond to, I call it, the hysteria concept."
Young continued: "This beer virus, I call it," apparently referring to the totally unrelated Corona beer. "They call it a coronavirus, I call it a beer virus. How do you like that? It attacks our senior citizens. Now, I’m one of you. I still say we have to, as a nation, as a state, to go forth with our everyday activities."
Suffice it to say, going forth "with our everyday activities" is quite literally the 100% exact opposite of what just about every medical professional on Earth is saying these days. Rounding out this alarming triune of GOP naysaying is none other than Louisiana's junior Republican senator, and master of the deeply cringeworthy bon mot, John Kennedy. The senator apparently has a problem with the fashion statement a protective mask makes:
Then again, as we learned this week, there are Republican lawmakers who have taken the coronavirus outbreak seriously from the start — they just saved their concerns for wealthy constituents, rather than the public at large.
Of course, Kennedy, Young, and Johnson are largely following in the footsteps of the Trump White House itself, which has bungled virtually every possible moment of this crisis. With messaging this volatile coming from the top, it stands to reason that the hope for clarity surrounding the coronavirus outbreak is a long one.