People Only Care About COVID When The Government Pays Us To Stay Home
I panic early. I figure, better to get it out of the way, consider all the worst case scenarios, horde, stock up, shelter in place, and pray the storm clears quickly.
Our philosophy was, hope for the best, plan for the worst.
I was the first weirdo wearing a mask in Costco, in February 2020, because my wife hangs in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s risk expert circle on Twitter, and they were sounding the COVID alarm early.
It was embarrassing, actually. The masks. The gloves. The pallets of essentials. The old ladies with a single half-gallon of almond milk and a two-gallon bottle of French vodka looking at us like doomsday preppers.
But then the virus started to spread and the rest of the country started panicking too. My wife started mailing rolls of toilet paper and bottles of vitamins to members of the family like a merciful queen throwing bread loaves to peasants.
Then came the COVID stimulus checks. “Trump bucks,” they called it. Even Republicans were on board. It was only fair .Sending people money to not go to work doesn’t align well within the capitalistic meritocracy, but when the government is the cause of mass unemployment, it’s the government’s job to fix it.
Which they did, for about a month’s worth of living expenses. Our DC leaders sent taxpayers (and non-taxpayers) $1,200 per individual, plus $500 for each dependent. That started in April 2020.
Here we are more than six months later and Congress is still negotiating a second COVID relief package to bail out states, businesses, and individuals hit by the virus.
In the mean time, the fear has worn off, and you have to wonder if that’s not by design.
Conservatives were first to oppose the mandated shutdowns, on the basis that free citizens should not be prevented from working, shopping, living. The frustration over churches being closed and big box stores receiving leniency over small stores and restaurants made the frustrations less partisan.
When governors started mandating masks and shutting down “non-essential” purchases like garden soil and seeds, tensions grew. When mobs of protesters and rioters started burning down cities, suddenly Coronavirus was as politically divisive as gun control.
The Role of Ideology
The growing disdain for shutdowns isn’t solely based on political maneuvers, but it’s influenced by Congressional inaction on the COVID relief checks.
It’s hard to stay shut in when you don’t have any money to order out, order Amazon, or turn on Netflix.
In Washington, DC, and households across the country, Republicans and Democrats are on opposite sides of the issue, ever-more fervent, and increasingly intolerant of those on the other side.
Republicans want schools and businesses open for business. Democrats want stricter measures to stop the spread of the infection once and for all. Neither seems to be getting exactly what they want, and everyone seems peeved.
The polarity is in part ideological. Democrats believe government has a role to play in taking care of the people. Republicans believe government has a role to play in getting out of people’s lives so they can take care of themselves.
The Role of Party Politics
As for why a second stimulus bill hasn’t passed already: the reason is politics. In particular, the politics of election season.
Republicans control the Senate and the Executive branch of government, both of which are needed to pass legislation. And another stimulus doesn’t do Republicans any favors in the 2020 election — in the presidential race or the down-ticket congressional races.
Giving people money to not work goes against the party’s “rugged individualism” philosophy. It delays economic recovery because it stifles economic production. And it appeases Democrats, who see another cash bailout as a way of assuaging the younger and more racially diverse citizenry hardest hit by jobs that can’t be done from home.
A Battle of Moral High Ground
Republicans believe people are less likely to seek out work if they get another government check. Democrats believe another check is necessary to keep food on the table. One is long-term thinking, the other short-term.
But each side is claiming the moral high ground.
Democrats support stricter measures to combat the spread of COVID because it’s literally killing people (though at a rate of less than a tenth of one percent of those who contract it). Republicans oppose stricter measures because “the cure cannot be worse than the disease,” and shutting down businesses destroys people’s livelihood.
What They Agree On
The common ground is in the stand-off. While the majority of Americans are sick of the bitter partisan that has gridlocked Washington for years, politicians know that the truth: gridlock plays well in election years.
Everybody needs an enemy, and what better enemy than the other guy — the bad guy — who is solely responsible for stopping all the good things your guy — the good guy — wants to do.
For Republicans, it’s a reason why voters should turn out to deliver them a majority in the House of Representatives.
For Democrats, it’s a reason why voters should turn out to deliver them a majority in the Senate as well as the White House.
Joe Biden actually said as much in the last debate.
After berating Biden as a do-nothing career politician who talks a big game about all the things he plans on doing but has failed to deliver despite nearly five decades in power, President Donald Trump asked:
“You put tens of thousands of mostly black young men in prison, now you’re saying you’re going to get, you’re going to undo that. Why didn’t you get it done? You had eight years with Obama.
“You know why, Joe? Because you’re all talk and no action.”
Biden responded. “We had a Republican Congress.”
Those on the political right saw this as an admission of inaction, big talk, and broken promises. Those on the left saw it as the core reason why Democrats need to be given majority power in Congress: Republicans are obstructionists.
If you’ve ever wondered why Congress can’t seem to agree on anything, now you know.
In politics, not everything is planned, not everything is a conspiracy, but there’s no such thing as a coincidence. It pays political dividends to be stifled by the opposition.