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Republicans can’t believe elite immunity isn’t comprehensive


You thought God was Bill Barr, now you know:

These people aren’t stupid. Not all of them, anyway. The white men in dark jackets and well-coiffed ladies in prim dresses you’ve seen hugging in the White House Rose Garden — or hobnobbing maskless inside the Diplomatic Room — are the American right’s best and brightest. Amy Coney Barrett graduated magna cum laude from Rhodes College. Josh Hawley is a product of Stanford and Yale Law. Few gatherings in the United States this year will boast more prestigious collective credentials than those of the Barrett nomination party. And none will be composed of people who are in a better position to know the very latest information about the novel coronavirus (multiple attendees had high-level security clearances and thus, full access to one of the greatest information-gathering apparatuses in human history). These folks are not ignorant of the germ theory of disease.

And they had no excuse to be ignorant of the fact that the very best rapid COVID-19 tests have an error rate of roughly 10 percent.


I can’t look inside Mike Lee’s mind and wouldn’t have the stomach to peer into Bill Barr’s even if I could. But I have a theory (one that I first saw articulated by the policy researcher Will Stancil): Elite Republicans have trouble accepting that they cannot purchase a reprieve from this pandemic — in part because a foundational premise of the elite Republican worldview is that the wealthy can always buy immunity from whatever befalls the herd.

This notion isn’t necessarily conscious. Foundational ideas rarely are (it’s probably been a while since you subjected the premise, “the grass is green” to conscious scrutiny). But the conservative movement’s theory of government is not compatible with the concept of human interdependence. Although the movement is eager to circumscribe sexual freedom in the name of the collective good, it demands that (moneyed) individuals enjoy a nigh-absolute degree of liberty in the economic realm. And justifying that laissez-faire philosophy requires ignoring the myriad ways that individual assertions of economic liberty can impinge on the freedom of collectives. For example, it is hard to deride restrictions on the freedom of coal plants to spew sulfur dioxide unless one ignores that such plants share a sky with the communities in their vicinity. Otherwise, one would need to explain why a coal magnate’s right to maximize profits takes precedence over the right of children in Thompsons, Texas, to breathe air that won’t shave years off their life expectancy.

For rank-and-file conservatives, this learned blindness to interdependence is often costly. Their hostility to social insurance has helped to birth a health-care crisis in the U.S., with rentier interests pushing prices ever-higher while millions go without coverage. Many middle-class conservatives will eventually discover that their exemption from this crisis was provisional; that their employment prospects can wither overnight; and that no amount of hard work or individual responsibility will guarantee them a job or the ability to secure chemotherapy without going bankrupt. Similarly, conservatives’ refusal to grapple with the socioeconomic context of drug crime in Black urban communities — and their attendant enthusiasm for combating that problem with incarceration — eventually got many a white, rural conservative’s child locked up for seeking a chemical answer to problems wrought by capital’s abandonment of their communities.

Elite Republicans, by contrast, are typically correct to believe that they are insulated from the collective costs of plutocratic capitalism. Mitch McConnell will not die for want of health insurance. Rush Limbaugh’s drug arrest cost him $30,000 but zero years in prison. Most of these well-heeled senior citizens will succeed in keeping the consequences of climate change quarantined inside their television screens until they pass from this mortal coil.

But even the rich can’t buy themselves entry to an America where COVID-19 does not exist.

Well, at least the people who survive will be able to have the pleasure of Amy Covid Barrett providing the 5th vote to deny many of their constituents access to the healthcare they enjoy, so that’s something I guess.

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