Take me back to yesterday

Published July 16, 2020

By Thomas Mills

Last week, Thom Tillis told the Republican state convention, “The stakes are very high this election, but you know why I know we’re going to win? Because people remember how good their lives were back in February.” Tillis unwittingly laid bare the problem Republicans have in dealing with the current political environment. They have no plan to deal with the crisis so they’re hoping people’s political views are stuck pre-pandemic.  Unfortunately, voters tend to have short attention spans and live more in the moment, and the moment is not good.

Since the days of Reagan, the GOP has been telling us that government can’t do anything right and they’ve used that philosophy to gut programs and agencies that would be useful during a national crisis like the one we have today. They said that states, not the federal government, were better equipped to deal with almost any problem besides national defense. They used the mantra of “personal responsibility” to shame people  on public assistance and cut welfare programs. And they used their propaganda channels like talk radio and Fox News to destroy the credibility of the government and news outlets with their base, so Republicans’ most loyal supporters don’t trust organizations like CDC or messengers like ABC, NBC or CBS.

Their approach to this crisis is the same as it’s been to others. When we need a strong federal response, Republicans resist. Members of Congress like Richard Hudson and Mark Meadows voted against hurricane relief for Sandy and Irma, believing that states should deal with catastrophes without help from Washington, despite the devastating nature of the storms. When it became clear that we would have no federal response to the pandemic, Trump and his GOP allies used the federalism argument, claiming that states were better equipped to handle the crisis than Washington.

 In North Carolina, Republicans criticize every move Governor Roy Cooper makes, demanding that the state re-open fully without offering a plan to do so. They aren’t leading or governing; they’re whining. The argument reminds me of their criticism of Obamacare. They told us that they would “repeal and replace” (seems so long ago!) the Affordable Care Act when they got control, but once they won both the White House and Congress, they showed us they didn’t have any plan at all. Today, they want to protect the free market but don’t have a plan to protect people.

They are disdainful of any efforts to slow the spread of the virus. They mocked Cooper’s mask mandate, showing up in the legislature proudly shunning masks. They claim that we should rely on personal responsibility instead of government dictates. And yet, they’ve proven to be an utterly irresponsible party, refusing to partake in measures that would protect the health of their fellow citizens. They would do well to set examples if they are really serious about either protecting people or containing the virus.

 While the information about the virus is changing as we learn more about it, conservative outlets and politicians are portraying the new information as disinformation. The virus is called novel for a reason: we’ve never seen it before and don’t know how it behaves. Instead of helping the public understand the changing nature of the information, they are discrediting messengers in the press and public health community. Their false narratives lead to risky behavior and community spread.

What Thom Tillis told us about Republicans is that they want the country to pretend like the virus never happened. They hope voters remember that the economy was chugging along until February and hope that they will forget that Trump and the GOP utterly botched the response to a global pandemic. In an effort to return to that period of calm, they want to take us back to the era of no masks, no quarantine, no social distancing. In essence, they want us to forget that a deadly virus is running through the country and pretend like it’s not there. They are utterly unprepared to lead.