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What the Devil won't tell you

Future historians: The GOP did the coronavirus & Arizona helped

I’ve spent the last weekend trying to pound out the column that would once and for all settle the argument about how to put the brakes on COVID-19 and put to rest the idea that doing that is an affront to personal liberty.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law allowing businesses to opt out of requiring masks among their employees and customers. Therefore, the Republican Legislature and governor decided that the virus should be given every chance to survive if certain state residents want to give it a place to call home.

Tucson and Pima County had such rules on the books, see, and MAGAs bitched, moaned, complained and would have"sic semper tyrannus" but Latin is something cultural elites throw around.

There for a split-second I thought I had it: The right combination of words that would finally convince the MAGA movement (and the politicians who want its love) to do the right thing. It was right there in front of me … then I forgot.

I’ve admonished, I’ve tried to argue using facts and logic and I’ve even tried to be nice to show the supporters of Donald John Trump that nothing will fall off their body if they choose to give a damn about their neighbors.

Nothing works.

So I’m just going to go with a different approach and send up a flair to the future. Later historians will wonder how in the name of snake oil did the most advanced and richest nation on Earth struggle so badly with COVID 19. They may just have some future grad student sift through old Internet posts from the years 2020-2021 to find the answer.

Arizona is a fine example of how more than 500,000 Americans died of COVID in a single year because the American Republican Party insisted on it. This isn't a pandemic. This is a crime scene. We know who did it.

Seriously, I think it's time we think about this.

Pause and think

The time we are enduring is an astonishing moment in U.S. history. 

If this were a war, the U.S. military would be losing troops at a faster clip than any conflict ever fought. 

The former head of the Trump White House COVID-19 task force, Deborah Birx, recently said the first 100,000 were inevitable. The next 460,000 (and counting) could have been saved if Republicans would have just taken the virus the least bit seriously.

A half-million Americans are dead unnecessarily, and we kind of treat it like the Arizona Cardinals lost another football game. "Yeah, well, what are you going to do?"

This wasn't the Black Death that predated scientific understanding. This wasn't even the Spanish flu in a time before radio. It's the information age. The people are looking right at it, know what caused it and how to mitigate it.

For all the complaints about China, they at least have had to cover-up their crimes. Shame is a big part of Chinese culture. It plays zero role in MAGA posturing.

We now see how atrocities happen. So long as a political movement responds to neither shame nor scrutiny, eventually those who would scrutinize and shame just give up. They didn't have to ban the free press or arrest scientists. We've been allowed to talk, broadcast, livestream and preach. MAGAs just beat their chest and cheered on the virus.

Shouldn't there be inquiries and courts and everyone associated with the Great American Death before forever made to feel ... oh yeah, shame. Pffft.

What am I thinking?

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Ducey's reversal

In the future, historians may wish to discuss this in the grammatical constructs of the 2020s. "The virus 'was politicized.'" No it wasn't. One party politicized it. 

Here in Arizona, Ducey started out on the right track in April and May 2020. He shut down the state, basically, as did a bunch of other governors to stop the virus before it started.

Then President Donald Trump decided to fly to Arizona, boasting that the virus is over and it’s time to get back to work. He refused to wear a mask and questioned the efficacy of covering one's nose to halt a respiratory virus. Trump saw COVID as a threat to the economic “success story” he needed to win re-election.

So he treated the virus like no threat at all. His supporters followed their leader.

He promised to follow the science. Instead he followed the dogma.

By early summer, Republicans began treating masks as a sign of failing to respect the president. Not wearing a mask was the best way to show allegiance to Trump.

Ducey wasted no time backpedaling. He relented within a week of Trump’s visit and accelerated the state’s reopening plans.

Arizona’s COVID numbers exploded. It was among the global hotspots for the virus on a globe that includes Bangkok and Rio De Janeiro.

Don't call it freedom

They’ll claim it’s about personal liberty but it never has been. Do not look for any sort of intellectual through line of consistent public policy.

Here's a partial list of the personal liberties the early 20th century right wing has had no problem jack-booting with restrictions.

  • The right to choose your own marriage partner.
  • The right to live according to your own gender.
  • The right to criticize the Iraq War (free-speech zones, anyone?).
  • The right to public protest.
  • The right to not have the state kill you.
  • The right to practice birth control.
  • The right to terminate a pregnancy
  • The right to vote without an ID
  • The right to have votes counted as cast, rather than how the GOP wishes the vote adds up

In the case of personal drug use, they have no problem arresting people by the millions.

In the case of abortion, I don't have to grow the mask inside my body and then feed it for 18 years.

Don't bother, future historians, searching for the American Republican Party's long fight against companies instituting dress codes. You won't find it. The right has been absolutely silent on dress codes requiring women to wear high heels. I've worn jackets and ties and the mask. Both I take off as soon as I get home. Neither hurt.

Right during the pandemic in 2020, Trump attempted to ban all Americans from using TikTok and WeChat. These are two super-popular social media applications owned by the Chinese and therefore subject to meddling by the Chinese government, according to Trump.

Under Trump's executive order, which was blocked by the courts, we would have had no personal liberty to use an app we downloaded.

Chinese treachery required action. Except MAGAs like calling COVID-19 the "China Virus." And it’s deadly. They will not care about this defense of Chinese treachery.

Well, wait. They will do something about it. 

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Some of them will go find a spare Asian grandmother walking down the street and just start wailing on them. It doesn’t have to be an actual Chinese immigrant or even anyone of Chinese descent. A Korean will do.

The road to heartlessness

Here's what happened. 

Trump called the virus a "hoax" meant to derail his re-election, when it could have been a gift to his campaign if he'd just responded to it professionally.

But Trump, as with all dictators or dictators in the making, prefer that people only listen to him. He is the arbiter of what's true or not. Believing in COVID meant that people would listen to scientists who reached conclusions based on experiment and observation.

Experiment and observation tend to produce inconvenient facts.

Despots, dictators and the parties that love them insist on only acknowledging facts that confirm their glory and greatness. All the rest are lies told by liars whom at best need to be ignored or at worst face criminal sentence.

Coronavirus started off as inconvenient. Prescriptive measures against it became threats to liberty. Proof of the presence of liberty is in early 2021, the presence of liberty. 

The through line is simply heartless masculinity. They’re man enough to allow the innocent to die because only wusses are weak enough to care.

Liberty sells, but who's dyin'? ...

I'm not sure we can divorce who is getting the virus from the general lack of empathy on the right.

Pima County includes 71 zip codes and 30 percent of all coronavirus cases originate from just four of them. Any guess what distinguishes them from the others? 

They include people of color. Tucker Carlson might refer to them as the "Obedient, Third-World Replacement ZIP Codes." He's free to go tell them that in person.

Some 33,000 cases have been diagnosed on Tucson's South Side, from Drexel Heights across to South Tucson and down to the airport. In total, the county has recorded 114,000 cases.

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Our one saving grace may be they ain't that bright. Yes, I said. They are egg-salad dumb.

The Legislature, in its rush to pass the most recent law, wrote it to mean that no business can require any mask. It's a one-sentence law. 

Well, the federal government requires people who spray paint cars to wear masks. Cleaning crews working with dangerous solvents must wear masks. 

Not anymore, the Legislature says, so it must fix the state law before it goes into effect.

They never stopped to think that a one-sentence law making a categorical rule might lack the nuance required to be workable.

Also, the law won't take effect until 90 days after the Legislative session ends because they failed to include an emergency clause. It's possible the U.S. will have herd immunity by then.

But remember, the presence of COVID means the presence of freedom. So in poll after poll, Republicans are promising to refuse the vaccine and state legislatures are promising to block any effort to force them to get vaccinated.

I'm thinking the best way around this is to play their malevolence against them. Health workers should knock on MAGA doors and show them the syringe. Tell them "We thank you for your global citizenship in donating your dose to a Congolese teenager. And you even were kind enough to pay for it with your tax dollars."

They'll grab those needles and spike it in their hearts themselves.

The forbidden right

Historians should feel free to criticize Democrats. Their responses have been varied and some governors have proven incompetent. But at least they were on the right side. And a couple Republican governors have been great at managing the virus (Mike DeWine and Charlie Baker get shout outs in Ohio and Massachusetts).

So if you are out there, future grad students, don't get caught up in the Chinese hooliganism in the early days of the virus. The U.S. knew exactly how to deal with it.

The medical community has been talking about the vaccine in the terms of “a race” against the variants. The virus could change into something that vaccines will not affect. These variants could also spread faster and kill better.

So future historian, you will know how this turns out. I am curious about two things. Will Hollywood ever make movies that don't involve comic book characters and retreads? And, will 500,000 deaths considered a lot in the future? 

Most people in Arizona and America would rather not die of COVID-19. No major polling outfit has put a question like that to the people. But one can clearly assume.

That is not a liberty Republicans have been willing to allow them to practice.

It's up to history to hold them accountable. God knows nothing else has worked.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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The coronavirus is less a pandemic in Arizona than it is a crime scene. Maybe history will treat it that way.

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