Back in April, Trump started his Open Our Country campaign. At the time, a handful of states were getting hit with COVID-19, most of them run by Democrats who, in March, had issued shelter-in-place orders, along with guidances on social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing. Non-essential businesses were shut down to get the virus under control and arrest its spread. California was able to level out cases to a minimum (flatting the curve), as was Washington, Oregon, and a few other states. New York, which had a massive outbreak, was just able to keep things under control enough to give health care workers time to beat back the virus.
Meanwhile, many Republican-run states, especially in the Midwest and South, took a lax approach to the virus. At the time states like Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Arizona were not hit like the major coastal cities. That was great, but rather than seeing the situation as an opportunity to fortress their states and make sure the virus died in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area before it crept their way, red state governors acted as if God spared them the virus as a reward for their political orientation. Governors such as Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson smugly told reporters that his state’s “open for business” approach to the virus was all Arkansas needed. Alabama Governor Kate Ivey dismissed virus preparation with the words, “Alabama is not New York City,” something obvious to anyone who has visited both places, anyone except a virus.
Trump and his allies pointed to low infection rates in the South and Midwest as justification for the country “reopening” for business. Sweden, who was experimenting with a hands-off approach, was held up as an example of what we should do (Sweden’s strategy ultimately failed to control the virus’s spread). Trump started grumbling about state restrictions, which he framed as a personal attack on him and a Democratic attempt to use a “hoax” to tank Wall Street to deny him reelection. Republican operatives took their boss’s disgruntlement and started to cede a phony movement to Open Our Country.
Starting in mid-April, far-right wingers, anti-vaccination activists and MAGAists mobbed state capitols, demanding that they be allowed to visit their hair stylists and hang out in bars. They claimed that they were being denied their constitutional rights, rights that appeared nowhere in the Constitution. In Michigan, militia members charged the state capitol building with guns. In California, Sacramento was besieged by anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists claiming that 5G was creating the virus or 5G was mimicking the virus or some other 5G variation that had Bill Gates inventing the coronavirus hoax to get us to take a vaccine that has microchips in it that would enable Gates and the Deep State to track and mind control us into same-sex make-out sessions. In other words, Trump and his operatives weaponized an insane cult of violent, delusional people to advance his political agenda. (Subsequent research shows that bots were responsible for at least 50% of Open Our Country social media activity.)
In California, three counties rebelled against the state’s shelter-in-place order and other restrictions. One state had no cases of the virus. Two counties – both Republican-controlled – “weren’t gonna be told what to do.” Tech pest Elon Musk ordered Tesla workers to fire up his Fremont plant. Alameda County’s essential business restrictions be damned, Musk was going back to work or, at least, his workers were. Fremont had little control over Musk, so they turned to the county and state, who got Musk to sign a weak operating agreement. Alameda folded, Musk revved up production, and, on May 4, California announced that shelter-in-place restrictions would start to be lifted under a “phased reopening.”
Southern and Midwestern states, who had just started to see increases in cases, put in place some very minor restrictions – beach closures, mask advisories, closing of bars and night clubs – however, when California folded, the red states rolled back their mitigation efforts. By the end of the month, especially over the Memorial Day weekend, bars, beaches, nightclubs, and pool parties were packed. No social distancing, no masks, plenty of virus. Come mid-June, cases in red states started to spike. Florida, under the “leadership” of an inept, arrogant, corrupt Republican, was hit hard. So was Texas…and Alabama…and Mississippi…and Oklahoma…and Arizona…and…
On July 11, Florida’s Disneyworld reopened with minor restrictions. Also, on Saturday, Florida reported a record 15,000 new virus cases. In Texas, hospitals are full and the health care system is starting to crumble. The same thing is happening in Alabama and Mississippi. Blue California is being hit especially hard in the southland, where COVID-denialists crowded beaches, and in rural, Republican dominated counties. The curve is no longer flat in the Golden State. Thousands of people are dying.
None of what happened is a surprise. Health care experts and various virus models warned that we’d see spikes if the country rushed to reopen. Dr. Anthony Fauci was so adamant about the risks of reopening that Trump silenced him. We no longer saw Fauci on TV. The Coronavirus Task Force went dark. But still word got out, and, outside of Fox News, the media amplified the warnings. Problem was, Trump and Republican leaders weren’t listening.
The demand to Open Our Country was a false choice. We were told that we could keep the country “closed” and see a wrecked economy or open it and see the country thrive. Yeah, perhaps virus cases would rise but only a bit and it wouldn’t be bad and “there are more important things than living and that’s saving this country” (Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick). Unspoken was the desire of parasites like Elon Musk and various shareholders to see the money start flowing. Also unspoken was the immense pressure state budgets were under thanks to depressed tax revenue and increased demand on their unemployment systems.
While Congress passed a decent COVID stimulus package, the Trump administration’s corruption made hash of it, acing out many small businesses that desperately needed it, resulting in the permanent shuttering of tens of thousands of businesses. Many people who applied for unemployment were either denied it or prevented from getting it simply because state systems were overwhelmed by demand. Cities and states issued patchwork protections for renters and homeowners who were hurting for funds.
Since the initial rush to aid people and businesses, state-initiated and Congressional help has stalled. States have run out of money. Congress can’t agree to pony up. Be clear that this is not a “both sides” think. Democrats in the House have passed more stimulus packages and are ready to extend programs (including unemployment benefits) past July 31, when everything except the virus disappears. Democrats have also insisted on strong oversight and restrictions on who gets bailout money – conditions opposed by Mitch McConnell, Trump, and other Republicans.
Democrats continue to push for measures to address what is happening in the real world, i.e. a pandemic going out of control. Republicans look at the SNAFU and respond with “Time to Open Our Schools!” As with Open Our Country, Republicans are offering us a false choice, a world in which kids stay home, dumb, bored, and inclined toward criminality vs. kids back in school with no restrictions or guidelines because, well, we need to get this country “back to normal.” It is tempting to write off the Republicans’ framing as delusional, something akin to anti-mask hysteria, however, as with Open Our Country, the GOP has a plan.
This from Heather Richardson Cox:
…DeVos said something interesting: “Look, American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise,” she said.
This is the best explanation I’ve seen for why the administration is so keen on opening up the schools. DeVos is not an educator or trained in education or school administration. She is a billionaire Republican donor and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. She is a staunch proponent of privatizing the public school system, replacing our public schools with charter schools, as her wealthy family managed to do with great success in Michigan, which has been flooded with low-performing charter schools, which have very little oversight.
It seems she is hoping to use the coronavirus pandemic to privatize education across the nation.
Cox nails it, except for one thing: “She” isn’t “hoping to use… the pandemic to privatize education…” They are. Sans DeVos, Trump would have another for-profit school advocate in charge of education, and that person might be a bit more politically adept than DeVos. And sans Trump, any other Republican president would be doing the exact same thing.
Our present condition is not much different than where we were in April when Trump jumped up Open Our Country. We are being told that our choice is limited to two options: Keep schools closed vs. fullly opening schools. Once again, Republicans tell us that Europe is opening schools, ignoring that Europe put in and abided by severe restrictions that helped them control the virus. If the administration can’t sway us with lies, they issue empty threats (such as cutting off federal funding to schools). Next up: Another phony Open movement.
And, there is another thing happening that stinks like April: Trump’s Open Our Schools campaign is being met with a lot of angry words but no action. When right-wing protesters hit state capitols demanding shelter-in-place orders be lifted, we sat home and raged on social media. That is understandable: Part of shelter-in-place is sheltering in place. Marching to keep shelter-in-place seems oxymoronic. We were in a fix.
But things have changed since April. We now know for sure that the Open Our Country campaign was manufactured. Before April, we assumed that opening our country would be a disaster; now we know that it is a disaster. We know that mask wearing is key to controlling the virus. The George Floyd protests have taught us that we can protest responsibly and that sustained protests have an impact. We cannot act as we did in April.
We cannot restrict our dissent to social media like we did with Open Our Country. If we do not want schools to open without a unified plan or mitigation measures in place, we must be loud and aggressive in our demands. We must emulate Black Lives Matter in by protesting while educating. We must stop acting as if COVID is an abstraction. Just as police violence and systemic racism is a life-and-death issue, so is COVID, especially for people of color and the poor.
In May, Trump forced the country open, the proper response should have been staging a general strike. Instead, we shrugged – “Oh well, I guess we have to go back to work now…”. We can’t wait for Trump and the GOP to force schools open. We must march on the Department of Education. We must rally in front of school district offices and schools with signs saying “Save Our Kids!” and “No School Opening Until Its Safe.” If they open the schools, we must close them. We must treat this like the life-and-death issue that it is, not some minor inconvenience that will be fixed when President Biden comes to the rescue. We cannot outsource this issue or downplay it, because the Republican end game is not getting kids back in school or even privatizing education, but cementing a social order where property trumps people, personal profit is more important than anything else, and wealth determines everything.