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Opinion: There’s no political center between AOC’s progressivism and letting Grandma die of coronavirus

Sen. Mitch McConnell is shown speaking in Washington in 2019.
When House Democrats passed a $3.4-trillion coronavirus relief plan in May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sat on his hands, and hasn’t gotten up.
(Associated Press)

On March 23, with COVID-19 still in the infancy of its deadly rampage throughout the United States, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, took to Fox News to urge dire action to contain a growing catastrophe.

Action to combat coronavirus? Absolutely not. It was the tanking stock market that was in need of an immediate lifeline. Preventive lockdowns to get a handle on the virus were unnecessary. And if the elderly had to die to improve the country’s economic fortunes, so be it.

“As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?” Patrick asked, then answered: “If that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Patrick was rightly eviscerated online. But it soon became clear, at least in the minds of establishment Republicans, the only thing Patrick was guilty of, like President Trump, was saying the quiet part out loud. The GOP had every intention of following his policy prescriptions. The American economy would open, whether it was safe to or not. COVID testing and contact tracing would go underfunded. And states that refused to kick their economies back into gear would receive no federal assistance, gutting their coffers and forcing them to open.

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America’s separate information universes will make it hard to end the “grim era of demonization.”

When House Democrats passed a $3.4-trillion coronavirus relief plan back in May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sat on his hands, and hasn’t gotten up.

We know exactly how that turned out. The stock market has almost completely recovered, but America has not. Nearly a quarter of a million of us are dead from the virus. We currently have the highest rate of daily infections we’ve seen at any time during this pandemic. And Black and brown working families and the elderly are the ones disproportionately dying from the disease. Without a comprehensive public health strategy, many more will die while we wait the years it will take for widespread distribution of a vaccine. Meanwhile, unemployment has dropped from its peak in April, but it’s still twice as high as it was prior to the pandemic.

Furthermore, as horrific as the country’s botched response to COVID has been, we know from 2020’s summer of mega-fires and heat waves that an even more deadly reality awaits us if we fail to take appropriately drastic action on climate change. We also know that the GOP has no intention of trying to mitigate these inevitable disasters by addressing their root cause. And time is almost out to do something about it.

Which brings us to former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump, and the monumental task that awaits Biden when he takes office. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that the new president will decide whether the U.S. tries to save human civilization or keeps contributing to its demise. And yet Biden’s Democratic coalition couldn’t even make it to his victory speech without moderates and progressives sniping at one another over how to win the next election.

Centrist U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) insisted that progressive messaging nearly cost Democrats the election — and would certainly do so in future races if the party didn’t immediately pivot to center and build bridges with Republicans. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, countered that digital competency was the answer to the party’s political ills, not abandoning the demands of its multiracial base before Biden even takes office.

To be clear, Democrats should be worried about their political future. If the party fails to take both Senate seats in the Georgia runoff, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where McConnell stonewalls every effort to deal with the crises at hand. The goal would be to make voters so frustrated by the Democrats’ inability to get things done, they would give the GOP back the House in 2022 and the presidency in 2024.

I won’t pretend to have the roadmap to navigate this political minefield. But it does not bode well that Republicans haven’t even signed off on the idea that Trump lost the election (Mike Pompeo just said he was preparing the transition to a second Trump term), and establishment Democrats are already talking about how to appease them.

Americans are dying by the hundreds of thousands. The future habitability of the planet is at stake. There is no time left for politically calculated inaction.

You either fight to protect Americans from the spread of coronavirus, or you don’t. You either fight to prevent catastrophic global warming, or you don’t. Neither of those things are going to happen if Democrats appease the debased politics of the party with the “work will set you free” plan.

Millions of Trump supporters think global warming and coronavirus are hoaxes. They think wearing a mask to protect the lives of their fellow citizens is an assault on their liberty. According to at least one survey, nearly half of them think top Democrats are part of an international coterie of Satan-worshipping child sex traffickers. As many as 1 in 6 Trump supporters are full QAnon devotees, at least one of whom will soon be in the House Republican caucus.

If there’s a political center between AOC’s progressivism and this abject insanity, Democrats should run screaming from it.

Joe Biden rightly promised in his victory speech to be the president of all Americans. Of course Democrats need to work to make all lives, including those of Trump supporters, better. There are issues like ending the drug war that have support on both sides. But the party can’t triangulate its way out of mass death and destruction. If fighting like hell to save lives is a recipe for electoral defeat in 2024, so be it.


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