In conversation with Ivanka Trump at the end of February, the president’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow told attendees of the largest conservative conference in the United States that the new coronavirus spreading around the world posed less of a threat to the U.S. economy than the policy prescriptions put forward by Democrats.
“The virus is not going to sink the American economy. What is or could sink the American economy is the socialism coming from our friends on the other side of the aisle,” Kudlow told attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the theme of which was “America vs. Socialism.”
Kudlow couldn’t have been more wrong. On Thursday, the United States posted the largest unemployment numbers the nation has ever seen: 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in the last week of March as the effects of business closures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus took hold. The stock market crashed. As of Monday, more than 9,400 people died in the U.S., and the number continues to grow.
Amid the crisis, right-wing groups and personalities have spread a host of messages, from claiming the coronavirus is the work of Satan to insisting that Trump—who had previously downplayed the virus’ threat and was slow to address it—has done a great job of handling the pandemic. And some are still focusing on that argument posed at CPAC, America vs. Socialism, and applying it to our current national crisis: It’s time to go back to work, and the socialist Democrats who say otherwise are trying to make you dependent on the government.
Amid a crashing stock market, Trump discussed the possibility of getting the country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” in spite of health experts’ warnings that doing so would have disastrous consequences. Trump has walked back that idea for now, but some right-wing groups are still urging Trump to sacrifice the American people for the economy–an argument that seems to ignore what mass numbers of sick and dying people would do to the economy.
“The mass shutdowns are an unprecedented experiment on Americans that is destroying our national fabric,” Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, a group that fashions itself a conservative watchdog but acts more as a communications shop for the right’s messaging, tweeted Friday. “The experiment must end. At this rate, we will have 30 million unemployed Americans by the end of the month. You can’t cure a pandemic by killing an economy.”
“I do object to our whole economy being shut down. Our economy is being killed as we speak,” Fitton said in another video posted March 25 that he retweeted multiple times last week. But even as Fitton appeared to applaud the governors of California and New York for taking the coronavirus seriously and encouraged some social distancing measures, he praised Trump, who often shares Fitton’s tweets, for his handling of the pandemic and urged him to consider sending people back to work. “This can’t go on forever, and by forever, I mean any day past today is too long in my book at this point. We’ve gotta get people back to work,” Fitton said.
On Friday, Fitton was back to blaming governors for “strangling our economy.”
Meanwhile, the conservative Phyllis Schlafly Eagles didn’t waste the opportunity to warn Americans about the perils of socialized medicine. In their column Tuesday, Dems Push Socialized Medicine to Exploit Crisis, John and Andy Schlafly, sons of the late Phyllis Schlafly, argue that Democratic governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer are trying to impose socialized medicine on Americans by restricting the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine. Many of the restrictions on the drug are meant to reserve its use for controlled studies to see whether it could be used to treat coronavirus patients and to prevent hoarding–not to mention ensure its safe use. (After Trump touted the unproven drug as a cure for COVID-19, people began searching for the drug, and one man who consumed a fish tank cleaner with the same active ingredient died.)
Right-wing groups appear worried about what large-scale government intervention during such dire economic times means for our nation. The federal government has stepped up, offering a much needed economic stopgap to Americans: a $2 trillion emergency aid package that includes checks to Americans and what essentially amounts to grants to small businesses.
To religious-right groups like Intercessors For America, such legislation smacks of socialism. “Our prayer is that people are wise to the danger and harm of communism, fascism, and socialism. May no legislation embrace or placate these philosophies,” an IFA prayer guide reads. “Pray for Christians who are caught up in socialist thinking with social justice.”
On Friday, Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point USA, fretted, “we are now setting the precedent of the government on a massive scale sending direct checks to people because of a time of crisis.” As Right Wing Watch reported, Kirk noted that such a relief package could show that programs like Medicare for All aren’t impossible–and perhaps even affordable. Kirk appeared to suggest that it was time for the U.S. to go back to work, noting to his co-host, “Here’s the long and short of it is that middle America, real small business relief, the best stimulus they could have, Michael, is the green light to go back to work.”
On his show Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh highlighted this aspect of fear among conservatives of a continued economic shutdown.
“We cannot be in the midst of this economy being shut down with no end in sight,” Limbaugh said. “The media and the Democrats are doing everything they can to reorient people’s thinking once again to thinking government’s the source of wealth, government’s the source of fairness, government’s the source of freedom, government’s the source of rights. None of that is true. That’s why the longer this goes on, the more worried I get about it.”