On May 13, 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’s “safer at home” order. It was a narrow 4-3 decision that was instantly heralded as a triumph across the American right. After the ruling, even President Donald Trump tweeted his support: “The Great State of Wisconsin…was just given another win. Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”
All of this was not surprising, as the court is controlled by political conservatives – who are united behind Trump more than ever in their pursuit to “re-open” the country and end the various state-imposed lockdowns caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The right argues that if the lockdowns are allowed to continue and non-essential businesses, such as always-crowded restaurants and bars, remain closed, the nation’s economy will tank to the point of a recession, or perhaps even a depression. Many of the president’s allies, and Trump himself, even go as far to dismiss the lockdowns as a Democratic ploy to discredit his response to the crisis, weaken the economy and exaggerate the severity of COVID-19 to the public – right before the 2020 Presidential Election.
However, one thing was surprising about the Wisconsin ruling. The court’s two liberal justices predictably sided with the Governor’s order – but neither of them actually wrote the dissenting opinion to Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm. Its author instead was instead the third opposing justice, Brian Hagedorn – a conservative.
Now, less than two weeks after the controversial decision, Wisconsin is already seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Last week, the Badger State experienced their “highest single-day rise” in positive cases since the pandemic had begun – with a whopping 528. To put this in perspective, this figure was double the state’s new case total from the day before and triple from two days before. In Missouri, another state that has lifted its stay-at-home order, two hairstylists, who both worked while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, reportedly exposed over a hundred people to the deadly virus.
Trump and his supporters always claim that they would like to see the nation “re-open safely,” but as the growing sample size of re-opening areas has shown us, this phrase is effectively an oxymoron. By re-opening the nation early, we are clearly taking a giant gamble on the health and lives of its most vulnerable population. It’s impossible to trust all 328 million Americans to make the proper judgements to social distance and wear a mask in public, let alone to isolate themselves from others while they’re symptomatic – and although they might be afraid to admit it, most “re-openers” are fully aware of this fact. One cannot make a valid argument stating that re-opening does not cause a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths – all the evidence that we are seeing directly refutes this. Instead, the only debate here is what we should value more: the economy or peoples’ health.
This brings me to this post’s title, “The Conservative Case Against Re-Opening.” It boggles my mind how the re-opening versus staying at home debate has become essentially an extension of the “liberal” versus “conservative” debate that has divided our nation into two separate, hostile, antagonistic camps. The virus does not discriminate against who it infects – it is a common enemy to all humanity regardless of political persuasion or lack thereof. Therefore, the pandemic should be something that unites our fractured country, at least for the time being. Yet so far, it has only drove us further apart, and the politicization of the re-opening debate is the main reason why. Notice that I put “liberal” and “conservative” in quotation marks, as what it actually means to be a “liberal” and what it to be a “conservative” seems to change every week. In addition, each ideology set contains positions on the issues that outright contradict each other. In other words, if one was to deeply analyze the current platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties, both would seem to make zero logical sense.
Did I lose you? Let me explain. Right now, it is an undisputed fact that with regards to abortion, the Democratic Party-slash-modern “liberalism”-slash-“progressivism” is “pro-choice” and the Republican Party-slash-“conservatism” is “pro-life.” Both parties have reinforced a litmus test on the issue in the last few years, to the point where being pro-abortion is a prerequisite to being a Democrat and being opposed to abortion is required to be a Republican. In March, eight-term pro-life Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois, lost re-nomination to Marie Newman, a progressive challenger who had the support of major pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s list. In January, Donald Trump became the first sitting president to attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., where I was in attendance. The “pro-choice” argument has always been that a woman has a right to her own body, which includes being able to choose when she is pregnant. However, “pro-lifers” like myself counter by saying that the unborn child in her womb has the right to life, and the woman’s rights end where the child’s begins.
So why is it that almost all “pro-life” Republicans wholeheartedly support Trump’s early re-opening plan? The parties’ views on the COVID-19 lockdowns are somehow completely opposite from their respective stances on abortion. Conservatives protesting the stay-at-homer orders put into effect by the Democratic governors, hold that their individual rights are being violated. On the other hand, it is the anti-Trump liberals who point to the virus’s sharply rising death tolls to justify the harsh measures being taken to restrict social gatherings. Lockdown proponents, most of them on the political left, argue that peoples’ rights to go to work, a gym or a restaurant, end when the rights of America’s elderly and other vulnerable population to live begins. Therefore, when it comes to measures taken during the current pandemic, Republicans are pro-choice, and the Democrats are pro-life.
Why does this giant hypocrisy exist on both sides? Well, there is a 240-pound orange Republican elephant in the room: President Trump – no pun intended. Ever since he declared his presidential campaign atop an escalator five years ago, Trump has intended to completely disrupt the very fabric of American political society. At this he has not only succeeded, he has over-achieved. Prior to COVID-19, Trump frequently touted the rebounding American economy as the main, if not only, reason for undecided voters to re-elect him in November of this year. At his famous rallies, he would always point to “record low” unemployment rates and claim that his campaign promises to bring back American jobs in industries such as manufacturing, have come to fruition. Now, all of this progress has been wiped out by the pandemic – namely by the lockdowns imposed by it. At the time I am writing this post, unemployment is between fourteen and fifteen percent. Therefore, when the “Trump factor” is taken into account, it is obvious why the Republicans, who have by now all coalesced around the President, are abandoning their “pro-life” bona fides for the sake of the “economy” (which let’s be honest, is just a buzz-word for his re-election campaign).
This does not surprise me one bit. I’ve always had my doubts about the Republican Party truly being the “party of life” as they so claim. Less than three years ago, former Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy, a “pro-life” Republican with a staunchly anti-abortion voting record, resigned his office in disgrace after reports surfaced that he attempted to persuade his mistress to have an abortion. Most of the party has persistently backed the death penalty as an option of the most serious crimes. Texas, the state with by far the most executions, is controlled by a Republican trifecta. As far as I’m concerned, the Republican Party’s opposition to abortion is less so because they care about “protecting life,” and more so about turning out the votes of Evangelical Christians and winning over swingy Catholic voters such as myself. The party’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrates that they’d ditch ideological consistency in a heartbeat, for the sake of winning elections.
I am somewhat happy that there are a few conservatives out there such as the aforementioned Justice Hagedorn, who are willing to put partisan politics aside for the greater good, during this terrible health crisis. There is also Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine who underscored the importance of wearing a mask in public, at a time where many conservative “re-openers,” have dismissed personal protective equipment as a violation of their personal rights and have shown up to protests, social gatherings and grocery stores without one. “This is not about politics,” stated the governor while on Meet the Press. “This is not about whether you are liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican or Democrat…this is one time where we are truly all in this together. What we do directly impacts others.”
Conservatives, and especially fellow pro-lifers need to take Governor DeWine’s message to heart. The number of Americans who have died from COVID-19 is set to pass a hundred thousand any day now. It may be politically expedient right now for Trump supporters to support a quick re-opening. After all, if the economy was to bounce back to even a semblance of its pre-pandemic form, the president could use it as a talking point in his quest to obtain a second term, which is quickly slipping from his grasp as each day goes by. However, if the trends and experts are proved right and an early re-opening causes a devastating second wave that could have been prevented by an extra few more weeks of lockdown, the President would not only suffer certain defeat but thousands of more American lives would be lost.
Yes, it is unfortunate that one of the worst pandemics in recent history had to happen in the midst of a booming economic recovery, but it is a callow and petulant move for Trump to play the victim card as he has been doing. Many crises have happened throughout American history and presidents have learned to deal with them in the appropriate manner. C’est la vie – such is life. Franklin Roosevelt certainly didn’t ask for World War II, Kennedy didn’t ask for the Cuban Missile Crisis and Reagan didn’t ask for the early 1980’s recession. However, all three of these presidents managed to unite – not divide, the American people and take the proper action, and as a result, their party won the next election in a landslide. Trump’s outright inability to man up and take ownership of the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the greatest presidential failures in American history, and this and the rest of the GOP’s refusal to criticize his handling of the crisis will likely result in the party being resoundingly defeated at the ballot box in a few months.
It is a straw man argument to suggest that just because someone is pro-lockdown, they completely oppose re-opening in any form and want the entire nation to remain indefinitely shut down. I don’t want to speak for all of the anti-re-open crowd, but most of us want the nation to go back to normal as much as the “re-openers” do. We just realize how immense and virtually unprecedented the scope of COVID-19 actually is, and concede that the prolonged stay-at-home orders, as well as self-quarantining, the wearing of masks are social distancing, are absolutely necessary common-sense measures to significantly prevent more deaths and avoid a second wave.
I want businesses to re-open as soon as the medical community comes to the overwhelming consensus that it is safe to do so. I am a “fitness junkie” who went to the gym at least five days a week prior to the pandemic (and will probably now go every day once it is over). Growing up on an island, I have always lived for the water and going to the beach. As a self-professed “foodie,” I love going to many different restaurants – and there’s something about the experience of eating out you can’t get from takeout or delivery. Most importantly, I am a devout Catholic, and an important part of my faith relies on receiving the body and blood of Jesus in person, something I cannot do watching a live-stream Mass.
However, I’m also someone who’s pro-life for the whole life, so I am more than willing to put my own life on hold for as long as it takes to save as many lives as possible.
This post was written in May 2020. A lot has happened since then. We’ve learned a lot more about the virus and the adverse impacts of locking down since then, and with this information I have completely reversed my stance on COVID lockdowns. If you think this is crazy, I’m simply reflecting the new scientific “expert” consensus. Lockdowns don’t work, plain and simple. To see just how my stance on this issue has evolved, I refer you here and here.