I am always impressed by Paul Krugman. But this morning he went beyond impressive, in summing up the cosmic flaw of the Republican party in his op-ed The Cult of Selfishness Is Killing America:

Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.

And of course, wearing a mask makes a statement that the wearer is taking other people’s welfare into account. Can’t have that now, can we? Each against all, y’know.

This attitude has actually been part of the national mythology for generations: the frontiersman, the lone cowboy, O’Henry’s Horatio Alger’s poor lad pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, the self-made man. Donald Trump claiming he started out with “only” a million-dollar loan. Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness — if she believed in hell, she should be there now for that book alone.

But under the modern GOP — the whole modern GOP — this country has taken selfish irresponsibility to a new extreme.

Indeed, it sometimes seems as if right-wingers actually make a point of behaving irresponsibly. Remember how Senator Rand Paul, who was worried that he might have Covid-19 (he did), wandered around the Senate and even used the gym while waiting for his test results?

Anger at any suggestion of social responsibility also helps explain the looming fiscal catastrophe. It’s striking how emotional many Republicans get in their opposition to the temporary rise in unemployment benefits; for example, Senator Lindsey Graham declared that these benefits would be extended “over our dead bodies.” Why such hatred?

Republicans have been attacked the safety net for generations, fighting the idea that being a member of society means accepting certain responsibilities for the society as a whole. I’ve had some on the right tell me there’s no such thing as “society.”

This explains the Republicans’ — not just Trump’s — refusal to do anything substantive about the coronavirus. (Well, yes, there are other reasons as well.) Admitting that we have to enforce mask wearing for everyone’s protection, that we have to help out the poor and the unemployed so that the country’s economy will recover, all of that means admitting that we have to take other people’s welfare into account.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Republicans are selfish. We’d be doing much better if that were all there were to it. The point, instead, is that they’ve sacralized selfishness, hurting their own political prospects by insisting on the right to act selfishly even when it hurts others.
What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us. [emphasis added]

If we win this election, that will be the start of repudiating sacralized selfishness. No wonder Trump and the GOP are trying so hard to steal it.

  • August 1, 2020