It’s a testament to the American spirit that mere months after the arrival of a new, deadly virus on our shores, we’ve taken the steps necessary to protect the vulnerable and return to our daily lives.
Having moved past the initial shock and panic due to the frightening presence of an unknown virus, we’ve learned much about SARS-CoV-2 and have accustomed ourselves to new social practices. Across the country, state governors are lifting restrictions and encouraging commerce. We’re returning to work, opening our storefronts, and sending our children to school.
Most Americans are, anyway. In Illinois, unfortunately, life hasn’t changed much since spring. Although hospitalizations and deaths in the state have remained flat since mid-June, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker refuses to fully reopen the state. While much of the country returns to normal (more or less), he’s reimposing and heightening restrictions.
Pritzker says his restrictions are based on science. In reality, they’re political calculations based on opportunism and election-year math.
In Illinois, in addition to the momentous choice for president, voters are facing a critical question on the November ballot. It’s whether to adopt Pritzker’s signature policy proposal: a constitutional amendment that would allow Illinois lawmakers to tax state income at graduated rates, starting with a major tax hike on businesses and “the rich.”
Pritzker is also lobbying Congress for money. Long before the arrival of the coronavirus, Illinois has repeatedly been designated as one of the worst-run and most financially unstable states in the country. Yet instead of making the hard fiscal choices to pay for the state’s spending, Pritzker is using the coronavirus as a pretext for a blue-state bailout from taxpayers in other states.
It’s with these two things in mind that Pritzker’s ongoing shutdown can be properly and fully understood. The worse Illinois is doing, and the greater the hardships Illinoisansface, the more pressure he can put on Congress for a bailout, and the more likely he thinks voters will go along with his income tax scheme.
Although he’d never admit it, it’s clear that Pritzker is keeping businesses closed with the intent to smother the state economy. He justifies his continued shutdown by relying on the state’s “positivity rate” — the number of positive cases as a percentage of total tests. He arbitrarily determines the positivity level he’s unwilling to tolerate then manufactures a higher rate by slicing and dicing the state into “regions” to produce local COVID-19 statistics that deviate from the otherwise low statewide positivity rate of 3.6 percent.
Thus, despite the low positivity rate, the fact that deaths and hospitalizations remain flat, and the medical research that shows the virus isn’t a grave threat to a vast majority of the population, Pritzker can masquerade as the state’s moral and medical conscience, weave a political narrative that renders him blameless, and keep Illinoisans in a state of suffering.
Meanwhile, Americans have lived with a heightened awareness of the coronavirus for more than six months. Risk factors are well known, vulnerable populations are being protected, and reasonable precautions are practiced. At this point, business owners, employees, and consumers can and should be able to make their own decisions about what level of risk they are willing to tolerate.
As such, it’s unconscionable that Pritzker would continue to keep Illinoisans locked down for political purposes. The people of Illinois are desperate to save their livelihoods. Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans remained unemployed, businesses are failing, and the state economy continues to suffer.
As President Trump pointed out on Tuesday at the debate, Pritzker and his fellow Democratic governors think they’re hurting Trump and Republicans by shutting down state economies. In reality, they’re hurting Americans.
The harmful economic effects are obvious. There’s also great harm from a medical and public health perspective. We have seen a significant increase in deaths due to despair, drug use, and suicide. Cancers have gone undiagnosed. Important medical treatments have been missed. Routine check-ups have been skipped. Children have missed vaccinations — not to mention the harmful effect of “virtual learning” on our schoolchildren.
Pritzker doesn’t seem to care. By his calculations, the suffering he’s caused will be worth it so long as Illinois gets a bailout and he can squeeze out a little more tax revenue for his corrupt schemes. Illinoisans need relief. He’s made sure of that. He doesn’t care if he destroys families and businesses, deepens inequality, and kills jobs in the process.
Quite simply, Pritzker’s using the people he’s supposed to serve as pawns. He just needs to sustain their misery a little longer — just long enough to exploit their suffering and make sure they bring their fears, anxiety, and hardships into the “voting booth” with them. Then, depending on how they vote in November, he may have mercy.