“Better Dead than Red” was a Cold War anti-communist slogan, but I think a similar phenomenon is playing out during the coronavirus pandemic.
A lot of the anti-masking anti-lockdown discourse is grounded in the idea that “big government” shouldn’t be able to tell people what to do. This is “communism,” critics allege. You know, the opposite of freedom.*
I see a common thread in all of these fears—communism, government control, wolves in sheep’s clothing. That common thread is a belief that government is evil and dangerous, and that individual freedom is the greatest possible good. “You can’t tell me what to do!” This deep skepticism of government has been entrenched in (white**) America for generations.
This is the “Better Dead than Red” sloganeering I mentioned when I opened this post.
It’s just that this time the slogan is literal.
This time, they’re saying they would rather die than follow government public health mandates. They would rather die than let the government tell them what to do to protect their health and that of those around them. Better to be dead than to follow government public health messaging designed to keep people safe. Because public health—apparently—is communism.
And, you know what they say—better dead than Red.
* Note that “freedom” includes the right to die from preventable conditions if you can’t afford treatment, because universal healthcare is communism. In this sense, conservatives’ response to government public health measures during a pandemic feels less out of place than it does like a continuation of a longstanding pact that not being Red sometimes does mean being dead.
** Black America’s skepticism of government tends to run on a different axes from white America’s skepticism. For example, white Americans, but not Black Americans, tend to be deeply skeptical of the welfare state; this is partly because some white Americans see the welfare state as a transfer of wealth from middle class white Americans to low income Black Americans. Conversely, Black Americans, but not (most) white Americans, tend to be deeply skeptical of police and police power.
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