It was the hottest ticket of the year for conservatives. They were inching toward the dream of a lifetime, having a solid majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
When the invitation came to attend Donald Trump’s announcement of his pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, what gun-loving, abortion-hating Republican would turn it down?
So about 150 people sat shoulder to shoulder in the White House Rose Garden on Sept. 26, most without masks. They hugged, shook hands, bumped fists, whispered in each other’s ears and cheered the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.
It was as if the COVID-19 pandemic was over or never existed at all.
There is a growing concern that this conservative pep rally was a COVID-19 “superspreader.” At least eight people, including Trump and the first lady, tested positive for the virus afterward, though it has not been confirmed that they contracted it there.
Still, the event seems strikingly similar to a case charted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year, in which one infected man spread the virus to 16 people at a funeral and a birthday party in Chicago. Three of them died.
The Rose Garden gathering hailing their beloved president at a crucial time in his reelection campaign was no different from the political rally in Duluth, Minnesota, two days before Trump revealed that he had the virus.
It had the makings of a superspreader event too. The only difference is that the attendees at the Rose Garden rally were more refined, better dressed and held prominent positions in the Republican hierarchy.
Over the past few days, it has become obvious that there were more substantive differences between the two groups too. Both violated CDC guidelines for social distancing, putting participants at risk.
But not everyone was treated the same beforehand or in the aftermath.
We might never know how many of the 3,000 people who packed the outdoor rally at the Duluth airport contracted the virus. Most of them weren’t wearing masks. But unlike the Rose Garden event, no one administered rapid coronavirus tests before they entered.
The stark contrast with how the well-to-do Republicans in the Rose Garden were treated points to a well-defined division within the Republican Party. Far more value was placed on the lives of those with money and prestige than the red cap-wearing lower echelon of the party.
It is a class division that has long separated establishment Republicans, whose primary focus is big business and finances, and the far right wing, which is more interested in the party’s social agenda. The Supreme Court is perhaps the single issue that unites them.
This time, though, it could be a matter of life and death.
Former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins and Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis tested positive after the Rose Garden event.
Trump and Christie are both hospitalized and receiving the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, which is not widely available to the public. While the medication does not cure the coronavirus, it has shown some promise in reducing the amount of time a patient requires hospitalization.
Trump called the drug cocktails “miracles coming down from God.” But not everyone is deemed worthy of such a miracle.
Remdesivir is only available through hospitals and requires a special dispensation to use it. That means it would be out of reach for most people at the Duluth rally. Most other regular Americans don’t have easy access to it either.
Once Trump recovers, he will tout the superior care he received at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. On Saturday, he released a video on Twitter calling the hospital the “finest in the world.”
It is no surprise that the president would receive the most groundbreaking treatment available. It also should be expected that the former governor of New Jersey would receive the finest treatment available in that state.
But the regular Americans who risked exposure to the virus at Trump’s many rallies held across the country are, for the most part, on their own.
Most Americans, particularly those low on the economic chain, don’t have access to such premier medical care. Many Americans don’t have health insurance, and Trump at this moment is trying to get the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare.
The variances in access to lifesaving treatments are symbolic of the class and economic divisions that have allowed the virus to soar through disadvantaged communities.
Contact tracing in four states where Trump recently held rallies or made other appearances, including Minnesota, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, has been a nightmare for officials seeking to pin down possible exposures.
That has been exacerbated by the White House’s refusal to provide a clear timeline for when Trump and others may have contracted the virus.
Trump supporters who have risked their lives to help him get reelected should be livid that he lied to them about the risks of COVID-19. It seems as if they would look at his illness and realize that his stance against masks was irresponsible.
But they haven’t.
They are lining up outside Walter Reed waving their “Make America Great Again” and “Trump 2020” signs to show their undying love.
Some are standing close and breathing on each other, still refusing to put on a mask.
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