The second largest party in the US appears to have entered the twilight between the madness of market rationality and political suicide.
The second largest party in the US appears to have entered the twilight between the madness of market rationality and political suicide. Chip Somodevilla / GETTY IMAGES

For weeks, the GOP and its leader denied the seriousness of the coronavirus. Then last week, the party admitted that the virus was very serious, very deadly, and that the government should do something about it right away. And now this week, the GOP has reached the primal conclusion that the COVID-19 crisis is much less serious than its impact on the markets.

One member of the GOP, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, even recommend on national television that old people sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy—or, more bluntly, or more accurately, capitalism. Meanwhile, Ronald Dion DeSantis, the governor of a state, Florida, packed with boomers, is doing his very best to do as little as possible about the crisis.

The second-largest party in the US (in terms of voters) appears to have entered the twilight between the madness of market rationality (endless and non-stop growth) and political suicide (the mass removal of boomers). But there is much within the party's insistence that people return to work soon that is not economic.

The markets are not going to bounce back upon reopening America. Analysts on Wall Street are dead certain that we are going to have at least three quarters of no growth. And even if we send people back to the job market, many will not find work. This push to reopen America appears to have nothing in it but negative consequences for the GOP during an election year. So, what gives?

The first problem with COVID-19 for the right is that it imposes a social formation that displaces the market and its key directives. This is a major problem because the only way capitalism can function is by excluding all other alternatives. It alone must be the only form of social reality. Its absolutism is its conatus, its mode of persistence.

Why? Because its three key features (the concentration of wealth, the centralization of the factors of production, the maximization of growth) lose much of their legitimacy once it has an outside. A displaced capitalism reveals a culturally constructed system of control rather than "a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself.”

COVID-19 is this outside. It cannot be absorbed by TINA ("there is no alternative") market realism. Individuals are forced to act not in their own self-interest but in the interest of others. The invisible hand vanishes. The "benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker" is socialized.

Indeed, here is a Seattle brewer in a time of crisis:

With hand sanitizer selling for $100 a bottle in some places last week, Seattle distiller Ian MacNeil got angry. Then he got busy. Hell, MacNeil thought, I can make the stuff cheaper. So he proceeded to mix up a version of hand sanitizer using the alcohol he had intended for his line of vodka.

The owner of Glass Distillery is offering a pocket-sized bottle of hand cleaner for free to anyone who wants to pick one up at his tasting room in Sodo. If you need a family-sized bottle, he sells it for 39 cents an ounce (instead of the secondary market rate of $12 an ounce), he said.

What is at stake in all of this is precisely not the economy as a metabolic process or relationship between humans and nature. It is instead losing control of what is and is not possible; or, put another way, which I borrow from the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz, what can and cannot enter the real from the virtual (or the realm of compossibles). This is the source of the panic expressed by the actions of Florida's governor or the statements made by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

But there is also something else. If we have learned anything about the politics of gun control, it is this: the GOP can stomach a whole lot of death.