COVID-19 lawsuits a symptom of a pre-existing condition in Illinois — and the nation

It would be easy to plug this particular disagreement into our age-old Chicago versus downstate animosities, and obviously, that’s one aspect of what is happening, but it’s broader and deeper than that as the national interest in this story confirms.

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Protesters in Springfield, left, on Saturday and in Chicago, right, earlier this month.

Beth Rogers of Springfield, Ill., left, stands in the rain during a protest in front of the state Capitol Saturday; Demonstrators, right, protest President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on April 18 in Chicago.

Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register; Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Somehow, I’ve found myself on the email distribution list for a conservative, pro-Trump news service, which, it turns out, offers handy insight into how the other half of the country thinks without my having to endure the pain of watching FOX News.

For the past 24 hours, the top story on their website has been one with which we are very familiar in Illinois even if we might not recognize the particular spin: “Judge Stands Up Against Dem Gov, Excoriates Stay At Home Order.”

The facts of the story are pretty much what you could find in the Chicago Sun-Times or any other mainstream news organization’s coverage of the downstate judge’s ruling that Gov. J. B. Pritzker exceeded his authority by extending his emergency stay-at-home orders beyond 30 days.

Opinion bug

Opinion

The difference is those facts are related from the point of view that Pritzker’s orders were “obviously” illegal and that state Rep. Darren Bailey and Clay County Circuit Judge Michael McHaney are heroic figures for standing up to him in defense of the Constitution and personal freedom.

Most people in Chicago don’t see it that way, me included, although it should not be overlooked that even some of those living right here in the shadow of death are cheering the judge’s decision — and the filing of a second, more sweeping, lawsuit by another Republican lawmaker on Wednesday.

It would be easy to plug this particular disagreement into our age-old Chicago versus downstate animosities, and obviously, that’s one aspect of what is happening, but it’s broader and deeper than that as the national interest in this story confirms.

The debate over the legality of Pritzker’s directives plays into a national election narrative that the Republicans are testing out right now for President Donald Trump’s looming re-election battle.They contend Democrats are using the COVID-19 pandemic to take away people’s freedoms and as a result, wrecking the economy —as if a highly contagious, unpreventable, incurable disease sweeping the country needed any help.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that the second lawsuit was filed by state Rep. John Cabello, whoco-chaired Trump’s presidential campaign in Illinois in 2016.

State Rep. John Cabello, addresses an Illinois Republican Party breakfast at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

State Rep. John Cabello, addresses an Illinois Republican Party breakfast at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Tina Sfondeles / Sun-Times

As George Packer recently wrote in The Atlantic, when the coronavirus came here, it found a whole country with serious underlying conditions — and he wasn’t referring to our health.

We’re a nation that no longer harbors just philosophical differences, but now doesn’t even perceive the same set of facts or common goals.

When somebody in Judge McHaney’s courtroom snickered after the state’s lawyer talked about “millions dying” from COVID-19, it may have just been a reaction to an unintended misstatement or exaggeration. The worldwide death toll has only recently exceeded 200,000 with three million confirmed cases.

Just as likely, the laughter was an expression of a sincerely held, if misguided, belief within a segment of the population that the coronavirus isn’t as dangerous as it has been portrayed.

Judge McHaney even advanced a particularly ignorant notion of how he thinks COVID-19 death statistics are being juiced in Illinois.

“With respect to these statistics you’re throwing out here and all of that, isn’t it true that if I die in a car wreck, and I happen to test positive for COVID-19, my cause of death for purposes of what this governor is doing is COVID-19?” McHaney asked.

Let me answer that one, seeing as how the state’s lawyer said he didn’t know. The answer is: “No!”

I’ve been studying the Cook County Medical Examiner’s daily report of COVID-19 related deaths for weeks, and —as other reporters have noted —I can tell you there’s not a single car wreck victim among the 1,603 persons who had died through Thursday. And remember that Cook County accounts for more than 72% of the state’s COVID-19 death toll.

I’m not entirely sure how the court fight will play out. I would think the governor has the legal authority to try to protect the public in an emergency, especially one that makes it difficult for the Legislature to meet.

But if he loses on appeal, which I doubt, that only means legislators will need to return to Springfield to give him the necessary power. That should be possible.

State Rep. Darren Bailey

State Rep. Darren Bailey

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Even as Bailey and the other Trumpian elements of the Illinois Republican Party were moving forward last week with their lawsuit, more mainstream GOP members of the Illinois House were advancing their own set of recommendations on how Pritzker might modify his executive order — most of which struck me as pretty reasonable.

One House Republican was even suggesting a mandatory face mask rule as a tradeoff to fewer restrictions.

Most people — regardless of partisanship — seem to understand that for now public health must be the priority.

Playing games with the pandemic may help Republicans in some states this fall, but it will be suicide for most Illinois politicians.

And we promise not to count them as COVID-19 deaths either.

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