Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images
the national interest

Conservatives Are Starting to Say COVID Is a Positive Good

The creepy final stage of denial.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images

Right-wing radio host Dennis Prager told his audience he has contracted COVID-19. Normally, it is bad form to mock peoples’ personal misfortune, even when they have refused to take easy steps to avoid it. In this case, however, Prager has made it clear he does not view contracting COVID as misfortune at all. He deliberately sought out the virus, believing it would confer him natural immunity at little or no risk.

Getting COVID “is what I hoped for the entire time,” Prager explained. “Hence, I engaged with strangers constantly, hugging them, taking photos, knowing I was making myself very susceptible to getting COVID.”

Prager has publicly refused to take the vaccine, which means that, at 73 years old, he is putting himself at high risk. Mortality statistics are clearly not Prager’s bag, but he surely has heard that at least five other conservative radio hosts have died of COVID this year. Yet the fact that conservative radio hosts are the Spinal Tap drummers of the pandemic gives him no pause whatsoever.

Prager assures his listeners that he chose to get COVID because “it is infinitely preferable to have natural immunity than vaccine immunity.” Exactly why Prager cares about getting immunity from a virus he considers harmless he did not explain.

The coronavirus pandemic has offered an especially grisly illustration of the pathological nature of American conservatism. President Trump initially wobbled between trying to contain the pandemic and denying it before settling on the latter posture. It therefore became a matter of loyalty for conservatives to support Trump’s claims that COVID was just the flu, that it would disappear quickly, and that the hysteria was being whipped up by his enemies in a plot to destroy his beautiful economy.

Prager faithfully followed Trump’s line. In March 2020, he insisted COVID was “not a killer” and said he would only accept a lockdown if the death toll reached a “staggering” level, like 30,000. After that level had been exceeded the next month, he raised the bar again: “Even if it were 50,000, if it were 80,000, 100,000 — I mean, obviously there’s a certain point where you have to say the death numbers are so high we have no choice, but those are not the numbers.”

At some point, the numbers grew so fast that Prager had to give up on the idea that any level of death was unacceptable, and now contracting the virus has become a positive good.

Prager’s progression into culthood eerily tracks his support for Donald Trump. At first, he deemed Trump “nasty and probably stupid too,” as well as “unacceptable,” but still better than Hillary Clinton. Eventually, he decided Trump was a “great president.” What is at first terrible becomes acceptable and then desirable.

Last summer, I wrote a long story tracing the right’s denial of the threat posed by COVID. My editors headlined the story “American Death Cult,” which struck me as within the bounds of fair hyperbole but nonetheless a bit harsh.

Joy Pullmann, executive editor of the Federalist, wrote a column arguing that Christians should not treat the possibility of dying from COVID as a bad thing. Running under the headline “For Christians, Dying From COVID (Or Anything Else) Is a Good Thing.” Pullman concedes off the bat that her pro-death stance differs sharply with that of most Christian churches but argues that they are wrong: “It is time for Christians individually and corporately to repent for the way we and our institutions responded to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

I don’t wish death on anybody. But should Prager have the misfortune to lose his life from COVID, can anybody doubt that Pullmann is showing us where the defense would go next?

Conservatives Are Starting to Say Covid Is a Positive Good