It was inevitable, I suppose: I just knew conservatives were going to start publicly arguing that the American economy must be restarted, even at the risks of thousands of coronavirus deaths.
As the nation began shutting down public gatherings last week, an article by R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, demanded “Keep the Churches Open!” Yesterday, he followed up with an even worse message to the American public: “Say ‘No’ to Death’s Dominion.”
In this second, stunningly tone-deaf article, Reno asserted with a straight face that aggressive measures for containing the spread of coronavirus such as those promulgated by New York governor Andrew Cuomo constitute a “disastrous sentimentalism” that turns preserving human life into a “false god.” Cuomo’s actions, Reno declares, have created a “demonic atmosphere” in which “death’s power must rule our actions.”
It gets worse.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, speaking yesterday on Fox News, posed this question during an interview with Tucker Carlson: “Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren, and if that’s the exchange, I’m all in…I want to live smart and see through this, but I don’t want the whole country to be sacrificed…We can’t lose our whole country…My message is ‘Let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living…And those of us who are over 70, well, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.” Andrew Lawrence of Media Matters for America put it like this: “Sorry, Texas grandparents, but the Invisible Hand demands a sacrifice,” while the hashtag #NotDying4WallStreet began trending on Twitter by the thousands.
In case you missed the point, Scott McMillan, a lawyer in California, put it more bluntly on Twitter yesterday: “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population which is 1). generally expensive to maintain, and 2). not productive.”
Channeling late 19th-century social Darwinism, these guys are saying that the economy is the core, indispensable heart and soul of the nation, not its people. “The chief business of the American people is business,” President Calvin Coolidge once said, and when the economy grinds to a shrieking halt as it has over the last two weeks, it must be restarted again at all costs, even if those costs include the infection of millions with the coronavirus and the death of hundreds of thousands of elderly and other medically vulnerable people. That won’t happen, say many covidiots. Others say yes, thousands on thousands may die, but so be it: that’s the price of doing business, and if these other people die, that’s not my problem. The risk must be taken.
People show their true selves in times of stress, and in this national emergency, we’ve begun to see what conservatives on the far right side of the political spectrum truly value: not the sacredness of human life, as they say, not people, but corporate profits.
Wealth. Money. That’s it.
I’ve always maintained that the conservative world-view exists for only one purpose: to protect and expand the power and wealth of society’s ruling classes. In parts of the world where autocracy is the norm, the ruling classes can dominate public life openly without bothering to take the views of the citizens into account. Here in democratic America, the people who run things on the conservative side of the spectrum have had to hide their real purpose under the cloak of dog whistles, code-speaking, lies and diverting the masses via entertainment or phony wedge issues in order to get conservative citizens to vote for them.
Speaking of wedge issues, these same people who once screamed bloody murder about “death panels for grandma” during the debate over the Affordable Care Act legislation and raised Cain over disconnecting the comatose from life support, as in the Teri Schiavo case, are the same people who now call for the re-opening of the national economy despite the risks to public health. These are the same people that proudly pat themselves on the back for being “pro-life,” yet when push comes to shove, if forced to a money-or-your-life choice, conservatives will not only choose their money over the lives of their fellow citizens, they will scorn their more responsible neighbors as “demonic…sentimental humanists” (as Reno puts it) for actually giving a shit about human lives other than their own.
This is monstrous, borderline genocidal even, and it is shocking that supposedly well-educated, uber-righteous people would take such Hitlerian arguments seriously. Many people are standing up and giving ear to it, though, a disturbing sign of how far the United States has fallen from the all-for-one-and-one-for-all solidarity of the World War II years.
During those days, everyone knew that all of us were equally under threat and were all in it together. Americans grew victory gardens to ease the food provisioning difficulties of the armed forces, collected metal scrap and fats in collection drives to be used in armaments manufacturing, worked double shifts to keep the factories cranking and accepted food and gas rationing without (much) complaining.
Responsible American citizens who care about their neighbors must again adopt this spirit of wartime solidarity and reject this monstrous thinking utterly by following the strong warnings of public health officials and political leaders: stay at home, avoid large crowds, don’t hoard. We must all think and care deeply about the consequences our own actions have on those around us.
Personal disclaimer: I am a small business owner who has almost completely lost all means of making a living because of the complete shuttering of public facilities. I have almost no money coming in, yet I still support lockdown procedures, damaging as they are to me personally. If we don’t make sacrifices by putting aside our wants and needs, the results to our country will be catastrophic. Pay no attention, then, to the poisonous rightwing ruminations in the air. If we do as the doctor orders, we will get through coronavirus crisis faster and in better shape.