A German tribe that lived some 1500 years ago put the elderly and the sick on a pile of wood, stabbed them to death and set them on ﬁre. In parts of long-ago Japan, they were abandoned and left to die. Some in ancient Sardinia blessed and then suffocated them or smashed their heads — culling the disposables to protect the majority. Some Americans evidently believe that the United States has reached such a point because of the impact on the economy of staying home caused by the coronavirus, time for some gentler form of senicide. (Fair disclosure: this writer is in his 70s.)
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response team, said that “emerging data from Europe suggested that 99 percent of the coronavirus deaths were [of] people over age 50, and that many had pre-existing conditions,” The Guardian reported. But, Birx added, that “doesn’t change the need to protect the elderly.”
Still, The Washington Post reported, “a tech entrepreneur” accused politicians of “inflicting massive harm and disruption” with “draconian edicts” that were hurting the economy. Fox News talk show host Scott McMillan said that “our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces are whipping up fear” and that “the cure is worse than the disease.” In President Donald Trump’s tweet world, that became: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”
McMillan picked it up again: “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5 percent of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain and (2) not productive … I don’t want to take out the old people but I don’t want the kids coming up today to be akin to the Depression kids. The longer this drags on without people working, the worse it’s going to be. We can’t allow our society to collapse over this.”
Texas lieutenant governor Republican Dan Patrick agreed that some Americans are expendable in these troubled times. He said on Fox News that the country needs to “get back to work, let’s get back to living … and those of us who are 70plus will take care of ourselves. Don’t sacriﬁce the country.” Patrick, 69, said he would be “all in” if it came down to risking his survival “in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren…” Heather Mac Donald, the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said that coronavirus deaths would be “concentrated among the elderly and the already severely sick” – people who, she said, probably would die anyhow from some other cause. “The millions of people whose lives depend on a functioning economy also deserve compassion.”
And radio host Glenn Beck said he “would rather have my children stay home and have all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working. Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country. Because it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.”
Some billionaires joined the chorus. Dick Kovacevich, former Wells Fargo chief, said healthy people under 55 should be allowed to return to work by late April and asked, “Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk?” Tom Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex Inc., added, “The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people. You’re picking the better of two evils.”
A different spin came from R.R. Reno, editor of the religion journal “First Things.” The closure of nursing homes and churches has created a “perverse, even demonic atmosphere” that was preventing people from practicing their faith, he said. “There are many things more precious than life and yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of ‘saving lives.’” But even with a stringent stay-at-home policy in place, New York reported on Sunday that 60,000 people had been infected and 725 had died.
Dr. Tom Inglesby of Johns Hopkins University warned that “Anyone advising the end of social distancing now needs to fully understand what the country will look like if we do that.” The virus, he said, “would spread widely, rapidly, terribly and could kill potentially millions in the year ahead, with huge social and economic impact.”
Trump, who is 73, mocked the threat for weeks and predicted, when the infection number was 15 and federal emergency measures were required, that the virus would disappear quickly. And, in a nod to people like Reno, he wanted the stay-at-home federal guidelines to be relaxed by Easter so churches could be packed. He later settled for April 30 and said it would be “a great job” if the deaths were limited to 100,000.
In any case, when the choice is between waiting out the virus and sacriﬁcing the sick and the elderly in a premature re-opening of the country, only the morally bankrupt would not know which to choose.