Who Is Willing to Die First for the Economy?

Republican lawmakers are urging the president to sacrifice lives to avoid running in a crippled economy.

When we asked kids to sacrifice their lives on Pacific islands and European beaches so we could rid the world of fascism, there wasn’t a whole lot of argument. When he asked them to sacrifice their lives to make the world safe from Ho Chi Minh, there was a lot of dissent. It’s a big thing to ask, and there better be a good reason. Anyone who makes that kind of demand on the people ought to be willing to put their own life at risk, or at least the lives of the people they love. They shouldn’t be shopping for doctors who will falsely diagnose their sons as having flat feet or bone spurs. They shouldn’t be finding a safe place for them in the National Guard.

That’s why I think Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana should volunteer to be the first to die for the economy.

Speaking with radio station WIBC in Indiana, Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth asserted that, while he appreciated the science behind the virus’ spread, “it is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”

“The social scientists are telling us about the economic disaster that is going on. Our (Gross Domestic Product) is supposed to be down 20% alone this quarter,” Hollingsworth said. “It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say it is the lesser of these two evils. It is not zero evil, but it is the lesser of these two evils and we intend to move forward that direction. That is our responsibility and to abdicate that is to insult the Americans that voted us into office.”

We already have plenty of courageous people who are putting their lives at risk to make sure this sequestered nation has the basic supplies it needs to survive in mass quarantine. We have many others who are taking risks more through necessity than courage. Trey Hollingsworth is not one of those people.

The pandemic specialists are unanimous that we need to stay locked down if we want to prevent the rampant spread of the Covid-19 virus. Any steps to open the economy have to be taken only after we have the ability to do massive testing and contact tracing so that new cases can be identified and isolated. We’re buying time to ramp up that capability, as well as to supply our hospitals and medical professionals, and to make progress on a vaccine.

We know that more people will die once we start mingling freely again, and that’s a sacrifice we’ll eventually have to make. But we don’t need to make it before we’re ready to mitigate the damage as much as we possibly can.

Rep. Hollingsworth’s comments caused an immediate outcry, and he tried to do some damage control by clarifying:

“It’s hyperbolic to say that the only choices before us are the two corner solutions: no economy or widespread casualties.”

“We can use the best of biology and economics to enable as much of the economy to operate as possible while we work to minimize disease transmission.

That’s what he should have said in the first place. And he should have added that that the federal government is doing a terrible job of using “the best of biology and economics” to get us prepared to open the economy, which is why we’re way behind schedule and making little progress toward the goal.

What he actually said is that we’re faced with a choice between two evils. By his own definition, that was a hyperbolic statement. He’s pushing us to take on unnecessary casualties because he considers a bad economy preferable to a dead person. I’d be more inclined to listen to his advice if I saw him volunteering to bag people’s groceries or take a commercial flight.

But we shouldn’t pick on Rep. Hollingsworth. As Politico reports, he’s not alone.

While most Republicans say the country should go slow and take a regional approach, there’s an unmistakable demand building in the party for the president to move forward, according to interviews with more than a dozen GOP members of Congress. It’s a message they’re delivering privately in calls with Trump and his senior advisers, as well as in public op-eds and letters to the administration.

“The president was very unfairly criticized for just [saying] what is indisputably true: ‘We need to make sure the cure isn’t worse than the disease.’ And I am concerned that the cure is worse than the disease,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “If you’re a carpenter, every nail you see, the solution’s a hammer. The same may be true for epidemiologists.”

It’s a message at odds with the public health professionals advising Trump, who have warned against the country dropping its guard. But 16 million people are unemployed, Congress is struggling to respond, and Republicans seem to think the worst is close to over. Reviving the economy is also likely to be critical to GOP fortunes in November.

If there’s a false dichotomy here, it’s not that we have a choice between a health economy and a healthy populace. It’s the idea that we’ll get a healthy economy if we eliminate the quarantine before we have any chance of stopping the mass transmission of this disease, and before we have effective treatments, sufficient medical supplies, and are a lot closer to having a vaccine. People aren’t staying at home simply because the government told them to. They’re doing it because it’s not safe out there. They aren’t chomping at the bit to go work in a crowded office or attend a concert or sporting event. The economy will not recover until people are willing to do these things, and a lot of work needs to be done before that can happen.

This is why people are screaming for more testing, and for the president to get the supply chain in line for an eventual vaccine. It’s why there are so many complaints that the Trump administration is hoarding medical supplies and passing them out to political allies rather than based on where the need is greatest.

Rather than holding their own president to account, people like Hollingsworth and Senator Ron Johnson are substituting their own uniformed opinion for the expertise of epidemiologists and even economists. It’s going to get a bunch of people killed, and not for a noble cause like putting Hitler in an early grave.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com