As the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic that is threatening to kill thousands of Americans, a growing chorus of conservatives are demanding that older adults should voluntarily return to work to save the country from financial ruin, even if they die in the process.
The fact that older Americans are more at risk of dying or exhibiting severe symptoms if they contract the coronavirus is not stopping conservatives from pushing the idea. They call it “economic patriotism.”
The disturbing notion that we must sacrifice our grandparents to save Wall street has taken root in some conservative circles, filtering up from far-right websites to radio pundits to a few prominent politicians to, finally, Fox News.
But public health leaders have warned that easing the current social-distancing measures — particularly by mid-April, as Trump has signaled — could allow the coronavirus to embed itself in new communities and spread even more rapidly in existing hotbeds. Hospitals are already worried about medical equipment shortages, as well as a limited availability of beds, and any further exacerbation of the situation would threaten to completely overwhelm the health care system.
Yet over the past several days, more right-wing commentators have argued that the health costs of containing the coronavirus, which researchers say has now sickened more than 80,000 Americans and killed over 1,000, is not worth the irreparable economic cost to the U.S. financial system of keeping millions unemployed.
Conservative sites have started running articles suggesting the economic downfall of social distancing could ruin people’s lives to the point that “probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions.” The site even advocated solutions such as hosting “chickenpox parties” to expose children to the novel coronavirus to build herd immunity — an article Twitter swiftly suspended for promoting scientific misinformation.
It’s not an argument being made solely by stringent nationalist conservatives.
Radio host Glenn Beck, the onetime Fox News star, declared this week that he “would rather die” than kill the economy.
“I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working, even if we all get sick,” he said during his Tuesday radio panel. “I would rather die than kill the country, because it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.”
And Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, himself a former radio talk show host, went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to argue that older Americans would willingly sacrifice themselves to keep the economy afloat and prevent the country from sliding into a depression.
“Let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Patrick said.
Fox News anchor Brit Hume later called the theory “an entirely reasonable viewpoint.”
The economic patriotism conversation has drawn comparisons to the so-called death panel attack during the debate over Obamacare, when conservatives argued that the Obama administration’s health care plan would eventually let the government dictate who lived and who died for the greater good of the country’s economy.