Home/Daniel Larison/Protecting Life Is More Important Than ‘the Economy’

Protecting Life Is More Important Than ‘the Economy’

President Trump, Vice President Pence (DoD)

The “wartime” president already wants to surrender:

President Donald Trump began talking privately late last week about reopening the nation, despite the swiftly rising number of coronavirus cases and against the advice of health professionals [bold mine-DL], because he’s worried about the economic damage from an extended shutdown, according to people familiar with his thinking.

The shortage of testing kits has made it difficult to assess the full spread of the virus, but Trump and a contingent of his aides, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, want to ensure that the economic damage from a nationwide “social distancing” campaign doesn’t outweigh the potential toll from the virus itself, the people said.


The U.S. hasn’t begun to bring the outbreak under control, so it is far too early to talk about loosening restrictions. Many Americans are still not taking this seriously enough after months of misinformation and lies from the president and his allies as they sought to minimize the problem. The fact that the president is even considering this is a terrible sign, because it shows that he is entertaining the possibility of giving up on protecting public health and safety. An extended shutdown is very costly and disruptive, but relaxing restrictions after only a few weeks will lead to a wider contagion that affects many more people. Then the U.S. will have to clamp down again even harder, and the same economic damage will be done along with more loss of life. The country is in this position in large part because of the slow and inadequate government response that has left us blind to the full extent of the virus’ spread. We will be playing catch-up for months because of the testing failure, the massive equipment shortage, and the president’s own foot-dragging.

The shutdown has been made longer by our lack of preparedness and the incompetence of the initial handling of the crisis, and trying to relax restrictions too soon will just prolong the ordeal unnecessarily. The president was far too slow to take the outbreak seriously, and now he is being far too quick in wanting to go back to business as usual. Just by raising the possibility of changing course in a couple weeks encourages people to dismiss the guidance they are getting from health professionals, and it gives people false hope that this will be over soon when it won’t be. It is another misleading message that contradicts everything that responsible officials have been trying to get across to the public for the last two months.

I don’t like the president’s “war” rhetoric when it comes to the coronavirus. Whenever the government has declared war on something it has usually ended up producing more of that thing, and it is a testament to how thoroughly militarized our way of thinking has become that many of us can’t conceive of significant collection action or social solidarity except in the context of war. But in spite of his talk of fighting and winning this “war,” the president is now floating the idea that we might need to give up and effectively let the virus run rampant through the country. That would be a catastrophe for our hospitals and health care professionals, and it would cause much greater loss of life. One of the government’s most important responsibilities is protecting its citizens from harm. To knowingly choose a path that would lead to the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands or even millions of our people would be an act of unspeakable cowardice and weakness.

The government has the means to lessen the severity of economic contraction through its own spending to support workers and businesses through this shutdown, but it cannot raise victims of the outbreak from the dead. Putting “the economy” ahead of protecting the lives of Americans who are most at risk of serious illness and death is an awful idea, and it has to be rejected.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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