Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltik thinks he’s found the real reason that states are starting to re-open their economies after months of shutdowns because of COVID-19. According to the anti-gun scribe, it’s apathy, not necessity, that’s causing states to re-open and keep essential businesses going during the shutdown, and we all should have seen it coming based on the fact that we haven’t banned tens of millions of commonly owned firearms after mass murders like the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary back in 2012.
It was widely observed, following a certain event in a Connecticut elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012, that if America would tolerate the slaughter by gunfire of 20 children aged 6 and 7, it would tolerate anything.
Nothing proves the truth of that observation more than our response to the coronavirus pandemic.
At this moment of maximum peril, we’re tolerating the turning of workers in meatpacking plants and grocery stores, seniors in nursing homes and heedless churchgoers into sacrificial offerings to the gods of “freedom” and “choice.”
Even at this “moment of maximum peril,” Americans still need to eat. Elderly Americans in nursing homes still need care. And if Hiltzik is so concerned about Americans going to church in the name of “freedom,” why isn’t he calling for reporters to stay at home? Surely there’s no need for television reporters to get into the field to report on local stories at such a dangerous time.
Hiltzik is sure that the reason why some Americans are calling for a re-opening of the economy and a lifting of stay-at-home orders is because we still don’t see the coronavirus as a real threat. Like gun violence, Hiltzik claims, COVID-19 is something that Americans believe happens to someone else.
Not even low-wage native-born Americans think they have much in common with immigrant workers in meat plants. As we’ve reported, in the century since Upton Sinclair exposed the medieval conditions in Chicago meatpacking plants in “The Jungle,” not much has changed for workers, because the government’s focus always has been the safety of the product, not the safety of the workers.
At 1.5 million, the population living in nursing homes comes to less than one half of one percent of Americans; though that may be roughly equivalent to the number of families with relatives in homes, for some of them at least, residential nursing care is one way to get on with their lives while the elders finish theirs.
As for mass shootings, it’s true that when they occur in truly random circumstances, such as at a big music festival in Las Vegas or inside an office or hair salon, the average American may stop for a moment and think: I could have been there. That could have been me. But the feeling soon passes, in part because these outbreaks have become so common that they have lost their ability to shock.
I can’t help but get the feeling that halfway through his column Hiltzik realized how dumb his argument was, but gamely pressed on regardless. Americans just don’t care about other Americans, except when they do. Hiltzik says Americans put grandmas in nursing homes because they want to get on with their lives, yet we’ve all seen stories of brokenhearted family members who can’t even wave to grandma from the window of her nursing home because of stay-at-home orders. He first claims it’s apathy that’s stopping gun bans from being enacted, before suddenly deciding it’s forgetfulness instead.
The idea that America should reopen its economy because the economic damage of the lockdown is worse than the consequences of more infections comes largely from people who aren’t suffering much from the lockdown and can afford to insulate themselves from inspection.
That’s evident from their cavalier assertions that people will die one way or the other, so lockdown versus reopening is a “false choice.”
How can Hiltzik be so sure that most of the push to re-open businesses is coming from people who aren’t feeling the impacts of the lockdown? From my own personal experience, the people that I’ve spoken to who are the most eager to see businesses re-open are the small business owners who’ve been shut down for the past two months. One of my best friends is a restaurant owner in Farmville, Virginia, and he’s chomping at the bit to re-open, because if his business can’t open its doors to customers soon, they’ll never be able to do so.
Even my friend, however, is concerned about what re-opening will mean. He doesn’t want any of his regulars to get sick, nor does he want to inadvertently pass on the coronavirus to his in-laws, one of whom isn’t in the best of health. Hiltzik’s caricature of those pushing governments to ease shutdown restrictions utterly ignores the nuanced positions that most of them actually take: governments should take steps to re-open the economy while we as citizens should take steps to try to keep ourselves, and each other, safe.
Who decides what’s “reasonable”? Not front-line workers — they’re just taking the risks. The decision and the choice is taken out of their hands by governors who have ordered their workplaces reopened, thereby depriving workers of unemployment benefits if they act on fears for their health and lives by staying home.
In Hiltzik’s world, there’s no downside to staying locked down indefinitely. He never mentions the fact that the government has pumped nearly $3-trillion into the economy since mid-March, and we just saw the highest unemployment figures since the Great Depression. He doesn’t talk about the increase in calls to mental health crisis lines, or the concerns from mental health professionals that we’re likely to see more substance abuse and suicide attempts because of the economic pain and the job losses for tens of millions of Americans. Michael Hiltzik’s world is black and white, with no shades of gray, and anyone who wants to see businesses re-open or modern sporting rifles protected by the Second Amendment are villains or dupes.
It must be comforting for Hiltzik to think the world is that simple, but he’s lying to himself and his readers. The truth is that what Hiltzik is asking for is just as unreasonable as the folks who are begging for governments to flip a switch and return us to immediate normalcy. Like the Greek hero Odysseus, we are caught between our own Scylla and Charybdis; a highly contagious virus that could kill millions of Americans if it overwhelms our healthcare system, and a lockdown of our nation’s economy that could kill millions of Americans if it destroys jobs, food supplies, and even forces doctors and nurses onto the unemployment rolls along with their friends and neighbors.
If Hiltzik were Odysseus, caught between the six-headed sea monster and a roiling whirlpool that would break his ship in two, what would he do? He’d complain about Odysseus’s ultimate choice, that’s what. Odysseus tried in vain to steer his ship safely between the two deadly monsters, but when forced to choose, he sacrificed a few of his men to the sea monster instead of having his ship dragged down into the wine-dark sea by the whirlpool and losing everyone.
We have no option at the moment that stops the virus dead in its tracks. Even while stay-at-home orders have been in places and hundreds of thousands of businesses deemed “non-essential” have closed, coronavirus cases increased, though not as quickly as they would have if the lockdowns hadn’t been issued. We also have no option that returns us to immediate economic prosperity, as Americans are still afraid to take part in everyday activities like eating at a restaurant or going to a movie. Lives will be lost to the coronavirus. Jobs will be lost to our fears of the coronavirus. We can’t stop either. The real goal is to minimize both as much as possible.
This is not an easy fact to digest, but it doesn’t make you a monster for accepting that this is our reality. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about human lives if you understand we need to thread the needle between re-opening the economy and flooding hospitals with new coronavirus patients in order to minimize the scope and duration of the pain and suffering that we’re dealing with at the moment. You don’t have to like the world as it is, but you do need to live there and not a fantasyland of your own creation as Hiltzik has done.
Hiltzik’s just as out of touch when it comes to his idea that we can simply ban our way to safety. Governors across the country are starting to understand that they put almost any restriction they like in place, but getting Americans to comply with it is another story completely. Gov. Mike DeWine in Ohio recently rescinded an order requiring residents to wear masks because he realized it went too far.
“It became clear to me that that was just a bridge too far. People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”