Perhaps you’ve naively ventured to raise the possibility, either in polite company or on social media (which today seem mutually exclusive), that just maybe shutting down all America for the coronavirus could be a bit of overkill.
That tanking the stock market and instantly reversing a decade of job gains might have been premature when so little real data was yet at hand about COVID-19’s actual virulence, morbidity and mortality.
That a new Great Recession – or worse – might have long-term public health consequences of its own. Perhaps a rise in suicides, already up a third this century. A new upturn in overdose deaths, which peaked at 70,000 three years back. More alcoholism, which kills nearly 90,000 people a year, or smoking, which slays more than 400,000. All in all, steepening the upward trend of “deaths of despair” that reversed generations of gains in life expectancy during the last decade.
You might have expressed that reasonable opinion – only to get it slapped back in your face with the remonstrance, “You obviously care more about the stock market than people’s lives.”
Or, “Oh. So you’re willing to sacrifice my grandmother to protect Big Business?”
Such a vile insult – as personally experienced by this commentator, as it happens – stems from two fundamentally variant views of true compassion.
One side recognizes that truly caring about people is about empowering them to live self-confident lives of independence, with the freedom and ability to gather wealth. As Jack Kennedy famously asserted: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
In contrast, for a “progressive” – in politics, the media and everyday life – one demonstrates compassion by giving a suitably aggrieved person something, preferably appropriated from someone else.
A special right or favored position, regardless of merit or overall effect on society. An assured place at the front of the line for an education, a job or a promotion. And naturally, money or other benefits from the government.
And all the better if these grants of benefits, privilege, rights or influence create dependency on centralized government (and one particular political party) – along with the power to run and order people’s lives at the expense of competing institutions of authority such as the marriage and family, businesses and the financial community, the church and localities.
Suddenly, something may just have dawned on you. The Democrats and their progressive fellow-travelers have stumbled on their own version of Utopia: the coronavirus.
In one fell swoop, governments have – on the basis of frightening and at least partially retracted scenarios – sucked the life and much wealth out of a vibrant economy and society, not just decimating markets but shutting down stores, restaurants, gyms and other gathering places. Schools, universities, churches and even interactions among families have been similarly restricted.
Meanwhile, having knocked the footing out from under America, the feds have the entire nation begging on our hindlegs for scraps from an unprecedented, heretofore unthinkable $2 trillion handout. Checks will be sent to an estimated 93% of the population and unemployment payments to some workers for more than their actual wages.
Hundreds of billions in loans, some forgivable, will be given to small businesses, as well as lending and grants to hospitals, medical providers, states and favored – oops, “distressed” – industries and companies. Not to mention sneaking in additional goodies for agencies and interests with no real skin in the current crisis.
Nancy Pelosi is pinching herself and already demanding more.
You think the Democrats will be satisfied with handing frightened households a piddling $1200 per person in the face of the ever-worsening economic catastrophe? Will let up on the rich unemployment benefits when they are supposed to expire? Won’t insist on shoveling more dollars to overburdened hospitals and health care workers – the most beset of which are conveniently in blue areas?
The 2020 election will now be fought on Democratic territory: who is (or was) more “compassionate” under their definition.
They are willing to keep America shut down longer, ostensibly to spare lives and lighten the load on caregivers – while increasing dependence on government.
They want to extend the new benefits and favors and, eventually, institutionalize some.
For most Americans, the coronavirus nightmare can’t end too soon. For Democrats and progressives, their dream of universal government dependence – and control – can’t last long enough.
Bob Maistros is president of RPM Executive Communications, Inc., which provides high-level message development, communications strategy and crisis support to firms ranging from the Fortune 500 to tech startups, and he is of counsel at the Alexandria, Va.-based Strategic Action Public Affairs. He was chief writer for the 1984 Reagan re-election campaign and also wrote for Sens. Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch.