American exceptionalism is premised on an unparalleled elevation of personal liberty as paramount. The Declaration of Independence recites “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as primary values, but the COVID-19 pandemic has jumbled these three into conflict – with life threatened, both liberty and economic prosperity are in jeopardy. Our lives are threatened with doom; gloom hovers over our liberties and economy.
America has many times been compelled to balance its citizens’ vital interests between this Scylla and Charybdis. Presently both menacing shores are shrouded in mist – the degree of threat to human health a terrifying whirlpool, pushing us toward the many-headed beast of economic destruction. An implosion of the economy could exceed the threat to human life posed by the coronavirus – but it is uncertain how severe is the medical emergency.
In truth, only in hindsight will we know exactly how best to have responded – thus the difficulty in estimating projected casualties to be 100,000 or 240,000, as reflected in a recent analysis. Even those speculative numbers have been revised upward.
The President and other leaders face damnation on either side – act too slowly, and they are blamed for mass graves; act too rashly, they will be faulted for eviscerating the economy. And the howling of political sirens of both extremes fills all ears with terror. Some allege that the threat is overblown, or that the entire alarm is a hoax -- a move by a New World Order and elitists to enslave us all. Which is worse? -- an enslaving plague or a plague of enslavers? It is not just our leaders who are navigating between two existential threats.
If we overreact, we may have abandoned freedoms and plunged our national and global economies into a downward spiral from which we cannot easily return. Yet, if we balk for such fears, how bad could it get?
There is indeed a middle course. Serological tests are being developed which will allow reliable assessment of those infected who may safely return to normalcy; many who have been tested positive but recovered can go back to work; some drugs promise to reduce mortality rates and save lives. We will emerge from “the curve” in due time. Despite uncertainty, we certainly must bravely discern the light at this dark tunnel’s end.
The White House indicates that without restrictive measures, millions might die. Should that prove true, it would not bode well in the November elections that many on the Right dilly-dallied by alleging a conspiracy, even as their President called for restraint. The United Kingdom reported 1,000 virus deaths March 28th; 3,000 one week later. The numbers there suggest nearly 10% of those infected over the age of 80 succumb; 5% of those over 70. Another report estimates a hospitalization rate of 19% for over-80s. If hospitals are overrun, many patients are denied care, and the rates of death climb. Thus, emerging data from Spain and Italy suggest an across-the-board mortality rate exceeding 10%, and this may exclude uncounted victims who perished at home.
Some claim New York City is lying by counting all those who test positive at death as virus victims, but what of those who die who do not have coronavirus but would have lived had they received routine care but did not because of COVID-19? Protocols are shifting so that EMTs will not “bag” heart attack or overdose victims – is New York City lying (and underreporting causative deaths) by excluding those?
Exact measurements are simply impossible, but a generalized assessment yields frightening potential impacts in America. In 2016, there were an estimated 49.2 million Americans over age 65; in 2017, an estimated 26.55 million were aged 75 or over. No degree in rocket science required. New York experienced 630 (alleged) coronavirus deaths in one day: this is not a run-of-the-mill flu. This is why the White House warns that if Americans ignore this contagion, millions could perish.
In 1918, the Spanish Flu was not dismissed as a media-crafted fabrication. The current distrust of the mainstream media, and of the federal government, is warranted – they’ve both earned it. The MSM may though be that boy who cried wolf, now telling the truth while many scoff at the reality for Italy, Spain, the UK, France, and other nations. If so, those scoffers may pay both a medical and a political price. Indeed, a fictitious claim of false alarm would later serve those who desire to force vaccines or quarantines upon the citizenry.
In such event, America would lose all three parts of its exceptional equation – the life part, the liberty part, and the pursuit of happiness. That is a bad recipe. We would do better to seek the path that best balances the preservation of all three.