Former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has emerged from retirement in the middle of a pandemic to contradict doctors and public health experts in the name of The Economy.
In an interview with The Tennessean, Corker joins the chorus of conservatives singing along with President Donald Trump's new tune: bring a swift end to the various shutdowns and social distancing protocols that have been put in place in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It's time to plug the economy back in, they argue.
This is all a bit jarring. Less than a month ago, the president said of the novel virus: "It's going to disappear. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear." Just 15 days ago, while speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, he said: "It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away." From the start, he has downplayed the threat and lied about what his administration was doing to confront it. For a day or so, he struck a serious tone about the pandemic. In the weeks since, the virus has not miraculously disappeared.
On the contrary, it is spreading rapidly. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise, as have deaths from the illness. The United States is on a disturbing trajectory compared to other countries.
In an effort to flatten the curve and keep hospitals from being overrun by too many serious cases of the illness at one time, states and cities around the country have ordered nonessential businesses to close down and urged residents to stay at home.
There is no doubt about the fact that this is a cataclysmic economic event. Unemployment is spiking, businesses are hanging on by a thread if they're hanging on at all, and the stock market is as volatile as ever.
So, in the face of all that, Trumpist conservatives have started loudly proposing a new idea: What if we just let some old folks die. No, seriously, they are saying that. The president says he wants to have the economy back to normal by Easter — April 12. Corker tells The Tennessean he'd like it to be sooner. And he adopts the Sacrifice the Olds line with barely softer phrasing.
"Should my generation be willing to have a degree of sacrifice and risk so that younger generations can have a better life?" Corker, 67, says. "I think so."
Thanks, Bob, but we'd rather you just shut up.
The former senator would have you believe that the salient point here, the thing that gives him standing to make this argument, is that he's sort of old. But what's more important is that he is very rich. You can bet he has better access to better health care than tens of millions of Americans, and that he is far more sensitive to the fluctuations of the stock market than the single parent who can't work during this crisis. If governors and mayors celebrate Easter by lifting restrictions and allowing businesses to reopen, Bob Corker won't be heading back to a restaurant to be exposed to hundreds of possibly infected customers a day; and he sure as hell won't be staffing a local hospital, where doctors and nurses treat the sick and fight the deadly illness that is certain to kill some of them.
The new plan from people who have been winging it all along is not just startlingly inhumane — it also presents a false choice. These people would have you believe that our choice is between staying in our homes and watching the economy crumble or getting back to business and being occasionally interrupted by a grandmother's funeral. But even if one cared nothing for the lives of people over 60, that option is not on the table.
Corker doesn't explain this, and neither has the president, but one wonders: What do they think would happen to the economy if we sent everyone back to work and coronavirus cases and deaths spiked, as they almost certainly would? Will the stock market respond well to images of overrun hospitals in large American cities that look like the set of an apocalyptic movie? Will the president's precious hotels run themselves when staff becomes infected at increasingly higher rates?
There is another thing to consider too, and since we're all apparently getting comfortable talking about this in blunt personal terms, I'll do the same: It might make Bob Corker feel good to suggest that he is willing to die for the economy, but I would rather avoid (or at least reduce) the risk that my wife or my children or myself die because an appendix unfortunately bursts next month and hospitals have become too crowded to treat it. I want us to do everything we can to avoid something like that happening to my neighbors, or to Bob Corker.
It's obvious that the government will have to take immediate and significant action to give relief to workers and businesses who have just been hit by an economic meteor. But engaging the virus in a game of chicken will not accomplish that. Public health officials in Trump's own administration have cautioned against the dangerous fantasy that he and now Corker are pushing. Economists have also argued that Trump's vision is fanciful.
Corker was a coward in the face of the last crisis we saw him confront — the emergence, election and erratic governing of Donald Trump. You can ignore his freelance advice in the face of this crisis. In fact, it would be in the interest of public health if he simply did now what he did when Trump refused to back him for a third term in the Senate — he should go away.