Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Bruni: Tough Talk and Tougher Choices

Tough Talk and Tougher Choices

Chris Christie.Riccardo Savi/Getty Images For Concordia Summit
Give Chris Christie points for bluntness.
In a fascinating and disturbing interview with Dana Bash for a recent episode of the CNN podcast “The Daily D.C.,” he likened the harrowing circumstances that the coronavirus has thrust upon us to World War II, when the United States sent many Americans off to die for the benefit of other Americans and for the greater good.
“We sacrificed those lives,” Christie, the former New Jersey governor and sometime Trump ally, told Bash. “We decided to make that sacrifice, because what we were standing up for was the American way of life. In the very same way now, we have to stand up for the American way of life.”
He was arguing specifically that more people must be released from lockdown and that more governors must reopen their economies so that more Americans’ livelihoods, financial solvency and sense of economic hope can be preserved.
“We are being faced right now, in some of the states, with paralyzing timidity rather than Churchill-ian boldness,” he told Bash. If such boldness carries epidemiological risk, he seemed to say, so be it.
Bash, citing some projections, asked: Could Americans really abide 3,000 Covid-19 deaths a day?
“They’re going to have to,” Christie answered, adding: “That’s the fact of this pandemic. We have a virus that is killing people.” To hide from it by staying isolated indoors has excessively grave implications for “mental health, addiction, domestic violence and suicide,” Christie said. “And what kind of economy will we have when we come back?”
I’m showcasing his words not to disparage or praise them. I’m showcasing them because they expose some of the calculations that we’re making as we discuss and determine the right public response to an enduring pandemic. They acknowledge the enormous, messy questions in play.
What weight do we apportion the fact of life versus quality of life? At what point of psychological and economic degradation is that quality unacceptable and is the life worth putting at risk? What number of lives, if any, is it OK to endanger so that a much higher number of lives can be bettered? What’s the higher number? And how should betterment be defined?
Sweden’s herd-immunity approach provided one set of answers. Michigan’s lockdown provided another. Whichever fork a given place or population takes, it’s making a profoundly moral decision.
A friend of mine recently asserted that no matter the Covid-19 data in July and August, all college campuses should welcome students back for the fall semester because young people aren’t the primary victims of Covid-19; because the current disruption to their lives, if prolonged, could strain them in ways that haunt their futures; and because they have so much future ahead of them. They warrant a little extra consideration.
Implicit in that reasoning is that older people, who are vulnerable if the resumption of business as usual spreads the virus, warrant a little less.
There’s no way to sugarcoat that, and there’s no point in being anything less than wholly honest about the implications of the transcendently difficult choices before us.

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