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America’s New Class - The Expendables

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News
While giving a speech Sept. 9, 2016, Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton had one of the more memorable moments of her campaign. It wasn’t a good one.

In speaking about then Republican candidate Donald Trump’s followers, she described them as a “basket of deplorables.” She saw them as “racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic.” Acknowledging the storm of criticism for those remarks, she amended her comment to say only “half” of his followers were in this deplorable camp. It was a comment that further entrenched her unfavorable ratings.

Now we are seeing our president and some of his followers creating a new class of people in America – The Expendables. They are people 65 and older, as well as those with underlying conditions making them more vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus – diabetes, lung disease, asthma, or a compromised immune system.

Why expendable? Because some have had enough of the decimation of the American economy due to the forced shut down of businesses and the stay-at-home orders.  What about all the lives lost to increased depression and suicide? What about all the people whose dreams are being destroyed as their businesses fail? Don’t these people matter? Legitimate questions but asked against the backdrop of a large increase in deaths.

Most Americans accept that whoever our president was, Democrat or Republican, our economy would have tanked as necessary measures were put in place to contain the spread of the deadly virus. We all want the economy to start up again, and the sooner the better. How we do it will be critical to its sustainability.  If done wrong, a spike in cases will cause another hard shutdown, as well as a lot more deaths.

“The way forward in the coronavirus crisis keeps getting framed as a choice between saving lives or saving the economy. It’s a false choice. The only way to save the economy is to take the steps that will also save lives,” Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute, writes.

“…businesses do not exist in a vacuum. They need employees, some of whom will not be able to come to work because they are in a high-risk population — they are older, have chronic health conditions or care for someone that does. Others are parents whose children are still at home because schools and child-care facilities are still shuttered. They won’t easily be able to get back to their jobs,” he says. And, Carroll says, businesses need consumers who feel safe when out and about.

There is no argument against the fact that we have lacked a clear, consistent message from the federal government on how to combat the coronavirus. There has been no guidance on how to restart the economy safely. States have largely been left on their own to find answers to these questions.

Those protesting against state measures are a small but vocal and visible group agitating for a return to a pre-pandemic world. About 80 percent of Americans have supported the stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements. Nearly 70 percent fear state governments will reopen their economies too fast, according to the Pew Research Center. However, these numbers have a substantial party bias built in to them. Eighty-seven percent of those who lean Democrat fear opening too quickly but just 47 percent of Republicans do.

Carroll says that loosening restrictions now is a mistake because there are few, if any, places seeing a significant downward trend in cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a state should see 14 straight days of a decline in its cases before starting reopening measures. None of the states aggressively reopening has met this criterion.

“Then we need to take the steps nearly every single plan recommends to move forward: We need to ramp up the testing infrastructure. We need to create the public health work force to conduct contact tracing and isolation. We need plans for monitoring locations to know when we need to get more restrictive should things go wrong.”

We are now more than three months into the coronavirus fight and we still lack the widespread, quick testing, essential to getting America back to work. Meanwhile, we wait for a treatment or a vaccine, or both. A vaccine is most likely at least a year away.

There is a growing disconnect between what America needs, what its citizens are willing to tolerate, and politicians with the courage to see us through the present crisis.

We have a president encouraging the protests of his base against state shut downs. He needs the economy to recover for his re-election bid. These needs are at odds with implementing guidelines for an effective campaign against the spread of the virus followed by an orderly and strategic opening of business. He has been trying to have it both ways. His tweets to “LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia, stoke the passions of his base, yet undermine efforts of governors trying to do what is best for their states.

“Will some people be affected? Yes,” President Trump said last week of moving quickly to get the economy going. “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”

We have no unifying leadership, no one who gives us a rallying cry as a nation to rise up to take the rigorous, painful, and necessary steps to confront the coronavirus pandemic. “All in this together” is the mantra for our times, but it is a phrase that is quickly losing its meaning. We are not united.

“Typically pandemics occur in waves across different places, so people shouldn’t think we are getting out of the woods just yet,” Irwin Redlener, a physician and director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, warns. “A lot of places haven’t got the brunt of this yet. The worst is to come, it’s inevitable.”

Rural America, with its older population, will be hard hit by a  rapidly spreading coronavirus. Senior citizens in our communities contribute to the fabric of our success. They serve in overwhelming numbers on local boards and commissions, in volunteer organizations, and in our churches. Many still own and manage local businesses. They are leaders whose contributions are essential, not expendable.

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