“Are you prepared to die for the economy?” I asked my 76-year-old grandmother as she fried an egg this morning. She turned to me as though I’d just asked her to bash herself over the head with her skillet.
“No,” she snapped at me, before going back to making breakfast for her and my 79-year-old grandfather.
Yet that’s exactly what Republican Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said seniors are willing to do. Appearing yesterday evening on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Patrick said, “No one reached out to me as a senior citizen and said, as a senior citizen, ‘Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.” He later added, “There are lots of grandparents out there like me.”
This came after President Trump tweeted: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF” as he wrung his hands over the economy. He now says he will “re-evaluate” our current self-isolation measures at the end of the 15-day period, contradicting the advice of America’s top scientists and medical professionals. Trump was planning to make the crashing economy the cornerstone of his re-election campaign.
Recognizing how dangerous this type of rhetoric is, some Democratic leaders are speaking out. “It is essential for the soul of this nation that [Patrick] be repudiated in the strongest possible terms by major Republican leaders,” Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz tweeted. Conservative writer and CNN host S E Cupp was even more blunt in her criticism. “[T]his is morbid, evil, and wrong,” she wrote in one of several tweets about Patrick’s remarks.
They are not alone in their anger. As of this writing, #NotDying4WallStreet is the top trending topic on Twitter in the United States. As artist and advocate Summer Wesley pointed out, “If your economy requires sacrificing the lives of just to save it, how can it be worth saving?”
The answer is: it’s not, at least not for most folks. It’s easy for Trump and Patrick to be so blasé about possibly killing a generation of Americans because despite being seniors themselves, they know their chances of perishing from COVID-19 are small. They’re both men of means. As access to testing shows, if you have enough money you can buy the medical attention you need. Indeed, that’s the principle the entire US healthcare system is built around.
Yet many of America’s seniors struggle just to make ends meet. According to data from the US Census Bureau, as many as 14 per cent of America’s seniors live below the poverty line. Last year, MarketWatch reported that in 2017 more than five million seniors couldn’t afford enough food.
This is hardly surprising, as social security is paltry and age discrimination rife; a recent AARP survey found that three in five older workers have experienced discrimination in the workplace. This economic inequality often leads to adverse medical care, as well. A 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that nearly a quarter of American seniors can’t afford their prescription medications, with rural patients often at an even greater disadvantage, rationing medicine rather than taking it as prescribed. Last year, NBC Think reported that at least 1 in 5 Americans over 50 have experienced age discrimination in medicine, a problem which can lead to deadly results for seniors.
I don’t want to live in a nation that treats Papaw and Mamaw like cannon fodder. Many — if not most — seniors don’t want that, either. “I want my grandchildren to know that for them, Grandma lived,” tweeted author Connie Schultz. My grandmother echoed this sentiment: “I would die for my grandchildren, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to die for the economy.”
I don’t want my grandparents to die either, which is why I’m self-isolating with them on this mountain. They’re in their 70s, which means they could have another quarter-century of life ahead of them. I want them to be able to live every moment of it.
I moved in with my grandparents in November. They need me, but I need them more. They practically raised me, put me through college, have loved and supported me through abusive relationships and depression and poverty. They have done the same for my father and my aunt, my cousins, and countless other relations. I want to give them all the love and support I can, not — as Trump and Patrick would have me give them — a deadly virus.
My grandparents are the backbone of our family. The same is true for families across this nation, where grandparents offer love, support, and guidance, playing central roles in family life. They are not old pack mules to be put out to pasture. What Dan Patrick and Donald Trump are suggesting is heartless and cruel. If either of them wants to catch coronavirus, so be it — best of luck, fellas.
I, however, have no interest in sacrificing Mamaw and Papaw at the altar of late capitalism.