At the start of his Tuesday show, conservative radio host Glenn Beck spoke in an upbeat cadence over a jaunty music track, even as he discussed possibly sacrificing lives during the coronavirus outbreak to save the United States and its economy.
‘‘I would rather have my children stay home and have all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working,’’ Beck said. ‘‘Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country. Because it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.’’
Beck’s offer to sacrifice his health and other older Americans’ lives for the good of the US economy comes amid President Trump’s evolving rhetoric against the social distancing guidelines that have urged people to avoid public gatherings and work from home as much as possible to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Trump has spoken in recent days of lifting social distancing policies that have shut down nonessential businesses around the United States after a 15-day period ends to ‘‘have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.’’
Behind him, a chorus of conservative thinkers, pundits, and politicians have been sowing arguments to support a potential walk-back of the policies that public health experts say will slow the spread of coronavirus and limit the number of severe cases inundating hospitals.
At the heart of their campaign is a skepticism over the advice offered by experts and a willingness to accept a certain number of deaths to incur fewer economic costs.
Many also see in the mass shutdowns and shelter-in-place policies a plot to push the country to the left.
Beck, for example, suggested Democrats were trying to ‘‘jam down the Green New Deal because we’re at home panicked.’’ Heather Mac Donald, a conservative thinker and Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, sees the restrictions as ‘‘a warm-up for their wish-list of sweeping economic interventions.’’
R.R. Reno, editor of the conservative religious journal ‘‘First Things,’’ recently described an ‘‘unspoken agreement’’ among ‘‘leaders, public health officials, and media personalities’’ who ‘‘conspire to heighten the atmosphere of crisis in order to get us to comply with their radical measures.’’
Mac Donald was one of the early voices against aggressive social distancing. She called the shelter-in-place policies mandated by some state officials ‘‘unbridled panic’’ in a March 13 op-ed that downplayed the virus because of low numbers of infections and deaths in the United States at the time.
There are now more than 1,000 deaths in the United States, but Mac Donald’s position remains the same.
The vast majority of coronavirus fatalities will be ‘‘concentrated among the elderly and the already severely sick,’’ she argued, who might die of another cause, if not coronavirus.
She estimated death rates close to the flu and nowhere near as high as auto accidents.
Public health experts have disputed those analogies when discussing the coronavirus pandemic, and new data have shown higher rates of illness and death among young and middle-aged adults than previously expected.
But Mac Donald and others arguing to end the self-isolation that is hampering the stock market don’t deny people will die. While the virus might kill thousands, Mac Donald argued, a depressed economy could irreparably harm millions of Americans, young and old.
‘‘The millions of people whose lives depend on a functioning economy also deserve compassion,’’ Mac Donald wrote.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board agreed the impact on the nation’s financial health could potentially be catastrophic, particularly if the stay-at-home orders continue into April, May, or even June, as some experts have suggested. The board suggested last week that seeking alternatives that would allow commerce to resume, but stopped short of urging a sudden end to the social distancing policies in place now.
‘‘No society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its overall economic health,” the editorial board wrote, ‘‘Even America’s resources to fight a viral plague aren’t limitless — and they will become more limited by the day as individuals lose jobs, businesses close, and American prosperity gives way to poverty.’’