As a result, we could never rationally discuss the sorts of trade-offs that a democracy like ours, with a culture likes ours, needed to make.
Public health expert Dr. David Katz argued in a Times Op-Ed and in an interview with me back in March that we needed a national plan that balanced saving the most lives and the most livelihoods at the same time. If we just focused on saving every life, we would create millions of deaths of despair from lost jobs, savings and businesses. If we just focused on saving every job, we would cruelly condemn to death fellow Americans who deserved no such fate.
Katz argued for a strategy of “total harm minimization” that would have protected the elderly and most vulnerable, while gradually feeding back into the work force the young and healthy most likely to experience the coronavirus either asymptomatically or mildly — and let them keep the economy humming and build up some natural herd immunity as we awaited a vaccine.
Unfortunately, we could never have a sane, sober discussion about such a strategy. From the right, said Katz, we got “contemptuous disdain” for doing even the simplest things, like wearing a mask and social distancing. The left was much more responsible, he added, but not immune from treating any discussion of economic trade-offs in a pandemic as immoral and “treating any policy allowing for any death as an act of sociopathy.”
In sum, what ails us today is something that cannot be cured by a Covid-19 vaccine. We have lost the trust in each other and in our institutions and a basic sense of what is true — all necessary to navigate a health crisis together. We had them in previous wars, but not today’s.
I believe that Joe Biden was nominated by Democrats, and has a real chance to win, because enough Americans intuit that we’re sick with disunity and that Biden might be able to begin to reverse it. Biden’s victory will not be sufficient to make America healthy again — politically and physically — but it is necessary.
In the meantime, Russia and China, please do not invade us right now. We aren’t who we used to be.
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