The same day the number of U.S. dead from the coronavirus disease hit the 15,000 mark, we also crossed the 15 million mark on the number of Americans we threw out of work to slow its spread and “bend the curve.”
For each American lost to the pandemic, 1,000 Americans have lost their jobs because of conscious and deliberate decisions of the president and 50 governors.
Some 60,000 citizens, we are told, will likely be lost in this pandemic. Are we prepared to accept 60 million unemployed to “mitigate” those losses?
What price victory in this good and necessary war to kill the virus? Is it unseemly or coldhearted to ask?
At what point do we “declare victory and get out,” as one senator told us to do in Vietnam, rather than continue to sustain the U.S. war dead, even if that meant South Vietnam would fall to our common enemies?
Economists at J.P. Morgan are forecasting that the U.S. gross domestic product will fall by 40% this spring and unemployment will reach 20% of the labor force this month.
These are numbers not seen since the Great Depression.
What does this deliberate decision to shut down the country and carpet-bomb our own economy, upon which we all depend, tell us about what we Americans value?
Consider. In a nation one-tenth as populous as ours today, Abe Lincoln sent more than 600,000 men and boys, North and South, to their deaths rather than let seven Deep South states secede and depart in peace.
While the daily loss of Americans to the virus appears to be leveling off, one-third of the way to that 60,000 figure, the other losses from the social and economic devastation we have invited upon ourselves have just begun to mount and will continue far longer.
How many millions of sick and elderly have we sent into solitary confinement? How many families have we forced into a daily struggle for the means to put food on the table and get medicine from the pharmacy?
When the decisions come from President Donald Trump and the governors to open up the economy and encourage Americans to go back to work, will the nation respond?
Will movie theaters and malls all reopen? Will shuttered hotels and motels fill up again? Will professional teams — the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL — play again to the crowds they knew?
Will public, private and parochial schools, charter and high schools, colleges and universities, all open again to the same-sized classes?
Will conventions, concerts, rallies and recitals begin anew?
To save Americans from contracting a virus that may kill 1-3% of those infected, we have put America on a ventilator.
By courting a depression — a certain consequence of having a nation of 328 million mandatorily sheltering in place and socially distancing — we are telling the world the price we will pay to help save the lives of the thousands who might otherwise contract the virus and die.
Yet this decision raises related questions of life and death.
Can a nation that will accept a depression that destroys the livelihoods of millions of its citizens be credible when it warns another great power that it is willing to fight a nuclear war — in which millions would die — over who rules the Baltic states or who controls the South China Sea?
Would a nation so unwilling to accept 60,000 dead in a pandemic it would induce a depression to cut the casualties, engage in a nuclear exchange with Russia over Estonia?
The longer the shutdown continues, the broader, deeper and more enduring the losses the country will sustain.
We Americans already live in a nation and world atop a mountain of debt.
Student loan debt. Mortgage debt. Consumer debt. Corporate debt. Municipal, county and state debt. A national debt of $22 trillion now soaring into the stratosphere.
Then there is the sovereign debt of the Third World and of nations like Argentina and Italy. If we bring the U.S. and world economy down, who pays that debt? Or is that a ridiculous question?
The decisions we are taking today, hurling scores of thousands of small businesses and millions of citizens toward bankruptcy, could start a rockslide of loan defaults that will start tumbling the banks as well.
The decisions we take in this coronavirus crisis are defining us as a nation and a people. They are telling the world what we Americans will sacrifice and what and whom we will seek to save at all costs. They will tell us who and what is expendable and who and what is not.
They will establish a hierarchy of values that may not correlate exactly with what we Americans publicly profess.
Our decisions may tell us who we truly are.