April 15th, 2020
“There is no zero-harm choice here. Both of these decisions will lead to harm for individuals, whether that’s dramatic economic harm or whether it’s loss of life. But it’s always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.” – Trey Hollingsworth, Republican Congressman from Indiana
Representative Hollingsworth’s quote about the re-opening of the U.S. has made me think. Mostly, it has made me ask questions, few of which seem to have clear answers.
First, what does the Congressman mean by “our way of life as Americans”? Is his way of life the same as mine? Is my lifestyle (comfortably retired) the same as that of a Syrian refugee family I know? Is the way of life of this refugee family the same as that of my combat veteran son living down in Texas? There are as many different American lifestyles as there are Americans. Who is Hollingsworth talking about? What does he see as the most important aspects of “our way of life”?
The Congressman has also stated that the answer to our current crisis is “unequivocally to get Americans back to work, to get Americans back to their businesses.” Okay, so this implies that “our way of life” is primarily defined by economics. It apparently revolves around money. Personally, I would be happy to see the nation’s economy humming again, so that my retirement fund would rise up from the depths. I am sure that the seventeen million recently fired people in this country would like to be back at work, so they can pay their bills. Economic prosperity is a big deal, but does that also mean that our way of life only consists of insatiable consumerism? Does our lifestyle require unsustainable growth? Is the American way of life solely based on a sort of heroic materialism?
The American way of life also seems to hinge on personal freedom (or, extreme individualism, depending on your perspective). The Bill of Rights has not been doing very well during the last few weeks. Do individual rights trump (no pun intended) the common good? Does our way of life mean that we have unlimited Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Religion? Americans love to fight for their rights, but we seldom talk about our responsibilities toward our fellow citizens. I have heard people say that they have a right to take the chance of exposing themselves to the COVID-19 infection if they choose. Maybe they do. But do they have the right to expose other people to that same infection? Where do my rights end, and where do yours begin?
Hollingsworth talked about “the loss of life of American lives” as being something that is acceptable in the service of preserving “our way of life”, whatever that means. That notion makes me squirm a bit. If COVID-19 vistims die, will their deaths somehow save the lives of people who are suffering greatly in the lockdown? When talking about “loss of life”, is the Congressman talking about the loss of his life, or maybe the lives of his family members? It really matters to me whose lives are expendable. Does he expect that certain people will volunteer to die for the cause? Who are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of capitalism?
I wonder if our way of life as Americans is really worth saving.