The coronavirus pandemic in the United States has reignited long-standing debates about the relationship between freedom and economic and personal security. After barely a week of a partial lockdown in many parts of the country, Donald Trump and others are now complaining that overly risk-averse public-health officials are threatening to strangle the economy. Trump insists that excessive caution is counterproductive and dangerous: “THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (BY FAR) THAN THE PROBLEM,” he tweeted on March 22. During a briefing at the White House the next day he added: “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. America will again, and soon, be open for business.”
Conservatives have supported and extended Trump’s position. Writing in The Washington Post on March 25, the columnist Gary Abernathy claimed that both the stimulus plan passed by the Senate and the shelter-at-home proclamations had completed the nation’s march to socialism begun “incrementally decades ago.” “The delicate balance between freedom and risk was less than an afterthought as our economy was gutted in a matter of days,” Abernathy wrote:
In real life, bad things happen to us that aren’t our fault, but we still have to find a way, usually on our own, to cope and recover. Only in the land of make-believe that is our government would anyone think that no one would miss a paycheck no matter how many businesses were closed or jobs were lost.
Other conservatives have framed protective measures as a threat not only to America’s rugged individualism but to masculinity. The Christian pastor Jonathan Shuttlesworth referred to social distancers as “sissies” and “pansies” who have been “neutered,” and described Christians who use hand sanitizer as having “fake faith” and “no balls.” Another minister said he would never close his church, because his congregants were not “pansies.” Some politicians, including the lieutenant governor of Texas, and pundits, including Glenn Beck, have gone so far as to suggest that older Americans should be willing to risk death to preserve the economy.