This made me laugh just because of how “on brand” it is. None of the MAGA diehards who’ve embraced the idea of getting back to work ASAP are recommending that *older people* lead the way. Just the opposite. They want older people to stay home because they’re more vulnerable to the disease while younger people return to work, which at least genuflects towards reality.

But Beck has always been a guy to take things one notch higher than everyone else. Righties of all stripes embraced conservative tea-party populism circa 2009, after Obama was sworn in. But only one guy was drawing complicated schematics on blackboards on Fox News to show how George Soros was behind all of the world’s problems. That’s Beck. One notch higher.

So of course, at a moment when the new fad is to somehow save the country by sabotating the attempt to flatten the curve before that effort has even really begun, he’d go one notch higher. You care enough about America to risk a mass die-off by sending young people back to work? Well, he cares enough to risk an even bigger mass die-off by sending older people back.

It’s a perverse form of virtue-signaling. How much are you willing to sacrifice to save this country? And by “you,” I mean you, the Beck listener, not Beck himself. This advice, offered by an ardent populist, might get lots of average joes killed but not so much wealthy radio personalities who can broadcast from their home studios. What’s more, it’s plain as day that if a Democrat had recommended relaxing social distancing measures in parts of the country just as things turned really hairy in New York, Beck’s outrage would be one notch higher than everyone else’s. “Of course the Party Of Death, which has condoned the culling of infants for decades for reasons of convenience, would be cavalier about the risk to our mothers and fathers,” he’d say.

And he’d be right. That is what a party of death would condone.

In fact, he did say something like that in 2009 when he was warning the country about death panels under ObamaCare: “We care about the elderly… We value life in this country and when you start devaluing life, then you’re in trouble.” Here we are in 2020, with the elderly facing a threat unlike any in modern history, at a moment when hospitals actually are organizing informal “death panels” to ration scarce emergency care, and his attitude now is that older people should cowboy up and risk dying while gasping for breath on a cot in a hospital parking lot because that’s better than a temporary economic freeze backstopped by relief from Congress. God — and Wall Street — need you on the job.

Was he unserious in 2009 or is he unserious now? Or both, conceivably? A grim fact via Jim Geraghty: “1.8 million people 65 years and older (4% of all U.S. seniors) live in a county without a hospital.” Some who get this will die without even having had the opportunity for consideration by a “death panel” to receive life-saving care.

This nonsense about a supposed binary choice between controlling the disease’s spread and saving the economy/country needs to stop. It’s wishcasting. There’s no choice. There’s no route to economic recovery that doesn’t involve slowing down rates of infection first. Even if Trump and various governors from both parties declared that people are free to make up their own minds beginning on Easter whether to reopen for business and return to work, imagine how eager Americans will be to do that given what these numbers will look like three weeks from now, when Easter arrives:

Even as Trump looks forward to relaxing social distancing measures sometime soonish, his own favorite network is taking precautions to enforce them more vigorously:

But look. In spite of the criticism, I sympathize with Beck and everyone else who’s grasping for some logic by which we can all get back to work soon. The warnings from Trump and others that hard times economically have their own human toll are entirely right. The speed with which we’ve all had to shift from an outlook of peace and unprecedented prosperity to a global health calamity and likely depression is disorienting like nothing in recent history, including 9/11. My own memory of when the pandemic became fully “real” to me was when I wrote this post about evidence that the virus had been quietly spreading in Seattle for longer than anyone thought. That was just 24 days ago.

Wishcasting is a normal human reaction under any circumstances but under circumstances like these, when we’re all in a daze at the sudden bleakness of reality, the urge is irresistible. For me too: Posts about the latest anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine might work or that the virus might not be as severe as we all think aren’t much more than me choking on the fact that this is really happening, and it’ll keep happening for many months, and it’ll get much, much worse in lots of ways, and there’s no easy way out. But … maybe there is! Maybe there’s a secret exit in the form of a magic pill. Or maybe the epidemiologists have missed something about transmission that proves we’re already approaching the worst of it and will be past it soon.

Maybe! But probably not.

I think the “let’s get back to work” push from Trump and Beck and others is at base just their own version of that. What if the younger and healthier among us who don’t live in hot spots just said “f*** the virus” and went back to work? It wouldn’t be so bad, maybe. We could jump-start GDP. The recovery could begin now, without seeding a nationwide epidemic that would kill mountains of people and deepen the economic devastation. Maybe! But probably not.

But it’s human to want to think so.