Wait. Wait. Texas does not have to do a total, forever Fauci-style face-plant over Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. There is a respectable, even noble way out of this for us.
True, it’s bad. Last week Patrick earned worldwide opprobrium for himself and terrible attention for Texas with what he said about ending shelter-in-place. Patrick proposed we prop up the stock market and keep the economy cranking by calling off shelter-in-place, even if it means allowing coronavirus to kill off the old people.
Please pause. Give me one second. I think we should pay attention to the second part of what he said.
Patrick, who is 69, said he considered the personal risk he might suffer if shelter-in-place is ended to be a reasonable price for the economic well-being of his grandchildren.
“If that’s the exchange, I’m all-in,” Patrick told a Fox News talk show host. “Let’s get back to work.”
Think about that. Even if what he said is totally idiotic, it’s not truly heinous unless he didn’t mean the part about personal sacrifice. But that’s sort of the big problem.
The unavoidable skepticism for what Patrick has to say would spring from his status as an old, powerful, rich white person. If we end shelter-in-place tomorrow, Dan Patrick won’t have to go bus people’s tables in a bar in order to put food on the Patrick family dinner table. People send Patrick his money via the internet.
If we end shelter-in-place, Dan Patrick won’t have to let anybody into his house who isn’t wearing a full hazmat suit if he doesn’t feel like it. When he does video conferencing from his basement, he probably can afford a videographer, sound technician and makeup artist, all in hazmat suits.
But this isn’t just Patrick. From social media to the White House, something bigger than a meme, an actual theme of death-for-prosperity is emerging. According to this line of thought, the willing sacrifice of lives for prosperity is more than an abstraction. It is being proposed as a positive action that must be taken quickly to avoid substantial long-lasting damage to the economy.
I’m not even going to try to argue the economic logic. I confess I have a hard time imagining a big, robust economic parade led by hearses. It seems to me that would make people nervous.
And, back to the skepticism, I don’t think many people will be sold on the promise that the hearses will be full of old, rich white people. It’s not so much a matter of class resentment and mistrust as simple logistics. The old, rich, white, Dan Patrick-ish people won’t be the ones out there wiping down tables.
Skepticism is important, because it goes to social justice, and social justice is the real key to our survival. If we want to make it through this and future environmental crises, we need to grasp that social justice will be way more important than the stock market.
I’m working on a story for next week about cultural links between modern pandemics, this one very much included, and the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century. Social justice is not a new idea. Then, as now, very bad things happened when one class of people got the idea they were being left out to die when a more privileged class of people were behind the walls and protected.
Not to go into the weeds on it here, but think in terms of people using catapults to heave rotten cadavers over moats and castle walls. Big splat. And it worked. They didn’t know a thing about bacteria or viruses. They thought bad air made people sick. But you heave a plague-dead cadaver into somebody’s backyard, there’s a good chance that person will get sick. Regular volleys of them, the chances go way up.
As a species, we tend to even things up sooner or later, by whatever means necessary. The worse it gets, the more important that is to keep in mind, which brings us back to Dan Patrick’s basic premise of sacrifice and the good name of Texas.
We defend Texas by defending Dan Patrick. We defend Dan Patrick by saying, look, we’re not going to debate the epidemiology or the economics of what he said. Over our heads. But we are going to defend the underlying morality. He meant what he said about personal sacrifice. It wasn’t just some goofy lie.
And how do we prove that? We prove it by holding Patrick to his word. We make it plain to him that we expect him to defend the honor of Texas by making clear public demonstrations of his sincerity.
For example, Patrick could take an hour every evening to leave the sanctuary of his home and go to the homes of people suffering from coronavirus infection to help them. Think what it would mean. Imagine what it would say to the world.
He’s not medically qualified to do anything, so he would have to help in other useful ways. Patrick could help coronavirus sufferers with common chores of housecleaning, with cooking and even personal hygiene.
I think the last item might be the most effective — help with hygiene. A man who states on Fox TV that he is brave enough and noble enough to give his own life in the battle against coronavirus should be brave and noble enough to give a coronavirus sufferer a bath, to help them on and off toilets and to change their soiled bedding and underclothes.
Does that seem like too much? I don’t think so, when you balance it against the size of the promise. This is a powerful elected leader who vowed with his hair carefully coiffed on national television that he would give his own life to coronavirus to protect the American economy.
OK. Do it.
Your honor is on the line, Mr. Patrick, and with it the honor of Texas. You put yourself in this bad limelight. You put us there with you. So do it. Get out there and prove the skeptics wrong. Lead by example.
Show the world that you are “all-in,” as you said you were on national television with your hair combed. The world needs to see Dan Patrick with his hair sweat-stuck to his head carrying a bedpan or a bundle of dirty sheets from the room of somebody sick or dying of this modern plague.
Other people are doing it day and night. Family and friends, neighbors, all kinds of people are taking heart-stopping risks and making terrible sacrifices all over the world.
We assume that medical professionals are duty-bound to take care of us, no matter what the risks may be to themselves or their families. If somebody calls 911, the cops have to go. The EMS officers have to go. The firefighters have to go. The priest, the rabbi, the imam and the minister all want to go, whether they are allowed or not. So what about the lieutenant governor?
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More to the point, what about Dan Patrick, the man? Does he mean what he says? By posturing on national TV as a man willing to take a bullet for his grandchildren, he probably earns himself a lot of well-deserved political support and votes, if he means it and people take him seriously.
But what if it’s all just hot air? What if he has no intention of allowing himself or his loved ones to be exposed? What if his statement on Fox was a mere manipulative political pose while his real intention is to use every nickel and dime in his pocket, every ounce of political support and every stick of hard police power he can muster to protect himself and his family while the suckers take the bullets?
Well, in that case, Texas, we’ve got a problem. In that case, it’s all the more essential that we challenge Patrick and the rest of the people who talk like him, from Facebook to the White House. I know the White House shouldn’t be our problem, but now Patrick has put us in this ugly light, and here we are.
If he’s a liar, if he has no intention of making any personal sacrifice or exposing himself to risk, then he and the people like him need to be dragged out into the public square and clamped into the 21st-century version of the stocks. That would be the requirement of basic social justice, and, in times like these, social justice is not an ideal or an abstraction. It's a flying cadaver.