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How Our Response to COVID Demonstrates America's Pervasive Ageism

Watching the horrific number of nursing home deaths at the beginning of the pandemic and the selfish, toddler-esque tantrums of the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, one gets the feeling that this country doesn’t care about its elderly.  And they would be right.  This shameful neglect pre-dates COVID and extends far beyond our borders, although Asian cultures’ deference to the elderly keeps ageism somewhat in check in places like Japan and Taiwan.

Why is our society ageist? My religion, Judaism, commands that we stand when an older person enters the room as a show of respect. I suspect many other religions preach the same thing. Also, most of us have loved and treasured someone advanced in years that may or may not still be with us. And, finally, all of us who have the luck combined with good genes and healthy habits will enter our golden years.

So, unlike sexism and racism, we’re actually prejudiced against a group of people that we will someday join. And displays of ageism are rarely denounced in our society.  Making fun of our President’s cognitive abilities because of his age isn’t just limited to Republicans (remember Trump’s nickname for Biden, Sleepy Joe?).  Those of us who voted for him also make wisecracks about our 78-year-old leader and often face zero negative consequences. Canceled on social media? Not a chance.  In fact, one could be considered a paragon of wokeness by some while still being a raving ageist.

Yes, it is not a surprise that the overwhelming portion of those who have died from COVID have been over 50 given the weakening of our immune systems as we age.  But did it have to get this bad?  We didn’t have to neglect our nursing homes and assisted care facilities for so long in terms of infrequent inspections and lax regulation, that they were a sitting target for COVID’s ravages.  And we didn’t have to take our sweet time making sure eldercare facilities were properly equipped with personal protective equipment.

And what about those over 65 who live independently? Many Americans have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate a blatant disregard for the value of seniors’ lives.  The almost 70 (at the time) lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, gave voice to this shameful current in our society when he proclaimed, “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?’ And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.”

Is this type of society we want to live in, one in which we see one segment of it as disposable?  I wonder what Lt. Governor Patrick would say about those people who are not senior citizens but who are immunocompromised or disabled in some other way. Are they disposable too?  As a Jew, I abhor the cheap comparisons being made between having to comply with masking and vaccine requirements and Jews being required to wear yellow stars during the Holocaust.  However, if we’re going to play the Holocaust card, I have to say ageism and ableism during a pandemic strike me as a step down a very dangerous slippery slope. Sorry Lt. Governor Patrick, that is not the America I love.

Getty image by Inner Vision Pro.