Perhaps the most jarring thing about Mr. Berenson’s presence on Twitter is not his relentlessness but his lack of empathy. When a marijuana policy figure he’d clashed with died last July, Mr. Berenson tweeted, “Here’s where I’m supposed to say that even though we disagreed he was smart and cared deeply about public policy.” Instead, he followed with a Latin phrase about not speaking ill of the dead. When Mr. Berenson learned that one of his Twitter foes, the Times opinion writer Jamelle Bouie, had lost his grandfather to the virus, he just kept arguing, writing that he had dead grandparents, too, and “the world didn’t stop for them either.”
This coldness about death is at the heart of Mr. Berenson’s bigger-picture policy view: that we simply need to accept the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans from the virus, and that the social and economic damage of the lockdowns is wasted. It’s a bloodless argument, but an honest one. And he makes it in the final page of his booklet, doing back-of-the-envelope math to project a worst case of an extra 600,000 American deaths. (The number is roughly in sync with other projections, though there’s not a consensus on how many more years virus victims may have otherwise lived.)
“Over the course of a year or two, the coronavirus is likely to have little if any impact on the overall number of Americans who die,” he writes, describing it as a mere 3 percent bump.
That math is at the heart of any serious argument about the trade-offs between the disease and the lockdowns, even if you accept the global public health consensus that lockdowns are effective (which Mr. Berenson doesn’t). But even public figures who oppose lockdowns rarely say that out loud. President Trump isn’t shrugging off deaths. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, whom Mr. Berenson cheered when he resisted locking down, doesn’t wave off daily death tolls that have sometimes climbed past 100. Mr. Berenson suggests that the reason no political leader has made this case is a reflection of media hysteria. I think it may reflect ordinary human politics, which puts a high value on the lives of citizens, even old ones.
The pain caused by the lockdowns is real, too. And that means that Mr. Berenson, Mr. Windsor and, of course, President Trump, will keep finding an audience.
“I am done with your constitutional infringements and taking my economic producing capacity,” the desperate operator of a wedding venue wrote to Ohio’s lieutenant governor on Facebook in April, in a message I obtained under the state’s public records law. “The order for May 1 better damn well have provision for wedding venues.”
The author of that Facebook message was Jack Windsor. A week later, he had gotten a small independent television station to give him a press pass, and he became the media.
Lucia Walinchus contributed reporting.