Ed Asner would very much like Betty White to live. Also Carl Reiner, William Shatner, Mel Brooks, and Cloris Leachman. Oh, and himself.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Emmy-winning TV legend (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant) directed a tweet at Donald Trump in response to the president’s comments which insinuated that he plans to reopen the country in weeks. Doing so would defy the pleas of public health experts and put vulnerable populations of the country, including the elderly, at higher risk of deadly battles with the novel coronavirus.
“Waking up to find that @realDonaldTrump and many other people (?) feel that seniors such as me and @carlreiner , @WilliamShatner , @MelBrooks , @BettyMWhite , @Cloris_Leachman and millions of other seniors/people with underlying medical issues are expendable in a #ReopenAmerica scenario,” Asner tweeted.
The discourse began late Sunday night, when Trump tweeted, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
He’s since said he’s looking to “open up the country” in a matter of weeks, leading conservative commentators to echo his insinuation that the economy should be prioritized over the lives of those who are most vulnerable in the pandemic. In one controversial interview with Fox News, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, suggested that “lots of grandparents” would be willing to risk death from the virus in order to prevent further collapse of the economy from social-distancing mandated government shutdowns.
In response to these suggestions, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted Tuesday, “My mother is not expendable and your mother is not expendable and our brothers and sisters are not expendable and we’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable and we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”
Riffing on that idea, Asner followed up his tweet with a Twitter poll. “As I sat eating an oatmeal raisin cookie I wondered. What do people think about this?” The two options: “slow the curve at a cost,” and “reopen at a cost of life.” As of Tuesday afternoon, over 95 percent of respondents voted the former.
Asner isn’t alone in sounding the alarm on the severity of the threat the coronavirus poses to the senior population—specifically at-risk entertainment legends. Brooks filmed a PSA with his son, Max Brooks, about why it’s necessary to socially distance ourselves, even from loved ones.
As the elder Brooks stood behind a closed glass door, Max explained, “He’s 93. If I get the coronavirus I’ll probably be OK. But if I give it to him, he could give it to Carl Reiner, who could give it to Dick Van Dyke, and before I know it I’ve wiped out an entire generation of comedic legends.” Brooks shared the video on his Twitter account with the hashtag #DontBeASuperSpreader.
Reiner has been active on social media, relaying his disgust with Trump’s response to the crisis. In reaction to Trump’s comments on Monday, Reiner tweeted, “Did ever a U.S. President mishandle a major press conference on world wide problems as Trump did today? I DON’T THINK SO!!!” He followed it up with, “For the first time in memory I see nothing in this world about which I care to joke.”
Shatner has been using his Twitter feed to update fans on his own self-isolation, which he began a week ago after returning to the U.S. from Europe.
On the other end of the Trump-bashing spectrum is Kirstie Alley, who used her social media to praise the president’s coronavirus response. “Dear Mr. President, @realDonaldTrump I wanted to thank you for ur recent decorum, sincerity, & care towards us,” the actress tweeted. “You’re taking charge & leading in a manner needed & wanted for this country. I highly commend you for ur boundless energy & willingness to solve problems. Thank you.”
In response to Alley, actor Billy Baldwin listed the mistakes he feels Trump has made— “2 months late,” “malaria pills,” “attacking reporters,” “Chinese virus”—and then metaphorically tapped the microphone: “Earth to Kirstie Alley. Come in Kirstie.”
Earlier this month when the pandemic began to intensify in the U.S., people on Twitter began posting their concern for the safety of a national treasure—i.e., the people Asner tagged in his tweet—and specifically Betty White. “Someone get Betty White into her own quarantine… we can’t lose her,” tweeted one user. “Coronavirus so help me god if you do anything to Betty White we’re gonna have some problems,” tweeted another.
The volume of concerned tweets eventually got White’s name trending, which had the unintended effect of alarming Twitter users to fear that something had happened to the 98-year-old star. The internet screamed in a collective panic, “Is Betty White OK?!”
It prompted White’s representative to release a statement: “Betty White is fine.” Ed Asner would like it to stay that way.