Among the many uncertainties that this pandemic has created, it seems like every day, one state or another admits that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is higher than the daily reporting we see.
Some states have been less than forthcoming reporting the deaths, and blame can be shared across the aisle. Many of the states have risen to the challenge of correcting these oversights, which is better late than never. But death piled upon death illuminates the horrors of COVID-19 and its management; the virus has now killed more Americans than any war except the Civil War and World War II.
Normally, in times of crisis, Americans come together. Somehow, the various tragedies of 2020 have had the opposite effect. Instead of coming together to address this national crisis, Americans are deeply divided, with one side cheered on by their President and the other side left to fend for themselves without federal support.
It should be common knowledge by now that Donald Trump’s policies derive from his appetites at the moment. He craves attention and approval, and he needs to be reelected so that he can continue the former and validate the latter. When the virus was on the horizon, Trump insisted that it was unimportant and that it would go away “like a miracle.” When no miracle arrived and deaths began to mount, he touted his own meritless solutions. He blamed state governors for failing to solve the national emergency. Of his own role, “I don’t take responsibility at all”.
The added incentive for him to sit back and do nothing to help in the beginning while Americans died was that the victims were typically Democrats. In the most charitable interpretation of that decision, Trump believes that his presidency only applies to his own supporters.
What is the evidence of Trump metaphorically muttering “La la la la” with his fingers in his ears? He’s a reality show host, where everything is staged and the term “reality” is a brazen lie. He has one overarching goal: to win reelection. So he stage-manages everything to pretend that there is no virus, and if there is one, it’s easily avoidable, or treatable, or not lethal, or not his fault. And his followers line up like baby ducks imprinting on the first thing they see waddling along.
Our disagreements span the spectrum from the lifesaving to the ridiculous. And generally, the lifesaving perspective is held by Democrats, experts, and scientists. Trump invariably touts solutions that attempt to foster an image of strength or decisiveness, but are often worse than doing nothing at all.
First, it was the masks. Trump wouldn’t wear a mask, partly for psychological and cosmetic reasons, and partly because the sight of a mask on himself or others on his stage would verify that there’s a gigantic problem on his watch. Democrats and Republicans have differed significantly on whether to wear masks, although the divide is shrinking as the virus creeps towards Republican strongholds.
Other countries with mask mandates (and other protocols like testing and tracing) have come out the other side of this virus, still acting vigilant while without a vaccine. Those living in Asia and Europe are in schools, in theaters, and bringing their economies back. US governors who monitored overseas successes instead of Trump’s nightly COVID-19 rallies are opening their states with caution. States that instead listened to Trump are still in near hibernation or experiencing infection spikes after six months. This is as crazy as having a political spat over whether to look straight at an eclipse. Oh wait.
When the virus became too deadly to ignore, vaccines were still far in the future. Trump had to pretend that an experimental treatment would defang the killer that was keeping sensible people in their houses. That treatment was hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that had some success in hospitals when used off-label. It also had some severe outcomes where it hurt far more than it helped. After months, it’s still used only sporadically.
That didn’t stop Trump. He promoted it as a preventive treatment with no justification, and his followers bought out supplies that left lupus patients without lifesaving care. A man died and his wife was hospitalized after following Trump’s invented advice that a chemical like this would prevent the disease in the first place. Does Donald Trump at least take responsibility for that?
A new line of attack involved corrupting or eliminating all of the nonpartisan experts who might have been able to help steer policy and demonstrate leadership to a fearful populace. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s 78% approval rating rankled Trump against his own 44% approval against the coronavirus, and the expert quietly disappeared from the nightly rally-briefings.
Other experts were removed or silenced when they continued to inform Americans about safety protocols that hunkered down instead of opening up. They were replaced by conspiracy theorists whose main qualification was making telegenic appearances on right-wing opinion outlets. But Democrats have learned to follow the expertise and ignore Trump’s parade of alchemists, and the information divide widens.
It’s impossible to contain or treat this virus by ignoring it. Viruses don’t slither away when their feelings are hurt. The lies told about it will result in the deaths of those naive or corrupted enough to believe them. On August 30, a month after his death from COVID-19, the Twitter account of former presidential candidate and Trump supporter Herman Cain stated, “It looks like the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media first made it out to be.” After their own deaths, the followers still believe.
Since the outset, Donald Trump has been fixated on opening up the economy, no matter the stakes. Money is his brand, and he knows that he's ruined the US economic engine he inherited, so he’d like a do-over. He wanted the economy to be fully opened by Easter, something that sounds almost quaint now. He lobbied for a grand opening for summer holidays, which were discreetly ignored by all. Then he insisted that schools open for in-person fall classes, especially colleges. Many who tried closed back up again within a COVID-19-laced week.
And most recently, Trump retweeted a conspiracy theory that only about 6% of the deaths were really due to COVID-19, because the victims must have died from other physical conditions (like obesity, diabetes or heart disease) or were elderly. Even the CDC, who published the data that were twisted into this hypothesis, disputes this. If a sumo wrestler is hit by a train, nobody thinks the cause of death is obesity just because he’s a bigger target.
The messaging is everything to Donald Trump. Politico reported that Health and Human Services has put out a $250 million bid to communications firms for messaging that would “defeat despair and inspire hope” about coronavirus. The result of Trump’s interference in the work of that once-nonpartisan agency is that “nearly a fifth of adults would refuse a coronavirus vaccine if one were available, in some cases over fears that any approval would be motivated by politics rather than science. Just 14 percent of voters would be more likely to take a vaccine recommended by Trump.” Wouldn’t that money be better spent on PPE and testing and tracing?
Trump’s staunchest followers continue to believe. When asked about the soaring death toll, Trump said, “It is what it is,” as if he were a mere bystander—and maybe he is.
A CBS News/YouGov survey determined that 57% of registered Republicans viewed the 170,000 deaths at the time as “acceptable.” The other 43% of Republicans viewed this carnage as unacceptable, a shockingly low number as compared to 69% of Independents and 90% of Democrats.
After learning of this survey, author Stephen King lamented, “What happened to you, America?” Imagine that; the consequences of Donald Trump’s absent leadership have spooked Stephen King. And that’s the guy who wrote Pet Sematary and The Shining.
In contrast, Joe Biden has stated categorically, “As president, the first step I will take will be to get control of the virus that's ruined so many lives. Because I understand something this president doesn't. We will never get our economy back on track until we deal with this virus.”
He couldn’t be clearer: “I promise you this: A Biden-Harris Administration will always listen to scientists.”
Here are the components of the Biden-Harris seven-point plan to address COVID-19 and get it out of our lives:
You can find the details of his plans on the campaign website.
We haven’t only lost American lives to this virus. As anyone who misses the joys of summer can attest, we have also lost American life, at least in 2020.
Beyond all that, part of what makes us America — our unity, our meritocracy, our trust in science — has been corrupted. Joe Biden will have to be the vaccine for that, too.