It’s official: Donald Trump now has the blood of 100,000 people on his tiny hands.
On Wednesday, the coronavirus death toll in the United States crossed the 100,000 mark, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
One. Hundred. Thousand.
It’s difficult to comprehend the enormity, the sheer horror, of that six-figure number. For context, that’s more people than “ever died in a single year from HIV/AIDS, drug overdoses, gun violence, or car crashes in the US.” That’s more Americans than “died over seven decades in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars.” That’s more than 33 times the number of people who died on 9/11.
Next up, the World War I milestone. Within a matter of days, the number of deaths from the coronavirus will surpass the number of U.S. military fatalities (116,516) from the Great War. Those lives were lost over the course of more than 19 months — compared to less than four months now.
It did not have to be this way — because the vast majority of these deaths were preventable
Don’t believe me? In the United States, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was on January 20. Three days later, Vietnam confirmed its first case of Covid-19. Today, the death toll in the United States has crossed 100,000. The number of deaths in Vietnam?
How about South Korea, which confirmed its first case on the exact same day as the United States?
Less than 300 deaths so far.
According to epidemiologists Britta L. Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell, “an estimated 90 percent of the cumulative deaths in the United States from Covid-19 … might have been prevented by putting social distancing policies into effect two weeks earlier, on March 2, when there were only 11 deaths in the entire country.”
Putting those policies into effect even a week earlier, they say, would have resulted in “approximately a 60-percent reduction in deaths.”
Think about that: tens of thousands of Americans would be alive today had Trump take action sooner.
But he didn’t. He was off playing golf and holding rallies, while denouncing Democrats for “politicizing” the coronavirus and calling it their “new hoax.” He was comparing it to the seasonal flu and claiming that it would “miraculously” disappear, while opposing the testing of sick Americans on a cruise ship because he liked “the numbers being where they are.” He was praising the Chinese government for its handling of the coronavirus, while silencing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who was trying to sound the alarm bell. (She hasn’t been heard from since.)
The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and The Guardian, among many others, have published deep dives on Trump’s botched response to this pandemic. “Lives were endangered and I believe lives were lost,” whistleblower and vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright told Congress earlier this month. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, conceded in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in April that there was “a lot of pushback” within the administration to social distancing and lockdown measures early on in the crisis: “I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives.”
So what now? Will we solemnly if briefly mark this latest grisly milestone and then… move on?
We have normalized a multiplicity of Trumpian excesses, abuses, and crimes over the past three and a half years. Will we now normalize mass deaths too?
How did Americans who “lost our shit when 3,000 people were killed on 9/11,” to quote journalist Julia Ioffe, and launched multiple wars, drone strikes, and torture programs in response, become inured to 100,000 deaths at home? And what happened to the shock and outrage that we saw at the start of this crisis? Are we suffering from pandemic fatigue?
Perhaps racism is behind our seeming indifference. Deaths from Covid-19 have been disproportionately black and brown. “When you start seeing where the cases are coming from and the demographics — I’m not worried,” said a member of the public who was interviewed by the Washington Post while out and about in a wealthy, white suburb of Georgia. Got that? The demographics. “Unfortunately the American population is … very diverse,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN, while trying to defend the record U.S. death toll. Got that? Very diverse.
Then there is the thick fog of misinformation. Blame China! Blame the World Health Organization! Blame Barack Obama! As the media critic Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, has argued, Trump’s plan “is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible … by ‘flooding the zone with shit,’ Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial.”
And, of course, there is the well-documented “human tendency to turn away from mass suffering,” the way in which our sympathy levels go down as the number of deaths go up. “One death is a tragedy,” goes the old saying attributed to Joseph Stalin, “a million deaths is a statistic.”
In fact, Stalin never said it. Trump, however, has gone out of his way to callously minimize and dismiss the rising U.S. death toll. When it stood at 86,607 deaths, he declaimed: “It’s a very, very small percentage. I say it all the time — it’s a tiny percentage.”
One hundred thousand men, women, and children cannot be reduced to a “tiny percentage.” Nor should we forget their names, their faces, their legacies. Philip Kahn, 100, a veteran of World War II. Margit Buchhalter Feldman, 90, a survivor of the Holocaust. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, 49, a Catholic priest. Dez-Ann Romain, 36, a high school principal. Skylar Herbert, 5, a kindergartener. I could go on and on and on.
Yet Trump doesn’t seem to give a damn. Having slammed Obama for golfing during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which killed only two people in the U.S., Trump spent the past weekend back at his own golf course, as deaths from Covid-19 approached the 100,000 mark. There has been no remorse, no regret, and few condolences for the families of the dead. Shamelessly, the commander-in-chief has preferred to take a victory lap as the bodies literally pile up.
This is sociopathy on steroids. So let us not be complicit in this malign madness, in this slow-motion normalization of mass deaths. Be upset. Get mad. Speak out.
As Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez pointed out in a recent essay for the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, “The problem with normalizing deaths” is that “it allows more deaths” and “makes it easier for the horrors of virus deaths to fall off the broadcast news chyron, to divert resources away from public health and for future politicians to treat the next pandemic even more glibly.”
In recent weeks, Trump’s normalization strategy has involved deliberately and disingenuously moving the goalposts over and over again: He predicted “50 to 60” thousand deaths; then “60,000 to 70,000“; then “75, 80 to 100,000 people.”
But as we remember and mourn the 100,000 victims of Covid-19 here in the United States, I can’t and won’t forget his worst prediction of all, his biggest lie, from February 26: “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
Trump lied. One hundred thousand people died.