Covid has now killed nearly 1 in 900 Americans in less than a year.
How is it that in Australia it’s 3 out of every 100,000 people, and in New Zealand it’s 1 out of every 200,000 people, but here in America we’re dropping like flies?
Chalk it up to Republican racism.
We started out behaving as if we were actually committed to doing something about Covid.
Trump put medical doctors on TV daily, the media was freaking out about refrigerated trucks carrying bodies away from New York hospitals, and doctors and nurses were our new national heroes.
By March 7th, US deaths had risen from 4 to 22, but that was enough to spur federal action.Trump’s official emergency declaration came on March 11th, and most of the country shut down or at least went partway toward that outcome that week.
The Dow collapsed and millions of Americans were laid off, but saving lives was, after all, the number one consideration. Jared Kushner even put together an all-volunteer taskforce of mostly preppie 20-something white men to coordinate getting PPE to hospitals.
But then came April 7th, when the New York Times ran a front-page story with the headline: Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States.
Other media ran similar headlines across the American media landscape, and it was heavily reported on cable news and the network news that night. Most of the people dying were Black or Hispanic, not white people.
American conservatives responded with a collective, “What the hell?!?”
Limbaugh declared that afternoon that “with the coronavirus, I have been waiting for the racial component.” And here it was. “The coronavirus now hits African Americans harder — harder than illegal aliens, harder than women. It hits African Americans harder than anybody, disproportionate representation.”
Claiming that he knew this was coming as if he was some sort of a medical savant, Limbaugh said, “But now these — here’s Fauxcahontas, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris demanding the federal government release daily race and ethnicity data on coronavirus testing, patients, and their health outcomes. So they want a database to prove we are not caring enough about African Americans…”
It didn’t take a medical savant, of course. African Americans die disproportionately from everything, from heart disease to strokes to cancer to childbirth. It’s a symptom of a racially rigged economy and a healthcare system that only responds to money, which America has conspired to keep from African Americans for over 400 years. Of course they’re going to die more frequently from coronavirus.
But the New York Times and the Washington Post simultaneously publishing front-page articles about that disparity with regard to COVID19, both on April 7th, echoed across the rightwing media landscape like a Fourth of July fireworks display.
Tucker Carlson, the only prime-time Fox News host who’d previously expressed serious concerns about the dangers of the virus, changed his tune the same day, as documented by Media Matters for America.
Now, he said, “we can begin to consider how to improve the lives of the rest, the countless Americans who have been grievously hurt by this, by our response to this. How do we get 17 million of our most vulnerable citizens back to work? That’s our task.”
White people were out of work, and Black people were most of the casualties, outside of the extremely elderly. And those white people need their jobs back!
Brit Hume joined Tucker’s show and, using his gravitas as a “real news guy,” intoned, “The disease turned out not to be quite as dangerous as we thought.”
Left unsaid was the issue of to whom it was “not quite as dangerous,” but Limbaugh listeners and Fox viewers are anything but unsophisticated when it comes to hearing dog-whistles on behalf of white supremacy.
Only 12,677 Americans were dead by that day, but now that we knew most of the non-elderly were Black, things were suddenly very, very different. Now it was time to quit talking about people dying and start talking about getting people back to work!
It took less than a week for Trump to get the memo, presumably through Fox and Stephen Miller. On April 12th, he retweeted a call to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci and declared, in another tweet, that he had the sole authority to open the US back up, and that he’d be announcing a specific plan to do just that “shortly.”
Unspoken but big on the agenda of corporate America was the desire get the states to rescind their stay-home-from-work orders so that companies could cut their unemployment tax costs.
When people file unemployment claims, those claims are ultimately paid by the companies themselves, so when a company has a lot of claims they get a substantial increase in their unemployment insurance premiums/taxes. If the “stay home” orders were repealed, workers could no longer, in most states, file for or keep receiving unemployment compensation.
The next day, Freedomworks, the billionaire-founded and -funded group that animated the Tea Party against Obamacare a decade earlier, published an op-ed on their website calling for an “economic recovery” program including an end to the capital gains tax and a new law to “shield” businesses from lawsuits.
Three days after that, Freedomworks and the House Freedom Caucus issued a joint statement declaring that “[I]t’s time to re-open the economy.”
Freedomworks published their “#ReopenAmerica Rally Planning Guide” encouraging conservatives to show up “in person” at their state capitols and governor’s mansions, and, for signage, to “Keep it short: ‘I’m essential,’ ‘Let me work,’ ‘Let Me Feed My Family’” and to “Keep [the signs looking] homemade.”
One of the first #OpenTheCountry rallies to get widespread national attention was April 19th in New Hampshire. Over the next several weeks, rallies filled with white people had metastasized across the nation, from Oregon to Arizona, Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois and elsewhere.
One that drew particularly high levels of media attention, complete with swastikas, confederate flags and assault rifles was directed against the governor of Michigan, rising Democratic star Gretchen Whitmer.
When Rachel Maddow reported on meat packing plants that were epicenters of mass infection, the conservative Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court pointed out that the virus flare wasn’t coming from the “regular folks” of the surrounding community; they were mostly Hispanic and Black.
The conservative meme was now well established.
About a third of the people the virus killed were old folks in nursing homes. Which, commentators on the right said, could be a good thing for the economy because they’re just “useless eaters” who spend our Medicaid and Social Security tax money but are on death’s door anyway.
For example, Texas’s Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told Fox News, “Let’s get back to living… And those of us that are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves.”
A conservative town commissioner in Antioch, CA noted that losing many elderly “would reduce burdens in our defunct Social Security System…and free up housing…” He added, “We would lost a large portion of the people with immune and other health complications. I know it would be loved ones as well. But that would once again reduce our impact on medical, jobs and housing.”
Then came news that the biggest outbreaks were happening in prisons along with the meat packing plants, places with few white people (and the few whites in them were largely poor and thus disposable). Trump’s response to this was to issue an executive order using the Defense Production Act (which he had refused to use to order production of testing or PPE equipment) to order the largely Hispanic and Black workforce back into the slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.
African Americans were dying in our cities, Hispanics were dying in meat packing plants, the elderly were dying in nursing homes.
But the death toll among white people, particularly affluent white people in corporate management who were less likely to be obese, have hypertension or struggle with diabetes, was relatively low. And those who came through the infection were presumed to be immune to subsequent bouts, so we could issue them “COVID Passports” and give them hiring priority.
As an “expert” member of Jared Kushner’s team of young, unqualified volunteers supervising the administration’s PPE response to the virus noted to Vanity Fair’s Katherine Eban, “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”
It was, after all, exclusively Blue States that were then hit hard by the virus: Washington, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s grandson Max Kennedy Jr, 26, was one of the volunteers, and blew the whistle to Congress on Kushner and Trump. As Jane Mayer wrote for The New Yorker, “Kennedy was disgusted to see that the political appointees who supervised him were hailing Trump as ‘a marketing genius,’ because, Kennedy said they’d told him, ‘he personally came up with the strategy of blaming the states.’”
So the answer to the question of why, at year’s end, the United States has about 20% of the world’s Covid deaths, but only 4.5% of the world’s population, is pretty straightforward: Republicans chose to be just fine with Black people dying, particularly when they could blame it on Democratic Blue-state governors.
And once they put that strategy into place in April, it became politically impossible to back away from it, even as more and more Red State white people became infected.
Everything since then, right down to Trump’s December 26th tweet (“The lockdowns in Democrat run states are absolutely ruining the lives of so many people — Far more than the damage that would be caused by the China Virus.”), has been a double-down on death and destruction, now regardless of race.
America must never forget what Trump, Kushner and the GOP chose to do on April 7th, 2020.