It’s like a tragedy on the scale of 2.3 World War IIs, 17 Vietnams, or 333 September 11s. By contrast, the tragedy I’m talking about had no unifying ideology or organising principle behind it. It was all about ignorance: the proud, loud, in-your-face kind. The lazy, stupid, selfish and childish kind. The arrogant, self-congratulating, egotistical kind.
I’m talking about America’s response to the Covid pandemic, and the terrible price the nation has now paid in one million — you read that right — one million unnecessary deaths. More Americans have now died needlessly, superfluously, gratuitously, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic than of any other single calamity in its 246 year history. And it happened chiefly because Republicans seized it as an opportunity to create a culture war, a chance to drive a wedge between us and them.
As with their response to the recent tragedy in Buffalo, the “Party of Personal Responsibility” accepts absolutely no blame for this devastating statistic. Indeed, the “Party of Pro-Life” continues to insist that they were right all along. Donald Trump, the man at whose feet more of those one million deaths can be laid than anyone else, continues to crow that were it not for him, millions more would have died.
America has marked the solemn passing of this grim statistic with hardly a backward glance. Covid deaths have now become part of the accepted norm, a familiar feature of the dreary landscape. The pandemic has become culturally endemic, met more with a shrug than a shock.
When it was finally noticed that the simple wearing of a mask in public would significantly cut down on the spread of coronavirus, a certain kind of privilege emerged: the privilege of a class of people who had never known anything like real hardship. Wearing a mask was seen by them as an affront to liberty. Their minor inconvenience was suddenly framed as a tremendous burden worthy of comparison with the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust. It turned out that the littlest, most stupid and arrogant tantrum-throwers among us had the loudest and most persistent voices. And they won. What did they win? Go visit a graveyard.
When I first suggested less than two years ago in the pages of Palmer Report that deaths in America from coronavirus would eventually exceed a million I was loudly contradicted by some. I have never wished to be wrong more.
I am convinced that part of the reason this calamity is not a prominent feature of the news today is because most of the victims were people over 50 and America has become a nation that worships youth. To my mind that makes the tragedy all the greater. It’s enough that we lose our lives without also losing our souls.
Some of the knock-on effects are equally disturbing. Thanks to the American right, anti-vaccine sentiment now threatens to eliminate mandatory school-age vaccinations for diseases that once filled cemeteries with children. So not only was no lesson learned with coronavirus and a million dead, but we may one day see a resurgence of measles, rubella, polio, whooping cough, you name it.
And none of this had to happen. But Republicans require ignorance in order to win, so they continue to harvest ignorance in America while simultaneously discouraging science. It is a vicious cycle that ends in death. A million deaths in just two years. And none of it needed to happen. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.