At the time of this writing, 89,564 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. An uninterrupted moment of silence for each person would last 62 days. And yet there is no state of national mourning, which is the loudest thing I have ever heard.
By the time you read this, the number of dead will have grown. And this is only the number of known cases. And Trump and his Republicans want you to believe that “only” 100,000 deaths would be something to celebrate.
How did we get here? Well, first of all, we elected an incompetent egomaniac to lead the country. A bad move. And then that incompetent egomaniac surrounded himself with people who don’t dare say no to him or give him news that conflicts with his conspiracy-theory-driven view of the world, lest they be fired.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar is a perfect example. While thousands of people die, Azar, the head of an agency that has rolled back Obama-era protections for LGBTQ people, makes the rounds on TV news to assure everyone that, “Hey, it could be worse.”
According to Slate, Azar is to blame “for the woeful federal response that has resulted in a horrifying under-identification of cases, the actions of public health officials that may have actually exacerbated the crisis and the many lies and misleading statements he has told to the public as the disaster has unfolded.”
That was on March 13. And things have only gotten worse.
So on May 17, when Azar appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper above a chyron that read, “CDC expects U.S. to surpass 100,000 virus deaths by June 1” to tell the American people they basically have only themselves to blame, it was a special kind of infuriating.
“Every death is a tragedy,” Azar says, “but…”
Now, if I were, say, an aide for Azar, I would probably run up and tackle him to the ground saying, “Hold up. I’m gonna stop you right there…” in the hopes that I could prevent whatever is going to follow.
But, of course, Azar doesn’t work with anyone who cares about him that much.
“But,” he continues, “the results could’ve been vastly, vastly worse.”
Well, no shit. My twin sister has a habit of saying, “Worst-case scenario,” as in, “Well, worst-case scenario, we get there a few minutes late.” And I always point out to her that is actually not the case and offer up something like, “No, worst-case scenario, on our way there we rear-end a truck hauling pigs to slaughter and are killed when hundreds of pigs fall onto our car, crushing us and then for years our family says, ‘It’s ironic that they were killed by pigs since they’re both vegetarians.'”
Anyway, I’m old enough to remember when projecting 100,000 deaths was considered a reckless overestimation by the Trump administration.
“Unfortunately,” Azar continues, “the American population is very diverse, and it is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities — in particular African American — minority communities, particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease, health disparities and disease comorbidities and that is an unfortunate legacy in our healthcare system that we certainly do need to address.”
Huh. OK. So he’s saying that more Americans are dying, particularly African Americans, because of the 100 percent intentional and by-design inequities in our healthcare system that, golly, we should probably take a look at someday, but in the meantime, those folks wouldn’t be dying if they took better care of themselves.
The look on Jake Tapper’s face at this point is priceless, by the way.
“I want to give you the opportunity to clear it up,” Tapper says, “because it sounded like you were saying the reason that there were so many dead Americans is because we’re unhealthier than the rest of the world. I know that’s not what you meant …”
Azar jumps in to say that, yes, he meant what he said.
“There are, like, tons of fat people, pun-intended,” he says — I’m paraphrasing.
Tapper replies, “That doesn’t mean it’s the fault of the American people that the government failed to take adequate steps in February…”
“Jake please, please don’t distort,” Azar interrupts. “One doesn’t blame anyone for their health conditions, that would be absurd.”
Except the Republican Party, as led by the Trump administration, has done exactly that in countless arguments against the Affordable Care Act. A running theme has been, “If we give the poor health insurance then they’re not going to have any incentive to take care of themselves because they can just go to the doctor whenever they want.”
And, by the way, Trump is still actively working to destroy the ACA as millions of Americans are losing jobs and health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. The Republican Party is a death cult. Vote them out. Or die. Literally.
D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.