"An Incalculable Loss" Times Ten
One million dead. More than 614,000 grandparents lost. How Trump and the GOP sacrificed seniors and minorities to Covid. And what happened next.
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We are two years into the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week, I detailed how Trump and his henchmen and women had set America on the path to 1,000,000 dead.
Today, nearly 22 months after The New York Times described 100,000 deaths as “an incalculable loss,” I want to focus on Covid’s first 1,000,000 US victims, a death toll that represents “an incalculable loss” times 10.
Specifically, I want to discuss how the early realization that the virus was disproportionately killing “older, sicker, poorer, Blacker or browner” Americans affected Trump’s political calculations in the first year of Covid—and the GOP’s calculations in the pandemic’s second year.
And then—plot twist—I’ll explain why, by the end of the pandemic’s second year, Fox News disinformation and the reckless policies of GOP Governors had sent the death toll among white Americans soaring. Before October 2021, whites represented a lower share of deaths compared to their population share. But between October 2021 and February 2022, in a stunning shift, the percentage of white deaths soared to 63%, despite whites representing only 60% of the US population.
But first, let’s reflect on…
America’s Incalculable Loss Of Grandparents
Other countries venerate the elderly. America’s so-called “Christians”? Not so much.
Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear that “pro-life” Republicans are far more interested in breeding productive, Old Testament-reading workers than in letting actual old folks enjoy a nice retirement that includes cashing in all the “entitlements” they earned and paid for along the way.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick didn’t even wait for us to get through Trump’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” in March 2020 before telling us we should be willing to sacrifice our grandparents for the sake of Wall Street.
It was an idea that Fox News’ Brit Hume quickly leaned into, telling Tucker Carlson it was an “entirely reasonable viewpoint.”
Today, with more than 614,000 grandparents dead from Covid, the “Sacrifice Grandma” wing of the GOP has gotten its wish. (If you’re a senior who survived Covid, be careful. They still want to push you off a cliff.)
But at what cost?
As Robin Marantz Henig wrote recently in Scientific American:
Think of the dead grandparents and everything they’ll miss. All the milestones, the middle school graduations and bar mitzvahs and quinceañeras. All the victories, on soccer fields or piano recital halls. All the ordinary shared moments, dancing to “Baby Beluga,” or making banana bread, building extravagant Lego towers, watching The Wizard of Oz and cuddling at the flying monkeys part.
And the grandchildren, now bereft and sorrowful—think of everything they’ll miss, too. The wide embrace, the rapt attentiveness, the patient rereading of the same Dory Fantasmagory book over and over again. What those grandchildren have lost, two years into a ravaging pandemic that disproportionately kills the elderly, is a precious piece of their birthright: the feeling that they are totally and unconditionally adored…
Beyond the cost to individual families, there’s also a societal cost to the accelerated loss of all this wisdom, knowledge and historical perspective.
One example of this was detailed in a Twitter thread by Alex Goldstein, creator of @FacesOfCovid, which began:
The pandemic has claimed the lives of many Holocaust survivors who deserved more years to educate & tell their stories.
Goldstein’s thread highlighted the powerful stories of 18 Holocaust survivors lost to Covid in the past two years.
(Read my December 2020 interview with Goldstein here.)
Greed or Stupidity?
On a personal level, “Freedumb”-loving Republicans may have acted stupidly during the pandemic but, as On Tyranny author Timothy Snyder pointed out in October 2021, there may also have been a more sinister reason behind some of this behavior.
Perhaps the people who do not wear masks and do not keep a distance know what they are doing... Killing the parent can mean inheriting the wealth. It can also remove the cost of caring for seniors.
The fact that so many “grown-ups” took every opportunity to breathe on their elderly loved ones, even when inside medical facilities, even after being explicitly told not to do so, even after dying Trump voter after dying Trump voter begged them to rethink ther actions, certainly makes the “stupidity defense” harder to argue.
It pushes greed higher on the list of possible motives for much of anti-maskers’ and anti-vaxxers’ reckless personal behavior.
Capitalism or Racism?
At the national and state level, the fact that healthy, wealthy white people of pre-retirement age could, for the most part, insulate themselves (and their children) from the worst dangers posed by the virus quickly became part of the Trump’s—and the GOP’s—political calculations.
Trump and his hangers-on had no problem making clear that if old folks had to be sacrificed for the good of Trump’s election year economy, they could live with that. But, in his frantic attempt to win re-election, Trump was also willing to sacrifice Black and brown workers to keep his fiction of the “best economy in history” alive.
As Ed Yong noted in The Atlantic as early as April 2020:
The virus is disproportionately killing people in low-income jobs who don’t have the privilege of working from home, but who will nonetheless be shamed for not distancing themselves. The virus is disproportionately killing black people, whose health had already been impoverished through centuries of structural racism, but who will nonetheless be personally blamed for their fate.
As Adam Serwer wrote in The Atlantic in a May 2020 article entitled “The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying”:
Once the disproportionate impact of the epidemic was revealed to the American political and financial elite, many began to regard the rising death toll less as a national emergency than as an inconvenience.
In general, the same holds true two years into the pandemic. As the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in February 2022:
Data show that, overall, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) people have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death compared to White people, particularly when accounting for age differences across racial and ethnic groups. The data also suggest that while these disparities have narrowed at times over the course of the pandemic, people of color are disproportionately impacted by surges caused by new variants, with disparities widening during these periods, particularly for infection rates.
But, as noted above, actual death totals took a dramatic shift in recent months as the Omicron variant caused a surge in deaths, especially among the unvaccinated.
Death by Disinformation
Remember: One million US dead didn’t have to happen. America having a higher death-rate-per-capita than any other wealthy nation didn’t have to happen.
As I wrote on 21 January 2021, Biden’s Inauguration created an opportunity to focus on “A Common Enemy”:
After four years of Trump destruction, the challenges America faces are enormous. But none can be tackled until the virus is under control and the economy is back on solid ground…. Other countries have already shown what’s possible when a nation accepts science and pulls together. But unless Republicans and the right-wing media machine get on board, the idiocy will continue and the death toll will mount…. If we can’t unite to fight the virus, America will prove itself too stupid to save.
Of course, that opportunity was wasted. As I detailed repeatedly since then (for example here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), Biden’s efforts to slow the spread, get America vaccinated and save lives were thwarted at every turn.
As I wrote on 5 March 2021:
The real concern, of course, is that more spread of the disease—and more mutations of the virus—could result in a deadlier and more contagious variant, one that the current vaccines can’t counter.
When the more contagious Delta variant hit, the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” truly hit home.
On 26 October 2021, I highlighted a tweet from Charles Gaba revealing that, between June and October 2021, the death rate in the reddest tenth of the US was 6X higher than in the bluest tenth.
By the time the Omicron variant hit, despite the fact it was “less deadly,” the sheer volume of infections sent deaths soaring again.
As the New York Times’ David Leonhardt wrote on 9 March, 2022, not only has “Covid death has been far more common in red America,” but also:
Over the past three months, the death rate in counties that Donald Trump won in a landslide has been more than twice as high as the rate in counties that Joe Biden won in a landslide, according to Charles Gaba, a health care analyst.
It’s clear that the anti-science, pro-death policies of many GOP Governors, particularly in Texas and Florida, the two largest Red States, played an enormous part in encouraging the spread of the virus even in the age of vaccines.
And on 11 March 2022, new research from Axios/Ipsos, revealed the other cause of America’s staggering Covid-19 death toll—and why poorly educated Trump voters were particularly susceptible:
Watching Fox News Increased Your Chances of Catching Covid-19 by 61% vs Watching CNN/MSNBC
The Axios/Ipsos survey showed that 45% of those who consumed Fox News disinformation of the past two years reported they had caught Covid vs only 28% of those who said that CNN and/or MSNBC was their main news source.
That 17% difference overall means that Fox News viewers were 61% more likely than CNN/MSNBC viewers to catch Covid.
How many of the 82 million cases and one million US deaths could have been prevented if Fox News had simply presented the facts about the virus? How different would the past two years have been if Fox News had told Americans what they needed to do to only protect themselves and the families? Or if Tucker Carlson had simply encouraged his audience to “act patriotically” to help America through the pandemic?
Instead, both Fox News and the GOP, as Charles Gaba tweeted in February:
Made an actuarial calculation that sacrificing several hundred thousand of their own voters (mostly in deep red districts where it won't matter anyway) is a small price to pay for dragging down Dem/Biden approval enough to flip Congress.
It’s a shocking allegation to even consider.
But as deaths among white people—in particular in Trump counties—have soared, an analysis of the data makes it appear completely provable.
To be continued…
PART THREE: “MAGA Massacre”
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