So, here we are, December 29th. Before beginning this post, I reread the 3 posts I had written in March, as both a perspective of how things were 9 months ago, and to see if there is a way to answer some of the questions which I posed in those posts. You may reread them by clicking on the links below.
First, let's be clear that the United States of America did a horrible job of battling the COVID-19 virus. From the president through the legislature, the governors and even various state and local officials, our leadership failed us. But even more so, we failed each other, and so, in the end, it is the fault of the American people that we have lost about 340,000 lives to this pandemic, with probably another 100,000 to come. Long ago we swallowed and internalized the belief that America is great because of its economy and wealth, and so, by the time the vaccines have created a large enough percentage of immunity in the population, we will have sacrificed almost half a million of our fellow citizens upon the altar of greed and the almighty dollar.
But Joe, many of us sacrificed a lot during these times? How can you say it is our fault?
In face of just such reasoning, true as it is for a large number of Americans, I acknowledge that much suffering, economic and health wise has occurred, is still ongoing. We wore masks when it was uncomfortable. We stayed away from our older relatives just in case we were sick and did not know it. We washed and sanitized our hands and common surfaces so much it would make Felix Unger proud. We altered our daily routines in innumerable ways in hopes of saving the lives of those we might infect unknowingly, or those who could not survive the virus.
In sports, there is an old adage that you are what your record says. 4-10-1 (4 wins, 10 losses, 1 tie) makes you a bad team, regardless of whether you played good teams, had a lot of injuries, or lost a number of close games.
And so it is with our record. As of today, almost 25% of the cases in the world have occurred in the US, yet with only 4% of its inhabitants. About 20% of the deaths. One of every 1,000 Americans have died, in 9 months, from this pandemic which puts us ahead of Spain, Italy, the UK, Belgium, Peru and 8 other countries, but behind Israel, Germany, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Norway and 180 other countries that have lost citizens to this virus. Yes, in terms of deaths per million, out of about 195 countries reporting coronavirus deaths, we are 182nd. We are what our record says.
In my first post in March, I asked that we require all politicians and pundits to specify how many Americans they were willing to sacrifice to keep our economy open. At the time, I was naive enough to wonder if they might answer that 50,000 dead would be OK, but that perhaps 100,000 might not. I wonder how many people would have received much air time, in March, had they said they were willing to sacrifice 300,000 Americans to keep the economy open? Of course, since we somewhat flattened the curve in the spring, then lost our nerve and began protesting the simple wearing of masks, and limiting our social contacts, anyone promoting the idea that we do nothing would have stated they were willing to sacrifice a half a million Americans, back then, to truly present their plan to "be free" since we will get close to that number, even with the use of all the mitigations put in place.
Can you imagine if, in the interview with Bob Woodward, the words I always wanted to down play the virus were replaced with, I was willing to sacrifice 500,000 Americans? Well, guess what, they mean the same, it is just that too many people were too far down the rabbit hole to realize that the high death rate was partly due to "being a cheerleader" rather than a real leader.
And so, too many average Americans listened to those saying that our freedoms were at stake, looked around and saw that the virus hadn't struck anyone they knew, or only people who were sick or a different color than they were, and refused to demand actual numbers. Or worse, listened to those who continued to deny it was even real, right up until the time that the virus starting rampaging through rural America, and by then it was too late.
If you happen to be interested in the death rates of some of those "freedom" loving states where the governors actually encouraged virus spreading events like motorcycle festivals and political rallies, you might note that North and South Dakota currently own the 4th and 7th highest death rates, respectively, of the 50 states. I can only wonder if, had the White House been more interested in preventing death than winning an election, the governors of those states might have been more assertive in trying to prevent the virus from spreading, thereby saving the lives of Dakotans who might have been able to stay relatively unscathed had they tried even a little bit.
And then there is the obvious fact that upwards of 40% of the deaths (where barely 1% of the population lives) happened in long term care facilities. Would a coordinated federal effort in concert with better decision making by some of the east coast governors have helped? For sure. But, if you want to better understand why those facilities, that industry, suffered so much death, you can read this month's AARP magazine for more details, Suffice it to say, that when you allow an industry to self regulate, to pay paltry wages to its caregivers, to be dependent on tax payer money for a large percentage of its revenue, and to reflect the all too pervasive attitude that America exhibits towards its elderly (better unseen), then we have a recipe for disaster when facing such an unexpected pandemic.
Ultimately, the question is, what did we learn?
For me, the question of how much trust we place in our elected officials goes to the heart of some of our problems today. For many years there has been a concerted effort to drive a wedge between the people and the government. While it is certainly important to apply the smell test to the words and actions of our public servants, it times of crisis it is only through large scale action which can only be accomplished through coordinated efforts by all levels of government (and public-private partnerships), will effective measures be realized. When the smell is too much too handle, we vote for someone new. And when election results are threatened to be overturned, we call bullshit, and apply the label traitor.
During WW2 when rations of gas and meat were required, air raid drills were held, and sacrifices were made for our brave soldiers, policies that certainly restricted individual liberty, the vast majority of Americans understood the necessity of temporarily adhering to such restraints. Did we trust the government more, or did we understand that exceptional times demanded exceptions measures?
Far too many politicians (and news organizations) made fighting the pandemic (or resisting calls to do so) a political issue rather than a health issue, and far too many Americans were unable to put their fellow citizens (and ultimately anyone in their family or circle of friends who worked in essential jobs, lived in long term care facilities, or were just old or sick) ahead of their own misguided selfish needs. Too many were convinced that the individual is always more important than the whole so that give me liberty or give me death turned out to mean my liberty is more important than your death, "your" being defined as those who were already sick, or old, or just not like me.
It is a not an easy line to walk, valuing individualism over the state, then knowing when the state (all the citizens) needs to be prioritized even over one's own liberties. Perhaps we need to remember that the United States government is we, the people and when you have completely fell victim to a con man who tells you that he is the government, or that only some people are part of we, the people, it is inevitable that you will lose the very thing that you prize the most.
In the meantime, wear your mask, limit your travel, value your family, encourage the prioritization of health above wealth, and get vaccinated if your doctor recommends you to do so.