It’s October 2020, and more than 227,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. A country with only 4% of the world’s population has a quarter of its COVID-19 deaths. Much like the distance from Earth to the moon, it’s hard to conceptualize 215,000 people. Imagine if Hall or Henry counties disappeared overnight, or 2.3 full capacity Sanford Stadiums were gone.
For global comparison, as of Oct. 22, the COVID-19 death number is 25 New Zealanders, 28 Singaporeans, 35 Vietnamese, 279 Norwegians, 453 South Koreans, 905 Australians and 9,829 Canadians. Vastly different countries operating under a wide variety of political and economic systems have all managed to save far more of their people than the United States.
Those 227,000 Americans didn’t have to die. The economic recession that has followed didn’t have to happen. It should enrage us that our leaders have chosen to allow us to suffer.
At every opportunity, the U.S. government at both state and national levels has failed to take action to control the outbreak. The country went into lockdown, giving the White House time to develop a strategy to test and treat the population. The administration squandered the opportunity to control the outbreak.
President Donald Trump is not the sole person responsible for the catastrophe that has struck this nation, but he is at the heart of it. Trump knew the severity of the virus back in February.
Still, he fired and never reformed the U.S. Pandemic Response Team established under former President Barack Obama. Trump’s administration stood by proposed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget cuts even after the coronavirus pandemic began.
Over the summer, the White House proposed reducing federal funds for testing as an opening offer in a second relief bill that never materialized. Every step of the way, the president downplayed the virus’ danger and refused to take federal action to the extent that was necessary to halt its spread.
Think about that. The president knew what was coming and chose to do nothing to stop it. We should feel angry. We deserve better leadership.
Unfortunately, Trump is not alone in incompetent and malicious leadership. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp was accused of manipulating data to lift restrictions, presiding over such an early reopening that it drew public criticism from Trump, who himself opposed lockdowns and spurned quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. When Atlanta established a mandatory mask rule, Kemp sued the city.
The governor of Georgia actively prevented municipalities from taking action to protect their citizens. That fact should anger us.
The failure extends to the U.S. Congress. The CARES Act provided much needed financial support in the early days of the pandemic, serving as a lifeline to millions of affected Americans. But the GOP-majority Senate refuses to take up more stimulus, instead choosing to rush through a Supreme Court confirmation before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Back in May, the majority-Democratic House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, which restores the $600 weekly federal unemployment insurance benefit increase, includes a second round of $1,200 stimulus payments and allocates funds for public housing, food assistance, worker protections, paid sick and family leave, childcare and more. Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it never even came up for a vote in the Senate.
Without a second stimulus bill, the prospects of a quick economic recovery are shrinking. Permanent job losses are rising. Layoffs are continuing apace. The recession is highlighted by deep and widening inequalities between rich and poor, Black and white and men and women. Millions of Americans have been pushed into poverty since the start of the pandemic. The effects of the recession are falling much harder on Black Americans relative to their white peers.
Federal relief could have mitigated many of these problems, providing a cushion for the millions of Americans most impacted by the recession. But no stimulus appears to be coming until well after the election, and then only if Democrats manage to win the White House and Senate.
We Americans have, to some extent, gotten used to bad leadership. Four years of almost daily outrages coming from the White House have desensitized us to the tragedy we’re going through. It didn’t have to happen. None of this had to happen. And we should never forgive our leaders for knowingly allowing this catastrophe to happen.