During this “shelter in place” order, I have been thinking a lot about the sad state of our union. Never one who had much confidence in the election of Donald Trump, I believe my skepticism has borne out in the past 3 ½ years.
In September 2016, I wrote a piece titled “Trump …Please”. In that article, I reviewed the campaign strategy he employed. Trump ran on a tough on crime agenda, promising more police presence in our most impoverished communities. He referred to African Americans as “refugees,” saying “you’re living in poverty, your schools are terrible, and fifty percent of your youth are unemployed. What do you have to lose by trying something new and voting for me”?
In October 2017, I wrote a piece called, “What Do We Have to Lose?” In that article, I cited ten specific policies of the Trump Administration that negatively impacted Black and Brown Americans; The dismantling of the Justice Dept Civil Rights Division, the Dept of Education efforts to move public school dollars to charter and private schools, cuts to the Housing and Urban Development budget, cuts to meals on wheels, cuts to heating and energy assistance, cuts to WIC, cuts to Community Block Grants and cuts to the Minority Business and Development Agency.
Most African Americans understood that the next 4-years would be a significant economic and social justice set-back for us. None of us knew that this administration’s policies would also be a death sentence for many of us.
President Trump’s response to the Covid19 Pandemic is at a minimal derelict of duty, if not criminal. His inability to not read or comprehend the daily briefings, he received from the intelligence community in January and February was a missed window of opportunity to prepare for the Coronavirus before it reached our shores.
Even before this Pandemic, his irrational need to try to erase every accomplishment of the Obama Administration led to the dismantling in 2018 of the White House’s Pandemic Preparedness Office.
Instead of responding to this Pandemic, the Trump administration squandered two months. The Pandemic was politicized, and many legislators and corporations profited from it. The White House silenced the experts and instead daily fed us lies, conspiracy theories and refused to take responsibility for anything. Cities and states were forced to compete against each other for essentials supplies.
By refusing to invoke the “Defense Production Act” to ensure we have the supplies to test in mass, this administration has allowed the virus to spread exponentially. We are 4% of the world’s population, as of May 2, the United States has 1.14 million people infected and 66,154 individuals who have died from Covid19. (Visit CDC for up to date numbers).
Less than two percent of the 330 million people in the US have been tested. According to Harvard’s Center for Ethics, without widespread testing, along with contact tracing and measures to isolate the sick, we are not ready to reopen the country.
The data of victims of the Coronavirus by race is incomplete. According to APM Research Lab, the latest Covid19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.3 times higher than the rate for Latinos, 2.4 times higher than the rate for Asians, and 2.6 times higher than the rate for Whites. Collectively, Black Americans represent 13% of the population in states releasing data but have suffered 27% of deaths.
Trump continues to ignore the counsel of the experts around him. He has encouraged, through tweets, for citizens to defy the shelter in place orders of governors around the country, as well as his own administration’s recommendation for strategically relaxing shelter in place orders.
Case in point, Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia, reopened his state, with initial encouragement from Trump, even while Coronavirus cases continue to rise in Georgia. Georgia has the tenth highest number of cases in the country.
The University of Georgia Center for Ecology of Infectious Diseases conducted a study that estimates relaxing the social distancing measures could result in an additional 1,500 deaths from the virus, along with tens of thousands more cases.
Governors all over the country are being pressured to reopen their states. The most damning part about this is, who will actually be taking the risk of getting infected with the virus and possibly dying. They are people who do not have the privilege of working from home, people making minimum wages, who most likely have no healthcare. Prematurely reopening states put these individuals, who may also be the ones with underlying conditions, in a no-win situation. By refusing to return to work, because of health concerns for themselves or a family member, they could be fired, which also would make them ineligible for receiving unemployment benefits.
Dr. William Barber said, “pandemics spread because of the inequality and inefficiency of government. Republicans racialize poverty, and Democrats run from it. In the meantime, poor people, in particular, Black people, are dying from it.”
More than anything, the poor response has exposed a moral failure to this Pandemic. It shows a country of immense inequality; A country where in a crisis, there is no real safety net for our most vulnerable. The primary role of government is to provide for its citizens what they are unable to provide for themselves.
Sociologist Robert Bellah is attributed with saying. “healthy nations must be communities of memory.” Let us remember the choices we made as a nation in the past, both the good and the bad. Is it enough to know that our immediate circle is okay? Or do we have a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone is okay? As each of us navigates through this unprecedented time in history, we need to evaluate what kind of country we want to live in.