America is on its way towards 750,000 COVID deaths by the end of this year. Think about it, this is equivalent to 250 times the 9/11 deaths that still traumatize the nation 20 years later. These deaths are not imprinted on our collective memory by searingly graphic TV pictures but take place, one by one, in the ugly isolation of ICU rooms where the silence is broken only by the hum of ventilators and cries of despair from the nursing staff. The tragic tally stands at 670,000 as of this writing, with 270,000 of these deaths occurring during the Biden Presidency. If these casualties had been the result of two years of war, Americans would be out on the streets in numbers not seen since the days of the war in Vietnam, which claimed 58,000 American military casualties. Yet, America is seemingly taking the COVID toll in stride, stubbornly refusing to be unified in taking the few simple civil defense steps required to put an end to the epidemic.
President Biden came into office, promising a quick end to the pandemic made feasible because his predecessor had made sure that a vaccine was being made available at no cost to the whole population, first to the most vulnerable and then quickly to everyone else. Between the protection provided by the vaccine and the natural immunity provided in people who have survived the infection, the epidemic appeared to be coming under control, at least in the USA. The relief was palpable, and people initially were willing to jump through hoops to get the shot. My wife and I stood in line for four hours in frigid Cleveland weather in February to get the injection. Who would have guessed at the time that taking the two steps required to slay the dragon, vaccination and mask wearing, would become a political football? The country has a history of coming together under a serious external threat, like it did for a while after the 9/11 attacks, but this time it appears to be more divided than ever, with disastrous effect. The deaths now occurring from the virus are largely, if not completely, avoidable. Not surprisingly, they befall mostly to the unvaccinated, a group that includes not just anti-vaxxers but also children under 12 years old and people who have just been dragging their heels on getting the shot.
The President of the United States swears at inauguration to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, but the expectation is that the first line of duty for the President is the safety and security of the American people. In spite of all the good intentions and measures taken by his administration, President Biden is falling short in fulfilling this sacred duty, as the numbers painfully show. He cannot possibly be accepting of 350,000 or more COVID casualties in his first year in office. And yet, that is where we are heading with a 7 day average of almost 2,000 new COVID deaths per day. He is at risk of suffering more COVID deaths under his watch than his predecessor.
I hear voices* saying that these casualties are part of a deliberate attempt by Republicans who see vaccine resistance and mask refusal as legitimate ways to derail the Biden Presidency. That these Republicans love to see the current administration fail in its top priority of getting the COVID epidemic under control and make this failure an issue in the 2022 midterm election and the 2024 Presidential election. Whether the GOP deviousness goes this far or not, it is indisputable that virtually all the resistance against vaccination and mask wearing is coming from the extreme wings of our politics, on the right and the left side of the great political divide. The Biden administration should be much more emphatic and unapologetic in mandating vaccination as it is the only way to stem the tide of new COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. It cannot allow to let the abundant domestic supply of vaccines go to waste. And it cannot allow the virus to continue to develop new and increasingly dangerous mutations.
While we see a spirit of resistance against federal control of COVID defense go insufficiently contested, we are witnessing a ‘holier than thou’ tendency among GOP operatives who want to outdo each other in fealty to their spiritual and ideological leader, the 45th President of the United States. Without exception, these Republican ‘leaders’ reject mandated vaccinations and mask wearing and many of them still maintain that Trump won the 2020 election and that, therefore, the Biden Presidency is illegitimate and should be brought down. These ‘leaders’ characterize the January 6 attack on the Capitol as a peaceful demonstration, protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and are now calling for acquittal of the insurrectionists who ransacked the Capitol that day, threatened the assembled representatives and tried to keep Congress from certifying the outcome of the Presidential election of 2020.
Egged on by the right-wing media, these people are the real culprits. They are trespassing against their oath of office and have blood on their hands. They are directly responsible for the avoidable COVID deaths we continue to endure. Unfortunately, their ranks are swelling since more and more conventional Republicans are either giving up on the GOP or are being forced out by local extremist factions in their States or Districts. Latest case in point for the extremist trend in the GOP is the decision by Anthony Gonzalez, the Ohio representative for the 16th District, which includes some of the Cleveland suburbs, not to run for office in 2022. Gonzalez, a Cuban American who starred as an Ohio State wide receiver and earned an M.B.A. at Stanford, was one of 10 Republican representatives voting to impeach Donald Trump after the January 6 Capitol insurrection. He called the former President ‘a cancer for the country’ and spoke of a ‘toxic environment’ within the Republican Party. He once was regarded, at 37 years of age, a rising star at the Republican firmament.
Maybe, just maybe, this is happening for a good reason. Maybe, just maybe, the GOP is killing itself from within by marginalizing or expelling the few remaining conventional Republicans. If this trend continues and the GOP offers the voting public a slate of Trumpists for the 2022 midterms, it may just snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
If the GOP puts up candidates like it did with Larry Elder in the gubernatorial recall contest in California, it may in effect throw the Biden administration a lifeline and allow the Democrats to keep their tenuous grip on Congress. I refuse to believe that Independents and conventional Republicans will allow the Trump movement to take control of the Congress. If the Republican primaries favor the Trump loyalists, they may earn themselves a Pyrrhus victory that will turn into defeat in the general election.
In the meantime, the Biden administration does not help its cause by ineptly handling the exit from Afghanistan, finished with a horrible, misguided drone attack on 10 innocent Afghans, including 7 children, and the lack of organization and control exhibited at handling the influx of illegal immigrants on our Southern border.
At a time that it needs to show mastery in governing competence in order to steer its ambitious platform of voting protection, infrastructure upgrade, and inequality reduction through an uncooperative Congress, it is at risk of getting waylaid by serious failings in its operative management. It has one year left to get the COVID epidemic under control, prevent further avoidable deaths, retake control of its borders and avoid anymore operational blunders. And then, it will need help from the GOP shooting itself in the foot by presenting an unelectable slate of representatives for the midterm election if it wants to have any chance of keeping control of Congress so that it gets two more years to change public governance in a more progressive, future oriented, direction. As it stands, there is every chance that the Biden administration will suffer the fate of the nation: Death by 750,000 cuts.
* Notably Susan B. Glasser in a September 16 article in The New Yorker.