USA: America’s Nero – Trump & Coronavirus

By Rakesh Ahuja

100K Americans are now dead from COVID19. The toll exceeds the dead in WWI. It also exceeds the combined American casualties in the Vietnam War, the conflict in Afghanistan, the Iraq War and 9/11 attacks. But despite the mounting toll since late March, there is a surrealistic disconnect between the staggering loss of lives and how the Americans are dealing with it.

America has a long tradition of rituals to honour its fallen in War or Peace. They symbolize the national will to confront crises and prepare for challenges to come. But, instead, there has been no expression of public grief, no recognition that the loss of life belongs collectively to the nation. Trump’s lack of empathy, which starkly defines his persona, has led the march of silence on the sheer enormity of it all. On 18 April, I tweeted (Rakesh Ahuja@DwnlodingMyMind):

“# Trump’s lack of compassion is so obvious. Watching the Deal-maker, speaking about deaths, no visible expression of empathy for the loss. So cold; he captures the adage that one death is a tragedy, anything more a statistic. 4591 or 65k or 200K dead – what is the difference?”

Since then, images from America have abounded with scenes of masses frolicking on beaches, in resorts and restaurants, indulging in the good life. And not only in the United States. On 5 May, I felt compelled to tweet:

“#COVID19 Are pandemic deaths – 2000 per day in US alone – the new normal in the West? No public sense of national loss. Focus instead on resuming the good life – beaches, bars…Remember widespread mournings for war dead? 9/11? The bereft apart, complacency reigns amidst Dantean horror.”

The most notable aspect of the missing sense of shared suffering in the (Dis)United States is that it is a bipartisan phenomenon. The Trumpian cohort’s focus on “opening the economy” is predictable. It is vital for America’s Nero to highlight the positive rather than focus on grim statistics which could undermine his re-election chances. But ideological chasms notwithstanding, and despite infection rates going north in their states, the Democrats too are also moving to relax the lockdowns to blunt their Republican counterparts. All in pursuit of political longevity.

In essence, Livelihoods, not Lives, matter. After all, the dead do not vote.