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The Guardian

Covid has killed 500,000 people in the United States. It’s more than the people of Miami

This tragedy was preventable. This happened because Republican politicians believe some people are worth more than others “The coronavirus is different, not causing the same suffering or the same concern.” Photograph: Patrick Semansky / AP Five hundred thousand deaths can be hard to imagine. But we have to try. Imagine, for example, that everyone in Miami, Colorado Springs, or Minneapolis dies in a single year. If that sounds too absurd, combine the number of Americans who died in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and then imagine that they too were killed in a single year, on American soil. But such reflective exercises do not get us far. They are helping us understand the scale and speed of the coronavirus crisis, but not much else. In particular, they do not help us appreciate how death has been unevenly distributed across America, and how this has affected society’s response. The disappearance of an entire city would affect a large cross section of society, while wars tend to unify the entire nation even though they mostly kill young people. But the coronavirus is different, generating neither equal suffering nor equal concern. Instead, it disproportionately kills the elderly, the poor, and racial minorities. These inequalities have deeply shaped the US response to the virus, with Republicans downplaying its risk and Democrats seeing it for the national emergency that it is. The Republican rejection of the virus is in part due to the tooth-and-claw individualism that forms a key part of American identity, but it wouldn’t have been possible without something more. It was also based on the idea that the dead were somehow consumable because of who they were. It is not surprising that Republican politicians do not care about the poor or the minorities. But for the lack of concern to extend even to seniors, who form such a key Republican electoral bloc, the ideological blinders must be powerful indeed. Not all prominent Republican voices have gone as far as Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has suggested seniors should be prepared to sacrifice their lives to save the economy. But the general rate of disinformation and minimization, of Donald Trump on the decline, has shown at best a deep indifference to the fate of elderly Americans who make up the large proportion of the dead, and whose fate is nevertheless presented as accessory to the need to “Reopen the economy”. If the Republican response has been based on a typically narrow definition of which Americans deserve to be saved, the response from other parts of society has been much more encouraging. The coronavirus challenge also brought out exactly the things that have always made America really great but that the contemporary political right is opposed to: expertise, technological advancement, a sense of civic duty, and an inclusive definition of Americanity. While these ideas remain under attack, Joe Biden’s victory represents the triumph of these values ​​over their opposites – and above all a victory for the idea that all American lives are worth saving, whether they are seen as economically. valid or not. For this reason, it has been incredibly encouraging to see that the Biden administration has recognized that the response to the virus must also involve addressing the structural inequalities revealed by it. Measures like raising the minimum wage to $ 15 are morally needed after poorly paid, disproportionately non-white, essential workers kept society buzzing during the pandemic. They are also popular with the general public. Support for the minimum wage increase is 61% and 68% of Americans support Biden’s broader economic relief plan. While Biden’s victory was a necessary first step, the deep insensitivity revealed by the pandemic will take more than an election to tackle. In 2012, Mitt Romney lamented the 47% of the population who he said could never be convinced to “take personal responsibility and take care of their lives.” But the pandemic has shown that this is precisely turning the American problem upside down. The real problem is not the people who refuse to take responsibility for themselves, but those who refuse to take responsibility for others – including the 47% of the electorate who voted for Donald Trump despite the total disregard for American life he has shown in handling the pandemic. What can be done about this 47%? In the short term, not much. There is little reason to believe that they can be won. Another lesson from the pandemic has been how deep American divisions run – not even a deadly scourge brought the two sides together in what Biden called America’s “uncivil war”. If the Republican Party remains a primarily destructive rather than a constructive force, then Democrats must abandon their hopes of two-party politics and continue without it. At the end of the day, Democrats need to demonstrate to people the value of a government that cares about their well-being – materially, medically and otherwise. Building a coalition of care should be easier than a coalition of indifference. But in order to do that, Democrats must seize the opportunity to tackle the deeper American issues the virus has exposed. Providing meaningful improvements to people’s lives isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also the best way to guard against the return to power of those who don’t care whether their fellow Americans live or die. Andrew Gawthorpe is a United States Historian at Leiden University and host of the America Explained podcast


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