At long last, we see glimmers of hope. The COVID-19 epidemic in the United States has fallen below the numbers of daily new cases tallied on the eve of the presidential election, the point at which this viral nightmare soared. Using the New York Times’ coronavirus data tracker, on Nov. 1, 2020, there were 74,195 new cases counted in the country; by Feb. 16, new case reports came in at 64,376.
But in between those dates, a national horror unfolded, peaking on Jan. 8 with 300,619 new cases reported in just 24 hours. This staggering wave, one full year into the pandemic, was completely unnecessary for the world’s richest country. Achieving any sense of closure will require holding Donald Trump accountable for the failure.
There is vast evidence of Trump’s negligence during the pandemic’s third wave. Had I been a member of the House of Representatives during the body’s impeachment deliberations, I would have added to Trump’s indictment the crime of pandemicide, naming him as responsible for most of the COVID-19 deaths that transpired while he, the nation’s leader, was preoccupied with damning Joe Biden’s election victory. Trump’s failure to, as he vowed in his oath of office, “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States” promulgated a scale of lives lost exceeding anything experienced in the country since the Civil War, 160 years ago.
I do not accuse Trump of pandemicide in reference to mistakes made by his administration between January 2020—when it generally ignored the outbreak in Wuhan, China—and the summer surge of cases and deaths across the United States. I do not charge pandemicide over Trump’s Feb. 26, 2020, dismissal of the COVID-19 threat as miniscule, claiming, “The level that we’ve had in our country is very low, and those people are getting better, or we think that in almost all cases they’re better or getting. We have a total of 15.” Nor do I charge pandemicide over his repeated insistence that COVID-19 cures were available in the forms of hydroxychloroquine, bleach, ultraviolet light, convalescent plasma therapy, the Regeneron cocktail, oleander extract, or simply warm weather.
And though there is striking evidence that the policies of the four-year Trump administration vastly worsened life expectancy and mortality rates in the United States, contributing to 461,000 excess deaths in 2018 alone, these are matters of callous, ill-considered policies and brutal budget cuts, preceding the virus’s arrival to U.S. shores.
Pandemicide is not the outcome of ill-advised, ignorant, or outright stupid budget actions and health messages. I do not even level the charge over Trump’s denunciation of mask use and opposition to temporary business and school closures to halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2, encouraging people to “liberate” states that were implementing tough lockdown regulations.
Rather, the path of pandemicide was paved in pursuit of the president’s reelection and his relentless, all-consuming post-election campaign to refute his opponent’s victory, claiming election fraud and even theft. Despite the summer surge in COVID-19 infections nationwide, Trump abandoned virtual campaigning in favor of crowded, largely maskless gatherings of his supporters, knowingly risking that each rally would become a superspreader event. According to a study by Stanford University, 18 campaign rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22, 2020, spawned in excess of 30,000 COVID-19 cases, likely leading to more than 700 deaths. During the same time period, half of Trump’s campaign rallies were followed by COVID-19 surges in the counties in which they took place. While Biden’s campaign rallies were largely virtual or held in parking areas with participants in their vehicles, Trump’s tightly packed, mostly mask-free throngs increased in both number and frequency, further spreading the virus and causing the U.S. government’s top COVID-19 response expert, Anthony Fauci, to warn that the president was “asking for trouble.”
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