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Capitalism Is to Blame for How Quickly US COVID Deaths Reached 1 Million

The idea of obeying science when it might cost multibillion-dollar corporations their market share was heresy.

Flags at the base of the Washington Monument fly at half-mast on May 12, 2022, in Washington, D.C., as the United States nears 1 million deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Part of the Series

I got my second COVID booster shot this morning, so if I do catch this damned thing, it won’t be for lack of ducking. The CVS worker who dosed me seemed an affable sort and the coffee had just kicked in, so I decided to have a bit of sport at the expense of the medical industry. When he brought the tray with the syringe over, I asked if it was the one with the Bill Gates microchip or the one that glows to let Satan know where I am. He stared at me a long moment, looked left and right, then leaned close and said, “5G, man. 5G.”

It’s laughing or screaming at this point, when the mention of one brain-bending far-right conspiracy theory is parried with another — in this case, the outrageous idea that 5G cellphone towers are to blame for COVID-19and that is the ignoble truth.

With solemn tone and a truly daunting dot-matrix map of the lost, The New York Times put forth the question that nobody seems prepared to deal with at this juncture: How did this country suffer 1 million COVID deaths, the most of any country in the world, in less than three years?

The answers are spread across a broad palette of shame and disgrace that, brushstroke by bloody brushstroke, combined to paint a mural of a nation in pinwheeling decline. COVID did not do this to us. Like water, it made for the lowest places and flooded the gaps until the walls crumbled, the floors cracked, and the “exceptional” country was forced to confront just how drab and subpar it really is… which may serve to explain the silence enveloping this grim and monstrous milestone.

This is how it happens,” writes Indrajit Samarajiva, who watched as his home country of Sri Lanka collapsed after years of civil war. “Precisely what you’re feeling now. The numbing litany of bad news. The ever rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner. If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down.”

It was capitalism, of course, that made sure this thing would rule the day. The idea of obeying science to the point that multibillion dollar corporations might lose custom and market share for a time was more than intolerable; it was heresy spoken against the faith of the free-marketeers and their trickle-down pabulum. Minimum-wage workers behind plexiglass at the Piggly Wiggly were hailed as heroes in the media, but they weren’t heroes… or at least they didn’t want to be. They needed the money and the insurance (if any was actually available), and so they worked. Thousands were infected, and hundreds died.

The gruesome details of COVID and the meat-packing industry are a perfect metaphor for the collision between greed and disease. According to a report by ProPublica, a cohort of meat-packing concerns combined their efforts and lobbied the Trump administration for exemptions that would allow their plants to remain open while shielding them from legal liability. Soon enough, Trump complied.

“The effect that the meatpacking plant outbreaks had on the early spread of COVID-19 is staggering,” reads the report. “ProPublica and other news outlets tracked cases and deaths involving meatpacking workers. But academic researchers have found that by July 2020, about 6 percent to 8 percent of all coronavirus cases in the U.S. were tied to packing plant outbreaks, and that by October 2020, community spread from the plants had generated 334,000 illnesses and 18,000 COVID-19-related deaths.”

Notwithstanding the towering courage and perseverance of the doctors and nurses who fought COVID on the front lines — wearing garbage bags and masks hosed down with Lysol in the early days because of supply snafus — the bleak truth of this country’s garbled medical industry has been exposed. This reaches beyond the overworked hospitals all the way down to the manner in which we as a nation care for our elders. COVID is exceptionally dangerous for older people, to be sure, but hundreds of thousands of elders died warehoused in “homes” staffed by brutally undertrained workers.

This, again, was capitalism at work, the “for-profit” medical industry championed by capitalists as the best in the world. The dead know better.

Speaking of sham capitalism, no critique of the last three years would be complete without a long look at Donald Trump himself, whose performance as president during the crisis will go down in history as one of the more spectacular failures since Icarus told his dad, “Just a little higher.”

Everything you need to know about Trump’s long bungle of COVID can be found in the first public statement he made on the pandemic, on the last day of February 2020:

At this moment, we have 22 patients in the United States currently that have coronavirus. Unfortunately, one person passed away overnight. She was a wonderful woman, a medically high-risk patient in her late 50s. Four others are very ill. Thankfully, 15 are either recovered fully or they’re well on their way to recovery, and in all cases they’ve been let go, and they’re home.

Additional cases in the United States are likely, but healthy individuals should be able to fully recover, and I think that will be a statement that we can make with great surety now that we’ve gotten familiar with this problem. They should be able to recover should they contract the virus. So healthy people, if you’re healthy, you will probably go through a process and you’ll be fine.

First of all, the deceased person he referred to was a man, not a woman, setting the tone for the fact-free avalanche of calamity his administration became in the ensuing months. The happy talk, though, is the tell: he made this statement weeks after telling journalist Bob Woodward, “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus. This is deadly stuff.”

Hundreds of thousands of deaths, along with millions of infections, lay at Trump’s spray-tanned feet, but the dying has continued through the entirety of the Biden administration. In this, we have the perfect storm: A president weighed down by the failures of his predecessor and beset by a Republican opposition that has been more than happy to use a lethal pandemic for political purposes. It also has not helped that Biden and his fellow Democrats have raised snatching defeat from the jaws of victory into a form of performance art.

In the face of all this, frustrated silence reigns. There’s no mystery to it; a great many myths about greatness have been shredded and burned in the passage of COVID, and here we are once again confronted with a new wave of infections. New cases are exploding across the country, especially in areas where the GOP convinced people that vaccinations and masks are some sort of liberal Trojan Horse. There were more than 90,000 new infections yesterday alone, a two-week increase of 60 percent.

Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-mast to honor the million we have lost. It is as bland a recognition as any other we have seen. The longer we refuse to face what this really is — a pandemic that has attacked us at our weakest places that were supposed to be our strongest places — the longer this will continue. It is a reckoning that must be both national and personal, or there will be no recovery at all.

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