The President Does Not Care Whether You Live or Die

Jack Holmes
·4 mins read

From Esquire

It seems the President of the United States of America is determined these days to put that old quote, perhaps apocryphally attributed to Joseph Stalin, to the test: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." As his advisers told the Washington Post—anonymously, of course—part of the American president's re-election strategy is to convince Americans they can "live with" a deadly virus. Along with that, there's his aides' hope that citizens "will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day." The president started off numb and he's only getting number.

The federal government has basically abandoned its efforts to contain or combat the pandemic's spread, demanding, in the case of the White House, that schools open regardless of the facts on the ground in their area. (The period between when the president would downplay the pandemic threat as minimal, and his new posture that the worst is over and we can move on, was frighteningly short.) The president holds daily news conferences where he points to "spikes" in other countries as if to say it's not just us, hoping no one will Google what a spike looks like in South Korea and learn it means 197 new cases in a day. (The U.S., with six times the population, is averaging 250 times as many new cases per day.) Never mind all that—the Trump administration started rolling back federal support for testing in June. So far, the result of this overarching strategy is 170,000 American deaths—around 22 percent of the world's COVID-19 fatalities spread across just over four percent of its population.

As if to drive home that he quite literally does not care if you live or die, Trump confronted these harrowing statistics in a recent interview with all the grace and empathy we've come to expect. "It is what it is," he told Jonathan Swan of Axios. In her speech at the virtual Democratic National Convention on Monday night, Michelle Obama appeared to play on that line in her argument that Trump simply cannot do the job and must be removed. Elsewhere, she also said "more than 150,000" Americans have died. When asked about her speech Tuesday morning, Trump seized on the opportunity for a true self-own.

As many have pointed out already, "more than 150,000" remains an accurate description of how many Americans have died of COVID-19. It just happens to be a more generous one to the president because, as he rightly points out, Obama recorded her speech last week. That's also why Obama did not mention Joe Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris—she hadn't been announced yet. This, despite what you might hear from Trumpian apparatchiks like Rudy Giuliani, who suggested it was some grave sign for the Democratic ticket shortly before appearing to mistake Twitter for Google in a truly revelatory way.

But that's really besides the point. Because think about how little you'd have to care about 20,000 people dying to see their non-inclusion here as some sort of cudgel you can use to beat your enemy. The president does not consider this to be an instance where he's actually demanding credit for allowing more people to die on his watch, because he does not think of the individuals here as people with families who are now suffering—at least if you consider people to be human beings of intrinsic value. He is incapable of doing so. They are a statistic, one that's important only insofar as it's of use to him.

That so many Americans died in the time between when Obama shot this video and when it aired does not primarily tell us anything about her, except that she didn't want to speak live. It tells us a whole lot more about the state of the country Trump theoretically runs. This nation had deep problems when it comes to lack of access to healthcare, or the financial precarity in which so many citizens live, before he came around. But it's hard to think of a problem he hasn't made worse, through corruption or ignorance or negligence or some combination thereof. The pandemic is at the front of the queue. At root, he just doesn't care.

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