No matter how much Donald Trump and his agents misrepresent, obfuscate, deny, distort, spin or outright lie about the coronavirus pandemic, a basic truth remains very clear.
Trump and his regime’s response to the coronavirus has been worse than negligent. It is willfully malevolent.
More than 100,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus pandemic. At every opportunity Trump has made decisions — or refused to make them — which turned a manageable problem into a national and global tragedy.
Donald Trump shows no empathy for the sick or the dying, or the overall human cost of the coronavirus pandemic. He cares more about being re-elected in November than the health and safety of the American people.
Trump and his family, like other authoritarians, are manifestly corrupt and operate like a political crime syndicate. Trump, his family, political allies and other sycophants have used the pandemic to grow their personal fortunes. Serving the common good has never been their concern. For them, this pandemic is an opportunity for self-interested (and likely illegal) profiteering and other abuses of power.
Donald Trump is using the coronavirus crisis and the deaths of tens of thousands as a weapon to harm and otherwise punish those cities and states he views as “enemies”. Why? Because the people who live there are unlikely to vote for him.
While many public voices and others have chosen to cower in fear before Donald Trump and his agents — thereby normalizing his authoritarian threats to democracy and human rights — Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor in epidemiology (microbial diseases) at Yale and co-director of the university’s Global Health Justice Partnership, has instead chosen to speak truth to power.
Several weeks ago, Gonsalves shared a series of questions on Twitter:
How many people will die this summer, before Election Day? What proportion of the deaths will be among African-Americans, Latinos, other people of color? This is getting awfully close to genocide by default. What else do you call mass death by public policy?
And I am being serious here: what is happening in the US is purposeful, considered negligence, omission, failure to act by our leaders. Can they be held responsible under international law?
So, what does it mean to let thousands die by negligence, omission, failure to act, in a legal sense under international law?
In this conversation, Gonsalves explains why he perceives the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as an act of massive state-sponsored violence against the American people — especially vulnerable and marginalized communities — and likely as a crime against humanity.
Gonsalves also reflects on the need for a truth and reconciliation commission in the aftermath of the pandemic and Trump’s eventual removal from office. He also shares his thoughts on why his longtime colleague Dr. Deborah Birx, who serves as White House coronavirus response coordinator, has seemingly abandoned her commitment to medical ethics by choosing to assist Donald Trump in spreading lies, disinformation and distortions about the coronavirus pandemic.
Finally, Gonsalves explains how he would try to convince Trump supporters and others who refuse to wear masks or maintain appropriate social distancing to change their dangerous behavior during the pandemic.
More than 100,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. Many more will die. Donald Trump plays golf. He has shown that he does not really care about all this suffering and misery beyond how it impacts his re-election chances in November. In so many ways this has been a preventable national disaster. It did not have to be this way.
Yes, it did not have to be this way. But the scarier part is that it is very easy to say that this crisis is just Donald Trump’s fault, as opposed to seeing how it is a function of how American society has organized itself for a long time. Even if Donald Trump were not president, the United States would not have been able to respond to the coronavirus pandemic as well as many other countries did and are.
The coronavirus pandemic, like other health crises, truly reveals what groups and communities the larger society deems valuable or not.
And that is overlaid on America’s intersections of race and class. Correlation is not causation, but if one examines a map of slave states, the density of black human property around the time of the Civil War is closely related to life expectancy at present, more than 150 years later. That outcome is a result of how racial inequality is built into the health care system of the United States. White supremacy combined with the legacy of slavery was bound to create the type of crisis we are seeing with the coronavirus pandemic.
As an epidemiologist, how do you make sense of this crisis? What is a defining feature of this moment for you?
At present I am an epidemiologist. I was an AIDS activist for far longer than I have been a doctor. Infectious diseases will always be with us because they are a part of nature. But epidemics are made by human beings, and we sure made a horrible one with the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, the coronavirus came from a bat. The coronavirus jumped to a person somewhere in China and then spread around the world. Our failure to contain the coronavirus is a problem of medicine and epidemiology, but at its root the failure is a political one.
What has the coronavirus pandemic revealed about American society? What truths have been made more clear?
There is a myth of American generosity, can-do-ism and independent-mindedness. We love to think of ourselves as an exceptional country. “Make America Great Again” is the myth that President Trump would like to tell us, that somehow we inherently are a great country, whether that is in the past or not.