By Umair Haque
America just passed the grimmest of milestones. A hundred thousand dead of Coronavirus.
How can sense be made of a such a colossal number? The mind reels. It’s staggering. When
I think about it, my head spins.
I think, though, that it’s such a big number that it almost becomes meaningless. So let me try to put it in context for you.
Let me apologise to Don Lemon for borrowing his chyron as a title. I hope he doesn’t mind. I don’t often agree with CNN. But Don is exactly right in this case. The obvious implication here is that with responsible, strong, and decisive leadership — and maybe a population willing to follow along — America’s death toll could have been reduced massively. And America — maybe the whole world — needs to think harder about what “a hundred thousand deaths” really means.
You’re probably going to be shocked by what you’re about to read. You should be. Here are three simple facts everyone should know.
The first one, the obvious one, is that America has the world’s highest death toll — by a catastrophically long way which Americans still don’t really know. How much so, though? Here’s a number that you probably don’t know, that should stun you awake. Do you know how many people died in New Zealand? 21. Just twenty one.
Fact two: America’s 100,000 deaths are almost entirely needless. Yes, really: entirely needless. They never needed to happen.
Let me prove it to you with some simple math that even a schoolchild can handle. New Zealand has a population of 5 million. Those 21 people that died in New Zealand are .00042% of that population. So what’s the proportional number for America? America’s population is 330 million. What’s .00042% of 330 million? Go ahead and take a guess. 10,000? 15,000? 20,000? It’s 1500.
If America had acted like New Zealand, just fifteen hundred people could have died. Instead, 100,000 people have died. Think about that for a moment.
Now, that’s a back of the envelope calculation. Actually the number is closer to 1400, but you get my point. Sure, you can say that America’s got denser cities or worse healthcare or a hundred other complicating factors. The point is this. Fifteen hundred versus a hundred thousand is not a reasonable difference. You can quintuple New Zealand’s numbers to be generous towards America — and end up at only 6,000 deaths. You’re still…two orders of magnitude…as in whole decimal places…away from 100,000.
That’s shocking. It’s surreal.
The calculation I’ve made above is simple, but it’s not inaccurate. It’s why even Columbia University epidemiologists calculate 90% or so of American Coronavirus deaths never needed to happen. You can go ahead and discount that, if you like. To 85%, 80%, 70%. We’re still talking about mass death on a scale that’s unparalleled in modern history.
This is a death toll so high that, as many commentators point out, it exceeds those of all America’s modern wars — and there have been many — put together.
So why does America have such a high death toll?
Fact three: America did almost everything wrong, and that’s Donald Trump’s fault. Needless death on a mass scale will be his legacy.
New Zealand had so few deaths because it did everything right. Not because — and this matters — of luck, a fluke, or just plain anomaly. It locked down early and firmly. It tested and traced. It had a national strategy to flatten the curve — and it ended up crunching it. The population followed right along, and the Prime Minister kept them encouraged, oriented, and directed. The result was — again — just 21 deaths.
Let me reverse the earlier calculation, to put that number in context, and show you what the consequences of following both science and common sense really are. America’s death toll is about .033% of it’s population of 330,00,000. If that percentage had applied in New Zealand, it would have had 1500 deaths. Instead, it had just 21. Fifteen hundred, versus…just twenty one.
America, by contrast, did everything that was possible to do wrong, more or less. The failure of leadership and institutions rests firmly at Donald Trump’s doorstep. Let me prove that, too.
In January, Trump said: “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” It’s going to be just fine?
In February, he said: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” A miracle? What a crackpot. And yet at this stage you could already see disaster unfolding. America needed a national strategy at this stage — not thinly veiled Biblical references designed to please Trump’s base of fringe lunatics and extremists.
On March 4th, Trump remarked that the flu was worse than Coronavirus, and said the WHO’s predicted death tolls were based on a hunch.
Then, on the 10th, this idiot of idiots, contradicting himself, said: “This was unexpected… And it hit the world. And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
On March 11: “The vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low.” By now, without a national strategy, the pandemic was spreading like wildfire across the country — and deaths were beginning to happen.
On March 27th, Trump said: ‘You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus, you know you can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody even knows what it is.” What the? It’s called Coronavirus…for a reason.
Just a few days later, about 5,000 people had already died.
Around then, Trump pleaded: “Nobody would ever believe a thing like that’s possible. Nobody could have ever seen something like this coming,” Nobody — except the collected scientists of the world, and most of its sane people, too. The only people who really couldn’t see it coming — or didn’t want to — were Trump, and his army of American Idiots.
But denial was about to have even more devastating consequences.
On April 14th, to the world’s shock, Trump halted the WHO’s funding.
On April 16th, he said: “When it’s all done, it’s going to be, I think, a very beautiful picture.” By that day, 33,000 Americans had died.
Trump began to shut up, finally, around then.
And on the weekend that America crossed the hundred thousand mark, where was he? Golfing.
Condolences poured in from leaders around the globe. Trump? He had nothing to say.
Instead, he threatened to sign an executive order railing against social media companies.
The story that history will tell, should tell is this.
A lunatic President allowed mass death to happen on a scale that can only be described as obscene, monstrous, and inhuman. A hundred thousand lives were lost for no good reason whatsoever. Simply because there was no direction, no guidance, no orientation, no strategy. No fight in the fight. Its leader was all hat and no cattle. He pitted states against one another — and blockaded crucial supplies from reaching them. What the?
This is the stuff of failed states writ in the neon letters of history. A hundred thousand deaths, where there could have been less than five thousand. Six digits, where there could have barely been four. This is what it means to be a collapsed society. A place where life itself seems to have no intrinsic worth or value. This. Needless death on a scale so vast, it’s mind-numbing and heart-stopping.
This is what people like me have tried to warn of happening for a decade or more now. Social collapse which means that leaders can get away with irresponsibility and negligence that leaves huge chunks of a society…dead.
That’s where America is, right about now.
And Americans, too, seemed weirdly indifferent. Maybe they were weary, panicked, or resigned. Who can say? But where nations like Spain had days of mourning, where countries united in shock and grief…America passed the hundred thousand mark without a single kind of expression of collective sorrow.
But then again. School shootings. Cops killing yet another defenseless black guy. People choosing not to have chemotherapy or operations so their families wouldn’t lose their homes. Coronavirus was just another way, in the end, that Americans seemed inured to violence, to brutality, to death. Apathetic, resigned, unmoved. The world was shocked. A society of people who’d been exploited into dehumanization…legendary for their cruelty…now at the point of simply shrugging at mass death. Enough of them, at least, for this colossal tragedy to barely register as a political and social catastrophe.
“Who cared?” many Americans seemed to say — if not in their words, then in their actions. There were plenty of American Idiots who were happy to have pool parties while all this was going on. What the? Getting naked in a pool full of strangers during a pandemic that’s causing death on a scale greater than all your wars put together? You can’t actually be this senseless, this heartless, this foolish. Can you? The world was aghast at America’s indifference, its deafening silence, its negligence.
But perhaps that was because America’s media, too, failed to contextualize this number for the average American, too. What is “a hundred thousand deaths”? In the middle of a global pandemic? In times like these, nothing seems normal. Everything turns upside down.
Nobody in America media pointed out that if America had followed New Zealand’s approach, it would have had just 1500 deaths. But it didn’t — and instead it had a 100,000.
Literally nobody. Not the pundits, not the columnists, not the talking heads. It went over their heads, maybe. Maybe nobody wanted to tell the truth. Maybe it was too uncomfortable to speak.
Nobody at all, really, seemed interesting in telling this story. Were Americans interested in hearing it?
I don’t know. I suppose that’s why I took the time to write this essay, which filled me with a kind of sorrow that words can never do justice to.
Umair Haque first published this article in Medium