By Umair Haque
The full scale of America’s failure to grapple with Coronavirus — and the horrific results of it — are finally becoming clear.
See the chart below?
What does the chart really say? We struggle with language, these days. How do you describe a pandemic? What words do you use? Here’s what I’d say.
Europe had a wave. But America has a tsunami. A tsunami of death. That’s still ripping through society.
That’s the only way I can describe the above.
Think of what a tsunami really is. A wave is just that, a passing pulsation. But a tsunami is not just a wave. It’s a shelf of water, that’s been displaced, which towers above the ocean. It extends backwards, often, for miles. The ocean recedes. And when this towering shelf of water hits land, it roars across it, ripping inland, for miles, too. A tsunami is not just “a big wave.” It’s shape is different. It has far, far more power, because it is not just a wall of water, but something more like a whole mountain plateau of it. It lasts, endures, carries on, just going on tearing through everything before it.
That is what America has created. I say “America,” but that’s inaccurate. That’s what Trump has created: a tsunami of death.
When we flatten the curve, we produce a wave. When we don’t — we get a tsunami of death.
When and where will it end?
Europe, meanwhile, had a wave. The pandemic came, and it passed. It’s true that there will be secondary waves, tertiary waves. That ripples will go on for the foreseeable future. It’s not that Europe is out of the woods. The pandemic is not done. It is going to last for a very long time now. But what Europe did not have is a tsunami of death.
I’ve long said that Europe is a vastly more functional, modern, and civilized society than America. Could there by any starker proof than all this: a tsunami of death, without end, versus a passing wave of a pandemic?
As the pandemic unfolded, I cautioned that something like 90% of American deaths were needless. This is a hard idea to process, even to stomach. And yet that’s another thing this stark difference should make clear. So many Americans did not have to die. All the Americans who are still to die never had to. Americans must understand this now, and begin holding their leaders accountable. Or else they go on living in a failed society. And a failed society means: you die.
What’s the reason for this stunning difference between Europe and America in Coronavirus outcomes?
Trump denied there was a pandemic. Then he minimized the danger of it. Then he told people to..drink bleach. These days, he plays golf, mostly, and pretends nothing much nightmarish is happening.
At no point has America had anything resembling a national strategy, an integrated approach, to combat a lethal pandemic. The result has been a vacuum of leadership. Some governors stepped in, to be sure. But action was not taken swiftly, decisively, and courageously enough.
In Europe, just the opposite happened. Every country which successfully flattened the curve did more or less the things which a sensible person would have, which are just the ones scientists recommended. They tracked and traced, they put in place firm lockdowns, they educated people about the dangers. In America, none of that happened. Even American lockdowns didn’t approach the severity of European ones. In Europe, it was a serious crime to violate lockdown. If you tested positive, you’d better quarantine. In America? None of that was true, much.
Europe, also, had a population that cooperated, because it’s one capable of cooperation. Europeans care about one another. Americans? They’re die-hard individualists. Many of them don’t care about anyone but themselves. Not even, apparently, their own kids and loved ones. So in America, there was a lunatic wave of protest against lockdowns, people deliberately flouting it, people screaming to…drink bleach. What the? Americans are not a society capable of cooperation, where Europeans are. The result was that Europeans were able to take quick, decisive collective action, and Americans weren’t, and still aren’t.
For example, today we know that the one thing you can do to fight the virus most is also one of the simplest. Just wear a mask. Even in Britain, wearing a mask has become legally mandated. But in America? It’s become some kind of bizarre culture-war frenzy. I won’t wear a mask! Free-dumb!
All these facets intertwined in America. A lack of political leadership. A lack of social cooperation. A total absence of will, guidance, or vision at the top. They produced a fatal deficit of collective action. And by fatal, I mean literally fatal.
The result was a tsunami of death. Not a wave.
America never had a wave. It’s inaccurate, I think, to speak of “first” and “second” waves when it comes to America’s Coronavirus experience. Waves are for countries that flatten curves into waves. America teaches us what happens when we don’t flatten a curve. It just turns into a tsunami.
America’s half measures meant that the virus found a kind of steady state point, at which it just went on ripping through society.
So what happens now?
What’s already happening. Cases in America are beginning to rise all over again. This time, in the states which have reopened fastest and hardest — too soon, and too simply. In places like Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Oklahoma, cases are beginning to…explode.
What happens next is that the virus explodes all over again.
America now faces an even more terrible outcome.
If it’s lucky, it keeps on having just this tsunami of death — the one in the curve above. That plateau of mass death maybe begins to decline very, very slowly, over the next months, probably years now.
If it’s not lucky? Then it’s hit by another tsunami.
A tsunami is a wall of water, remember. What happens if you’re hit by two — the second, before the first has receded? Well, all that water piles up, atop itself. The second one rides over the first. The shape is that an explosion and a plateau — and another explosion, and another, higher plateau.
America’s had one tsunami of death. Is it about to have another one?
There are good reasons to worry. Very good ones, in fact. All the states which are reopening too soon, and too simplistically, are doing so for ideological reasons. The President isn’t worried at all — he’s indifferent to mass death. America doesn’t have the powers to really regulate states. There’s no semblance of even a hint of a national strategy, still. And the same old American lunatic fringe isn’t willing to cooperate with even wearing masks, still.
There’s every reason to think America’s about to be hit by another tsunami of death. That the next few months will see an acceleration in cases, and a resurgence in deaths.
If you want to talk numbers, it’s difficult to say. But I will say this. America’s already at 120,000 deaths, and the virus hasn’t yet peaked. That means that 240,000 are already on the cards, by the end of all this. If the pandemic accelerates all over again, then that number rises dramatically, by another hundred thousand or so. Now we’re in the realm of the unthinkable: the order of magnitude of half a million deaths. Not immediately — over time. But isn’t that figure horrific enough?
America’s tsunami of death is one of this decade’s most gruesome and horrific events. What’s even more worrying, to this observer, is the indifference with which it’s been met. I’ve been warning Americans for months now how badly the crisis was being handled. The results weren’t encouraging to say the least. A deafening silence seemed to prevail. Yes, people were worried. But was it really going to be that bad? Americans have a low, low bar for “that bad.” You see it in the chart above.
America’s outcomes are catastrophic, nightmarish, horrific, compared to Europe’s. It is already “that bad.” It is about to get even worse. Americans have to learn not to accept failures of leadership and society both so gruesome they can justifiably be called obscene. What else would you describe mass death as?
A decade ago, I tried, my heart heavy, to warn that America was a failing state. Why? Was I gloating? Did I feel glee? I felt nothing but sorrow and despair — and I knew I’d pay a price, professionally, too, for saying it. But I knew. I’d lived it before. I’d been there. I’d felt the horror, the fear, the sadness, the terror of it. I’d known it, all too well growing up. It cut me deep down in the soul, and scarred me like a canyon. Mass death. Tsunamis of it. The unthinkable. Tragedy like this.
This is what it means to be a failed society. You die. Hundreds of thousands die. Needlessly. And nobody much cares, or cares enough, anyways. Death grins, laughs, and stalks his prey. The President smiles. His good people look away. The wise men sacrifice lambs. Death becomes a way of life.
Perhaps you’ll feel I’m being harsh. Or again, that I’m gloating. No. I’m only trying to warn you now, just as I was then. Of things to come, which never had to pass at all. Because that is what I have to do, to think of myself as decent, not indecent. You can reject my warning, too, if you want. That’s your right. Nevertheless, I can’t not warn you.
The price of being a failed society is America’s tsunami of death — the one that doesn’t exist in Europe. When and where will it end? Right about now — the truly disturbing thing is this: it doesn’t have an end.
*Culled from Medium