LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Culling the herd

To the Editor:

The Base got the message. Two-thirds of the seats were vacant at President Trump’s recent Tulsa campaign rally, his first in several months. 

The virus isn’t coming in waves, it’s a forest fire,” according to virologist Michael Osterholm at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Rushing to return to “life before the virus” will not save the economy. It will delay its recovery.

With the appearance of a novel virus in China, South Korea immediately took measures dictated by the best science available. Leadership and the cultural tradition that puts the community above the individual allowed them to accomplish in a matter of days what would normally take several months. As a result, a total of only four people died in the crowded city of Seoul, as of June 17th, according to the Frontline documentary “The Virus:  What Went Wrong.” The low death count is the result of masking, distancing, testing, tracing, and hand washing. 

The science is not new. When the first wave of the Influenza of 1918 hit San Francisco, the health director strictly enforced a quarantine, sometimes at the point of a gun. Few people died in San Francisco during that first wave. Many more died when the second wave came because people abandoned habits that worked.

Perhaps the dirty secret behind the passivity toward the number of deaths is this: The virus is killing “the expendables” – the poor, the ill, the elderly, people of color.

Real estate, on the other hand, is doing well as people more fortunate flee hot spots to buy places in remote areas where they feel safer. That myth may have a short life as the virus explodes in rural areas of the country.

Unless there is a change in policy, says Osterholm, the virus will continue to ravage us until about 60-70 percent of the population is exposed to the virus and herd immunity is achieved. That will probably happen before a viable vaccine is available.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson was advised that pushing civil rights legislation was a losing proposition politically, he refused to be dissuaded, asking “What’s a president for?“

Surveying how unequally the burden of the pandemic is spread, we must ask, “What’s the government for?”  Corporations received $500,000,000,000 (half a trillion) to ease their way through the shutdown. Their names are not being disclosed and there seems to be little oversight to determine what they are doing with our money. Has it gone to bonuses for top management,  stock buy backs or payroll reduction, scams that marked the financial meltdown of 2008? Have they rehired employees, as they promised, when they received their hand out?

We have been taught to hate the government by those who benefit from animosity toward it. Headlines scream about the increasing numbers applying for unemployment insurance benefits, as if these people weren’t getting something they’re entitled to by law. Consumer spending  accounts for 70 percent of the economy.  People who don’t have money to spend can’t keep the economy going. Young people with burdensome student loan debt can’t buy cars and houses. Small business owners are hamstrung trying to get the help they need to survive. We seem to forget that every dollar the government spends goes to some person or business. The question is, who will those dollars go to and will those dollars help the community?

Rock Star investor Warren Buffet lamented recently that we are a rich country, that a family ought to be able to sustain itself on the income of one fully employed person.

Where has he been? 

Author of “Nickeled and Dimed,” Barbara Ehrenreich, agrees with Buffet. Anyone who can’t survive on the salary of a 40-hour work week is subsidizing YOU. The late Father Daniel Berrigan put it another way. 

“The poor have it hard. The hardest thing they have is us.”  

The Guillotine is the enduring symbol of the French Revolution. It mechanized death, ritualized it, institutionalized it.  Death was robbed of its meaning. Much as it is in this pandemic.

Who can fathom the mostly avoidable deaths of 150,000 people and many more to come? Not the people who fear looking silly wearing a mask. As Oscar Wilde said: “It’s possible to drown in a shallow pond.”

Mary Bess

Boca Grande