Friday, March 27, 2020
The cost of lies; coronavirus death toll could top Vietnam
The Vietnam War raged for the first 15 years of my life. I’d sprawl coloring as Uncle Walt read the death toll on TV. When I was older, the war became my benchmark for presidential folly: sacrificing thousands of American lives to avoid admitting the obvious: We lost.
During the first three years of the Trump administration, I kept pulling out Vietnam like a talisman. Sure, things are bad, but look: They’ve been much worse. We’re lucky.
When fellow Dems swooned, wailing that we’d reached rock bottom — America broken, democracy dead — I’d try to cheer them up by dangling my lucky token. See this? Within our lifetime Lyndon B. Johnson — a Democratic president, for those unfamiliar — also lied, followed by Richard Nixon, a Republican, and their lies led to the deaths of 58,000 Americans. While Trump is certainly affecting lives, he isn’t taking many. There isn’t a growing body count to lay at his feet.
I didn’t think to add: “Yet.”
Citing the awful past was a way to feel good about the present, about our beloved country even as it enshrined idiocy and error. We’ve been here before and recovered. We will do so again.
That seems like giddy optimism now that we are facing a crisis that Donald Trump can’t lie away. We have no idea how many American lives will be sacrificed on the altar of his ego. A thousand? We’ve passed that already. Ten thousand could be dead next week. A hundred thousand? Easily. A million? Some epidemic experts fear more, warning that as many as 1.7 million Americans could die if we continue bungling our response. The final figure will depend in part on whether Trump really declares the crisis over in mid-April and sends Americans packing their churches at Easter.
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