We face a three-pronged crisis of unparalleled proportions. COVID-19, the first prong, continues to take its deadly toll on the country, with more than 3.7 million confirmed cases and north of 140,000 deaths.¹ We are now averaging more than 70,000 new confirmed cases each day.² Last week, Florida, with a population of 21.5 million, far outpaced the number of confirmed cases in the European Union. The entire European Union, with its 27 countries and a total population of 445.0 million.
Jobless rates, the second prong, remain extraordinarily high, hovering around 11.0%, equating to about 17 million Americans out of work.³ To put this in some perspective, unemployment in 1933 during the Great Depression was 24.9%. In more recent recessions, unemployment was 10.8% in 1982 and 10.0% in 2009. Our current situation is worse. Pain and suffering abound, with millions struggling to feed children and pay basic bills, wondering how they will survive. All thanks to an out-of-control virus.
The third prong is the movement to confront our nation’s sordid history of racial injustice. Although the protests have dissipated, the conversations continue. We await word about renaming U.S. military bases honoring Confederate soldiers, the flying of the Confederate flag, the possible repositioning/restructuring and reallocation of funding for police departments, and even the rebranding of sports franchises that have used racially insensitive names, mascots and logos. (Don’t disappoint us, Washington and Cleveland.) In any other time, this critical effort would be sufficient to consume our interest and energy, as it has the potential to put us, at long last, on a road to true equitability and real freedom for all. Alas, this is not any other time.
In the midst of our struggle to keep our heads above water, we witnessed a number of incidents last week so off point, so incongruous, so insensitive, so truly unbelievable that they can, at best, be described as ‘tone deaf.’ At worst, we might consider them degrading and offensive. Even un-American.
Let’s begin with Ivanka Trump.
Let them eat cake. Déjalos comer pastel. With all of the compassion and sensitivity of a brick (with apologies to bricks everywhere), Ivanka suggested last week during a virtual roundtable conversation with leading U.S. executives that unemployed Americans should ‘find something new,’ as in a new career.⁴ Brilliant and timely advice. Like those millions of out-of-work people, most desperate for any way to make a living, hadn’t thought of that? Too bad the job of hawking Goya beans had already been filled, a role she shares with her father.⁵ (The caption accompanying the above photo of Ivanka with the Goya beans: ‘If it’s Goya, it has to be good. Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.’ This followed a dust-up with the brand after Goya’s Chief Executive Robert Unanue publicly praised the president at a recent White House event, leading to calls for a ban of Goya products. Both Ivanka and the president came to Unanue’s and the brand’s defense by shamelessly serving as a shill for his products, from the Oval Office no less.)
Data, where art thou? Then there was the administration’s decision to have all COVID-19 data bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and go directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where it may or may not be shared with the public, including public health officials. So much for independent, objective tabulation of the data. So much for transparency. And, possibly, so much for honesty, as many public health officials are now concerned that the data — essential to understanding and eventually controlling the pandemic — may not be available nor accurate.⁶ From now on, when The Monday Minute (or two) cites COVID-19 data, as we do each week, we will need to include a disclaimer: ‘These data are from HHS, so who knows?’
Kill the messenger. Speaking of tainting the credibility of the scientists we desperately need and rely on for expertise, guidance and candor during this pandemic, the administration, with a number of its accomplices, began a smear campaign last week to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci and ‘lying doctors’ everywhere.⁷ Maybe they thought this was a good time to attack, given that many states are reporting record-breaking numbers of new cases and deaths and ICUs in many cities are filled or are nearing capacity. Or, maybe they’re tired of the truth, given how negative and foreboding it’s been. As we’ve been told, with a straight face no less, if we test less, we’ll have fewer confirmed cases. If we prevent the truth, maybe things will suddenly improve. Both are possible, no?
An enemy of the people. Which brings us to Brian Kemp, the governor of the great state of Georgia. In an act that defines ‘tone deaf,’ he prohibited all counties and cities in Georgia from mandating the wearing of masks.⁸ He even filed suit against Atlanta, a city that had mandated that facial coverings be worn in public.
Let’s review. We have only three things we can do to try to curb the spread of the virus: wear facial coverings, maintain physical distance, and wash hands. With a signature, Kemp eliminated one of them from being required throughout the entire state. Does he think he’s protecting individual freedom? Saving the lives of Georgians? Solidifying his base? I wonder if he’s also opposed to laws that prevent drunk driving. By the way, Georgia is experiencing all-time highs in new COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Fine people everywhere. In a busy week for tone-deafness, let’s not overlook two sentiments from the president that made the list. When asked of his opinion about the Black Lives Matter movement and the long history of police killing black men, the president claimed that more white men are killed by police than black men.⁹ This is beyond tone deaf and is blatantly untrue. He was then asked his feelings about flying the Confederate flag. He replied by saying that he believes in ‘freedom of speech.’¹⁰ He went on to say that some people love the flag and don’t think about slavery when flying it. No mention of those who do — like those whose ancestors were enslaved — or others who find it a symbol of hate. The president’s comment immediately brought to mind his statement after watching White supremacists march in Charlottesville, chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’: ‘There are fine people on both sides.’ Tone deaf then; tone deaf now. Is it any surprise, then, that many are urging the president to avoid commenting on the death Friday of civil rights icon Representative John Lewis?
The current champion. Then there’s Betsy DeVos. When it comes to tone-deafness, she reigns supreme. Just about anything she says qualifies as reprehensible. In an attempt to keep her grip on the Tone Deaf Championship crown, she went on national television last week and pushed for a complete reopening of schools nationwide while dismissing the CDC’s guidelines, saying that ‘they were meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate to the situation.’¹¹ In a related move, the White House announced Friday that it will prevent the director of the CDC and other experts from the agency from testifying before Congress this week about reopening schools.¹² There are simply no words.
Vying for the title. Yet, astounding as it might be, even Betsy DeVos and the White House can be outdone. In a statement during a press briefing last week, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that ‘science should not stand in the way’ of reopening schools.¹³ This blatant anti-science stance is consistent with the administration’s approach to reopening schools — and to anything coronavirus-related — but it is still astounding and appalling that she would say it out loud. Might McEnany be vying for DeVos’s Tone Deaf Championship crown? Perhaps.
What a week for tone deafness.
We’re watching a catastrophic train wreck occur in real time. We’re all onboard. The train, hurtling out of control, has already jumped the tracks, crashed violently onto its side, skidded to a halt, settling under a cliff. While we struggle to clamber out, boulders are falling on us from on high, furthering the damage and the pain, slowly burying us under their weight. Lightening, most likely, is soon to follow, inflicting more harm and heartache. Flooding will be next, followed by vermin and pestilence. Wait. We already have pestilence. So vermin might be followed by more deadly boulders from above, as the cliff is full of them and we are accustomed to being bombarded by heavy, dull objects and buried beneath them. The point: the hits keep coming and each is striking hard and true. Last week they took the form of tone deafness. I don’t know what this week will hold, but I’m not betting that it will be much better.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, July 19; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/