MOBILE, Alabama -- As the coronavirus surges across the Deep South, my sixth-grader's school has set a mid-August reopening. Like so many other parents, I'm dogged by uncertainty, wrestling with choices and consequences, trying to plot a path through a frightening thicket of unknowns: How vulnerable are children? Do pre-teens infect each other as easily as adults do? What if my child gets a mild case but passes the virus to me, and I get seriously ill?
MOBILE, Ala. -- Here in the American South, we are experiencing the summer that I feared. Cases of COVID-19 have surged, hospitals have filled, nurses and doctors are overwhelmed. Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas are now hotspots, painted in a politically fitting deep red on maps that track infection rates.
As a native of the South and a student of its habits of mind, I suspected my region was headed toward just this sort of calamity. We live with many "underlying conditions" that are ideally suited for the spread of deadly pathogens such as the new coronavirus.
Secoriea Turner was only 8 years old when she was fatally wounded during a violent Fourth of July weekend in Atlanta. According to published reports, she was in the car with her mother, who was attempting to turn into a parking lot near a Wendy's restaurant that was the scene of a highly publicized police shooting last month. For reasons that are a mystery to the rest of us, gunmen opened fire on the vehicle.
Turner's death may have been the most heart-wrenching, but it wasn't the only one. Between Friday, July 3, and Sunday, July 5, Atlanta recorded 11 separate shooting incidents with 31 victims, five of whom, including Secoriea, were killed.
If Joe Biden is elected, he will face the same intransigence from the GOP that Barack Obama did. Just as soon as Biden is sworn in, Republicans will do everything in their power to defeat his policies and hamstring his presidency.
They will suddenly remember long-forgotten conservative principles, such as fiscal restraint. They will refuse to compromise. Even though they ignored mind-boggling corruption for the last four years, they will show a passionate and determined interest in any whiff of scandal among Democrats.
The Louisville (Kentucky) Metro Police Department has fired Brett Hankison, one of three police officers involved in the egregious death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot dead in her home although she was not guilty of any crime. Prosecutors should go further and bring criminal charges against all three. Civilians have been prosecuted for behavior less damning.
But even criminal prosecutions of the three involved in Taylor's death won't change the dynamic that prompted them to break down her door in the middle of the night, claiming they were looking for evidence of illegal drugs. After all, a judge signed off on no-knock warrants that allowed police to barge into her home. (The Louisville Metro Council has since outlawed no-knock warrants.)
You'd think that any American president would be delighted to welcome hard-working and ambitious young adults clamoring to join the American family. But President Donald J. Trump has been openly hostile to black and brown people he could paint as "other" -- dangerous, lazy, lawless, un-American.
Resurrecting the rage, resentment and racism of George Wallace for an era in which immigration has changed the nation's demographics, Trump has created concentration camps at the southern border, bottlenecked asylum requests and deported people for traffic offenses. He has even gone after the young adults known as "Dreamers," mostly darker-skinned residents who are citizens in every way but the most technical: They weren't born here.
Ignore President Donald J. Trump, whose latest tactic to mollify his base is to forbid the renaming of military installations that honor Confederate officials. Trump issued that defiant declaration after reports that top Pentagon brass were mulling a process for stripping the names of Confederate commanders.
The president and his reactionary constituency are losing this battle. Around the country, Confederate statues and insignia are being stripped from places of honor as business, political and cultural leaders belatedly recognize their odious symbolism.
With a deranged narcissist in the Oval Office and his lackey controlling the Department of Justice, there is no point in looking to the federal government to curb police violence. Instead, President Donald J. Trump will do everything in his power to encourage it. In the wake of protests over the murder of George Floyd, he has demanded that governors crack down on protestors: "You have to dominate. ... If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time," he told them.
Moreover, most local police authorities are under local control -- mayors, city councils, district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs. That's where the accountability for police misconduct begins.
The past several days have offered a kaleidoscope of a Trump-addled America, a telling, if depressing, pastiche: Amy Cooper's bigoted entitlement; the homicidal tactics of Minneapolis police officers; the knowing encouragement of the president, who has mounted his second campaign on the same foundation of rank prejudices and crude stereotypes as his first. It adds up to a portrait of a nation unwilling to retreat from its racist history, unable to chart a path toward a future that pays tribute to its more egalitarian founding creed.
President Donald J. Trump is merely a symptom, not a cause, not the sickness itself. During his first campaign, I worried less about his outrageous conduct and inflammatory rhetoric -- he is, after all, just one malign actor -- and more about the millions who danced to his music, rejoiced in his racist diatribes, sang in his chorus.
MOBILE, AL -- Though Gov. Kay Ivey has mostly reopened the state -- restaurants, hair and nail salons and gyms included -- cases of COVID-19 are increasing here, not declining. And Mobile County, home to a sleepy Gulf Coast port city, has led the state in confirmed cases for weeks now, though it has a smaller population than Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham.
Unfortunately, the case count -- and the death count -- will likely worsen after the bustling Memorial Day weekend, when throngs will flock to beaches, ignoring guidelines about social distancing. We have not reached our peak. The worst is not over here.
The bully-in-chief keeps issuing taunts on Twitter that accuse former President Barack Obama of some unspecified grand conspiracy. In what may be more evidence of a deteriorating mental state, President Donald J. Trump has made up "Obamagate," apparently to account for the incompetence and malfeasance of his own administration.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted out a call for his congressional lackeys to force President Obama "to testify about the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR ... Do it, @LindseyGrahamSC, just do it."
The video clip is a mere 36 seconds, but it is shocking, explicit, sickening. And because it has gone viral -- prompting national outrage -- two white men have finally been arrested and charged in the death of a black jogger in southeast Georgia in February.
That hardly means that the family of Ahmaud Arbery will get justice, that his killers will pay for their crime. Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, have been charged with murder and aggravated assault, but they must still be tried and convicted. The outcome is uncertain. The quest for a righteous outcome has staggered this far along only because of the emergence of that appalling few seconds of video.
As Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, rushed last week to open such businesses as tattoo parlors and barbershops, Demetrius Young, a city commissioner in Albany, was apoplectic. According to The Washington Post, he vented his vexation with this musing: "For black folks, it's like a setup. Are you trying to kill us?"
Young's frustration is understandable. In Georgia, COVID-19 has struck black citizens disproportionately. According to available data, black Georgians have accounted for more than 50 percent of the deaths, though they make up only about 30 percent of the state's population.
The MAGA hats and Confederate flags tell you all you need to know about most of the protestors who have showed up in state capitals around the country, placards and posters in hand, to demand an end to the restrictive measures -- shutting down schools, closing businesses, enforcing curfews -- meant to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. They usually don't wear masks -- if they do, they are intended to mock the restrictions -- and they stand very close to each other, sweating, yelling, gesturing.
They are conservative voters who are loyal to President Donald J. Trump, skeptical toward science, dismissive of experts and opposed to broad governmental authority. Unless they agree with it. (See above: loyal to Trump.)
Like many of the other distortions, deceptions and outright lies in which the Republican Party has engaged, its flagrant fabrications about "voter fraud" have been exposed for what they are: a desperate attempt to hold on to power. For decades now, Republicans have undertaken a far-reaching effort to suppress the vote among constituencies that tend to vote for Democrats: voters of color, the poor, the young.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends widespread voting by mail to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Republicans -- including the president -- are engaged in an all-out campaign to prevent voting by mail. The GOP knows that any initiative that makes it easier to cast a ballot will result in more ballots cast. Any genuine patriot -- any American who sincerely believes in the ideals of the U.S. Constitution -- should want that, right?
Nope. While some Republicans still manage to express their efforts to suppress the vote with less explicit rhetoric -- using claims of "protecting the integrity of the ballot" as an excuse -- President Donald J. Trump cannot manage the same discipline. In a recent call to one of his favorite propaganda outlets, Fox and Friends, Trump complained about Democratic efforts to expand alternatives to showing up physically at a polling place on a single, specific day. "They had things -- levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again," he said about initiatives that were removed from a stimulus bill because of GOP objections.
MOBILE, Ala. — A close friend here confided her worries about a recent family funeral. Her extended family memorialized a loved one with a well-attended service in a small church in eastern Alabama, and they gathered afterward at a home for the traditional repast of Southern-style comfort foods. My friend did not attend, but her elderly mother did.
Such gatherings have already been singled out as carrying a high risk for spreading the novel coronavirus. A funeral held in Albany, Georgia, in late February likely contributed to the high rate of infections — and COVID-19 deaths — there, as The New York Times has reported. Still, much of the Deep South remains in denial. That won't be the only well-attended funeral in this part of the world in the weeks ahead.
Earlier this week, Dr. Deborah Birx, a prominent member of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force, showed slides from a sophisticated computer model that predicts the United States could easily suffer 200,000 COVID-19 deaths even "if we do things almost perfectly." If we fail to take the stringent precautions that the task force recommends, that number could quickly soar to upward of 2 million.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we might as well prepare for the higher number. Here in the Bible Belt, we are a very long way from doing things "almost perfectly." This region hasn't hit its coronavirus peak yet, but when it does, I fear we will be hammered.
The Deep South — the sweep of five states from Louisiana east to South Carolina — already suffers a series of maladies that create the perfect storm for widespread deaths during a pandemic. This is an impoverished region; it includes four of the 10 poorest states in the nation, according to federal data. (Nine of the 10, including West Virginia, are Southern states.)
Many of its residents are uninsured or underinsured. With so many ultraconservative political leaders, most Southern states have refused to take advantage of a key component of the Affordable Care Act: the expansion of Medicaid. That not only leaves patients without access to health care, but it also leaves many rural hospitals on the brink of financial collapse. Several have already closed.
As if that weren't enough bad news, our impoverished population also has a disproportionate share of the underlying health conditions that portend the worst outcome in cases of coronavirus infection. Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are all commonplace here.
You'd think those conditions would warrant stringent compliance with federal recommendations. Sadly, it ain't so. The New York Times has posted an impressive — if worrisome — map that shows how regions of the country have changed their travel habits. The Deep South, which hardly changed at all, stands out as a deep red harbinger of impending doom.
Our failure to comply stems from a confluence of unfortunate habits of mind. We are led by Trump-loving public officials who still believe the coronavirus threat is a plot against him. Our government is further hamstrung by a citizenry that follows every word from the fabulists of Fox News and is mired in a skepticism toward experts, whom George Wallace infamously called "pointy-headed" intellectuals.
Governors here, most of them Republicans, were laggard in issuing stay-at-home orders. By the time Florida's Ron DeSantis finally got around to it, his state was already a hot zone for the novel coronavirus. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp said on Wednesday, incredibly, that he had just learned the virus could be spread by people who are asymptomatic. How is such ignorance possible? I last saw my 93-year-old mother on March 13, my birthday. I told her that my daughter and I wouldn't hug her since the coronavirus can be spread by people showing no symptoms — as experts have said since February.
But ignorant political leaders are not the region's only problem. We are also ensnared by traditions, including a conservative religiosity, that will serve to spread affliction and death. Many preachers here still insist on convening their congregations in their sanctuaries, where they sit and clap and sing close together. (In Florida, DeSantis' stay-at-home order excluded houses of worship.) Some families still insist on traditional funerals with all the trappings, which will just lead to more funerals.
I pray that I'm wrong, but I fear that I'm right: The worst here will be worse than we think.
The Senate managed to come together to pass an unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, but not before a small group of Republican senators reminded us of the narrow-minded condescension their party directs toward the working poor. Trumpism holds its own malicious — indeed, dangerous — strains of contempt, but the malevolent disdain the broader GOP holds for the less affluent has been among its hallmarks for generations, since long before Donald J. Trump became president.
Earlier this week, before the Senate approved the aid package, four GOP senators — Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rick Scott of Florida — insisted that the unemployment benefits in the bill were too generous and would encourage those lazy, low-income folk not to work. They ultimately relented but had threatened to hold up the entire desperately needed deal if their demands to reduce unemployment checks were not met.
In a Wednesday interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Graham called the bill “Bernie Sanders on steroids.” Following up on Twitter, Graham insisted, “Only in Senator @BernieSanders world does it make sense to pay people more NOT to work than TO work. I am all for making peoples salaries whole. However, I am not for increasing people’s salary through the unemployment insurance system.”
Has Graham listened to anything the public health experts have been saying about the need for all Americans except essential workers to stay home rather than go to work? We absolutely need to pay people not to work. I have refrained from patronizing fast-food restaurants over the last few weeks because I fear that low-wage employees who live from paycheck to paycheck will keep serving food even if they are ill.
The Grand Old Poohbahs act as if unemployment benefits are generous support payments that would allow laid-off workers to enjoy lobster dinners and trips to the day spa. Hardly.
In normal times, unemployment benefits amount to a percentage of the worker’s last salary, usually somewhere around 45 percent. According to The New York Times, the national average is about $385 a week. The $2 trillion aid bill would add $600 a week for the next four months — a temporary boost in assistance that cannot encourage long-term unemployment.
That’s hardly a windfall for families who will struggle to pay rent, buy groceries and keep the lights on and water flowing before they can return to their jobs. And many won’t be able to return. Some businesses won’t recover from the economic devastation wrought by the novel coronavirus. They will go bankrupt, leaving workers to struggle to make up lost income. Already, more than 3 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last few days — the biggest jump in recorded history.
While looking down their noses at average working folk, the Republican Gang of Four found nothing to criticize in the generous aid they intend to offer to huge companies. As The Washington Post has reported, the bill contains low-interest loans and grants for companies that have failed to pay taxes, flouted safety regulations and misused the bailouts they received during the Great Recession. Among the companies that stand to benefit is Boeing, whose corporate greed led to two airplane crashes within five months, killing hundreds of passengers.
But an embrace of corporate greed and corruption that lives side by side with disdain for the working poor is a hardy strain in the Republican Party, one watered and fertilized by the presidency of Ronald Reagan. His first presidential campaign emphasized tales of alleged welfare fraud, most of which seemed to be based on just one actual case. According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of people on the conservative side of the political spectrum believe people are poor because they don’t work hard enough, while only 12 percent of people on the liberal side believe that.
For the record, economists do acknowledge that a generous social safety net may encourage a tiny percentage of workers to take advantage of the system by failing to pull their own weight, but they also warn that a stingy social safety net will dump a certain percentage of struggling workers overboard — people who will end up destitute no matter how hard they work. In a nation as rich as this, I’d rather err on the side of generosity. Clearly, though, the Grand Old Poohbahs disagree.
Meanwhile, reports from across the country show low-wage grocery store workers — deemed essential in this crisis — falling ill to the coronavirus. They can hardly practice social distancing, especially the checkout clerks who stand so close to customers. Did Lindsey Graham and his allies think about them?
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