"A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”
These heartless, cynical and oft-quoted words are reputed to have first been spoken by Josef Stalin in 1947 in reference to a famine that was inflicting unspeakable human suffering in Ukraine.
You remember Ukraine. You know, the very same place that now, 73 years later, is a vital American ally and, thanks to recent events, a well-known obstacle to Vladimir Putin’s expansionist goals.
That’s right. The very same place that, just a short time ago, Donald Trump was willing to sacrifice to Russian aggression, to withhold desperately needed and congressionally approved military aid if its president didn’t grant him a “favor,” to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son.
Once again, an unprincipled leader concluded that Ukrainian life was cheap, worthy of neither compassion nor a morally anchored political calculus. Only this time, the leader was the President of the United States.
And you thought irony was dead.
Clearly it’s not, but as I write, nearly 90,000 Americans are. They are victims of a catastrophic pandemic that is projected to claim nearly 150,000 of us by early August.
As the tragedies multiply, the self-proclaimed “wartime” president is acting to reduce the public profile and influence of his medical generals, Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. At a moment when we desperately need their expertise and candor, Trump only hears their inconvenient truths. And, of course, these must be buried along with the dead.
At the same time, defying proposed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he is prematurely and recklessly telling Americans to resume business as usual. And you know that when the number of casualties climbs to alarming new heights — much higher than had he chosen another course — he’ll surely and coldly justify it as the cost of doing business, of keeping America great and him in power.
So it’s not just “foreigners,” allies like the Ukrainians and the abandoned Kurds, for whose lives Mr. Trump shows such casual disregard. Judging from his current priorities, this attitude appears to apply to his fellow Americans as well.
This, mind you, from the flag-waving, self-proclaimed “America First” president.
What’s love, or responsible public health policy, got to do with it?
Although the only way out of this crisis is through the science, that requires a leader who is competent, disciplined and compassionate — traits that this president is sadly lacking. And that, in itself, is tragic.
Facing a kind of “Sophie’s Choice” between saving the most lives or reviving the most livelihoods, Mr. Trump has opted for the latter, calculating that this will best serve his political interests. In doing so, he refers to the public in military terms, as “warriors,” presumably willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in support of his goals. He’s betting that the death count will become, like his thousands of lies, just another mind-numbing statistic.
I’m betting that this time he’s wrong. From Charlottesville to Helsinki, Stormy Daniels to Mueller, impeachment over Ukraine to Republican-enabled acquittal, he has been the ultimate escape artist. This time will be different.
The 2020 election was always going to be a referendum on Trump.
Now, even more so. As the human toll grows inexorably, even the blind loyalists will find it difficult, if not impossible, to look the other way.
Come November, most Americans will be forced to view this president through the prism of a single issue, a tragedy made worse by an unprincipled leader.
Finally, the man who has successfully lied his way through life will be facing a historical — and inescapable — moment of truth.