ColumnistsD Kevin McNeirEditor's ColumnOpinion

EDITOR’S COLUMN: As Governors Relent and Ease Restrictions, Blacks and the Elderly Take Back Seat to Privilege

In the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial last Sunday evening during a virtual town hall, Donald Trump continued to understate the impact of COVID-19 with new estimates of forecasted deaths totaling nearly 100,000 by the end of May — an outcome which even underestimates what both his own administration and FEMA have predicted.

So, while the president ambles along with his unabashed, full-court press launched against the U.S. states, specifically those who reside in their respective governor’s mansion, to reopen their economies, the Trump Administration is projecting — in private, of course — and the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] project a bleaker future. Estimates included in a recent government report says we’ll experience a steady escalation in cases and deaths from the coronavirus over the next several weeks reaching nearly 3,000 daily deaths on June 1 — double today’s level of about 1,750 — with 200,000 new cases daily by month’s end, up from about 25,000 cases now.

Knowing all this, Trump still wants us to believe that the time has come to reopen America’s cities and businesses, promising us that the worst is behind us.

“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people. That’s a horrible thing. We shouldn’t lose one person over this,” he said during his “fireside chat.”

But I wonder if the president believes what he tried to sell us? Surely, he does not. Surely, he does.

And so, less than 48 hours after his town hall, Tuesday morning reports pulled back the curtain on an ecstatic, jubilant and euphoric Donald Trump, proclaiming the good news. Yes, state leaders from Texas to Florida and everywhere in between are falling in line, overturning stay-at-home orders and reopening their economies despite failing to achieve benchmarks previously laid out by the White House for when social distancing restrictions could be eased.

Even Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician himself, says that with his state’s cities reporting the slowing of infection rates, he’s now prepared to ease restrictions on May 15. Not so for others in the region, including both Maryland Gov. Hogan and the District’s Mayor Bowser.

Over the past few months, the trio who collectively govern the lands affectionately called the DMV had become comrades in arms in the fight against COVID-19. But with Northam’s decision and given the reluctance of both Hogan and Bowser, at least for now, to end restrictions, the pact has been broken.

So, the numbers of positive cases are rising, the backlog of requests for tests is overwhelming with testing itself far below what’s needed. Further, the nation lacks a proven contract tracing protocol and program that’s essential as America “reopens.” And yet, Trump says that he’s fully behind those states who reopen ahead of guidance laid down by the federal government — guidelines which he approved.

As for the vice president, he’s taken on a new role it appears as the town crier for his boss, announcing that 41 states have either announced their dates for reopening or committed to firming up plans to reopen soon.

We could have hoped for a presidential moment on Sunday — a decision made by our commander-in-chief that motivates, encourages and inspires the American public even as sickness, death, economic woes and heightened states of fear and trepidation swirl around us. Instead, zealots more concerned with the bottom line than ensuring the Constitution’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” have persuaded the powers that be to push the “open door button.”

Thus, the celebration harkening the broad economic reopening of most of America goes on — a move to which health experts strongly object, warning us that the decision to reopen is premature. But why is it imperative that we rush into reopening despite when the true experts have advised just the opposite?

Perhaps it’s because there’s no cost too great if the alternative is Trump and the GOP being ousted by voters in the upcoming election.

Or it could be, as one former Trump staffer shared on Face the Nation early last Sunday morning, that stay-at-home orders adopted nationwide simply didn’t result in the desired outcome. So? Is failure to reach the desired goal and the boiling over of frustrations fail enough to justify trashing mitigation initiatives and act as if COVID-19 has disappeared as suddenly as it appeared? Not for anyone who can read the lines then and read in between the lines.

COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect African Americans. It has wreaked havoc on the elderly and those already battling other health challenges. And the most current numbers now reveal that Hispanics are testing positive at rates than any other demographic. Blacks already lead all other ethnic groups with at least seven preexisting health conditions which make us more susceptible to both contracting and dying from coronavirus. The elderly, whose population in the U.S. has eclipsed any previously recorded totals, remain equally at risk for many of the same reasons, including living with immune systems whose effectiveness in warding off disease and illness declines with age.

No use in throwing up my hands and saying, “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore.” We’re in America — a country where some things never change. Sacrifices must be made for the benefit of the “one percent.”

As for Black and brown lives, or the elderly living on food assistance and Medicaid, recent decisions suggest that they — I mean we — are peons, puppets and pawns — America’s “disposables.” Black lives haven’t mattered for centuries in America. Despite the ugly differences and injustices brought to light in the midst of the new pandemic, I’m not looking for things to change — not significantly.

I consider myself to be an optimist — always seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. Still, with the ability to read and given experiences gleaned both personally or vicariously, I’ve learned that the white lights of “privilege” wielded for centuries like a battering ram in the U.S. prioritize power, prestige and over-flowing pockets and pocketbooks.

Perhaps, the real color that tips the scale in this mad dash toward reopening isn’t black, white or brown — it’s actually “green.”

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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