This Memorial Day, as the number of Americans killed by the COVID19 pandemic heads towards 100,000, it’s hard to get a fix on just how many of those that have died were killed as a consequence of their selfless service to others during the pandemic.
A mass casualty event on this scale is epochal and all of our mettle is being tested. Unlike anytime in living memory, with death all around us, we are left to contemplate just what defines a hero.
Gov. Murphy, like other elected leaders and the news media, have used the death tolls from the 9/11 WTC attack, the Vietnam War and other armed conflicts as a frame of reference for the scale of the pandemic.
Here in the Garden State, we will be well on our way to 12,000 COVID19 deaths when we pause to honor our war dead as we have since the Civil War when New Jersey lost 6,300 soldiers to the Union cause.
For all of the political and media rhetoric about being grateful to our essential workers, we are doing a really poor job tracking them when it comes to keeping a pandemic honor roll after they have given their final full measure serving others.
Occasionally, a death notice will include what reads like an incidental post-script with a passing reference that the departed was an EMT, letter carrier or a bus driver.
I am concerned about how quick our elected leaders are to lean on the body count from previous wars to rally us amidst a public health crisis, one made much worse by a failed Federal government response.
For several weeks President Trump denied that the coronavirus was a serious threat to our national well-being consistently putting the interests of Wall Street and the market economy above that of the health of the general population.
He then went on to pit the states against each other, forcing them to outbid each other for the vital personal protective equipment that they needed badly and that his government had failed to stockpile.
Back in March, his administration refused the request of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the nation’s TSA workforce, to supply airport screeners the PPE they needed.
At that point just several were sick. As days turned to weeks the deadly virus spread widely even as the President did all he could to actively subvert local efforts to fill the void left by his administration.
Only earlier this month, after several TSA employees had died from COVID19, did the TSA require that the workforce wear masks on the job. That was a full month after the Centers for Disease Control had called for the general public to use masks and weeks after the airlines had started using them.
Similar malfeasance has been documented across the entirety of the vast Federal bureaucracy from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to the Veterans Administration.
During the pandemic President Trump targeted for removal and demotion an Inspector General and a career public health official who attempted to hold his administration accountable for his dereliction of duty.
Throughout the pandemic the President has consistently cast the response of Democratic Governors to the unprecedented crisis in purely partisan terms. He has belittled them and tried at every turn to undermine their authority they require to keep their citizens safe.
On April 17, President Trump took the incendiary step of inciting his twitter followers to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA, LIBERATE MICHIGAN and LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege.”
In doing so, he was validating armed menacing that was already underway in the states he was fixating on to rally his shrinking base so as to leverage the stress of the pandemic to his partisan advantage.
Two days earlier, armed protestors had converged on Michigan’s state capital chanting for the state’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer to be “locked up.” Similar protests followed the next day in Virginia and Minnesota.
Sadly, on April 30, Gov. Phil Murphy would miss his profile in courage moment to stand in solidarity with his fellow Governors. He went down to Washington and sat practically knee to knee for a photo op and a surreal press availability with President Trump.
It was no ad hoc event and featured a slick poster prominently displayed proclaiming “NJ’s Partnership with the Trump Administration.” There in the bright lights of the Oval Office, President Trump heaped praise on himself and Gov. Murphy.
“And we’re working very hard with New Jersey,” Trump said. We’re working hard with everybody. But we’re working hard with this governor. He’s one of the governors that’s really done a job. He’s stepped up to the plate, and he has — and he swung, and he’s just — you’re going to see the results very soon.”
At which point Trump offered Murphy a chance to make some remarks, and in the process help legitimate Trump’s bizarre pandemic performance.
“First of all, Mr. President, to you and your team, we’re incredibly honored to be here,” Murphy said. “I thank you for the enormous help in our darkest hour of need: ventilators; as you could see, PPE; testing sites. Now, I think, we’re going to be in a very good place thanks to you and your team as it relates to expanding testing dramatically so that we’ll be able to begin to take those steps to reopen.”
Murphy went on to describe how by the upcoming weekend, the state would be opening its parks and golf courses and that “we couldn’t be making the progress we’re making without you and your administration.”
Murphy went on to commend Trump for his “partnership and leadership” adding it had “meant an enormous amount” to New Jersey.
And the President, once again reciprocated.
“Thank you very much,” Trump said. “And, you know, I have to speak as President, but I also speak as somebody that is in New Jersey a lot. It’s a great place. It’s a beautiful state. People don’t understand New Jersey quite. But it’s a beautiful — it’s a beautiful state. And it’s great to have you as the governor.”
“Thank you, Mr. President,” said Murphy.
“Thank you very much,” responded Trump.
“An honor to be with you,” said Murphy. “And this is a big deal for us. Thank you.”
Then Murphy acted as a bi-partisan validator for Trump’s magical mystery tour of history during the president’s Q and A with the White House press corps.
“We just got hit by a vicious virus that should have never been allowed to escape China,” explained Trump. “They should have stopped it at the source. They didn’t do that. A hundred and eighty-four countries have been devastated by it, including China, by the way.”
Trump described his pandemic performance as “spectacular” and went on to demean former Vice President Biden and President Obama.
“When we took over, the cupboards were bare,” said Trump. “And the thing that — frankly, it’s not as tough as the ventilator situation. We’re the king of ventilators. But what we have done is — on testing, we’re doing numbers the likes of which nobody has ever seen before.”
Of course, as has been consistently documented and widely reported the United States continues to lag other nations when it comes to the number of COVID19 tests per capita.
To this day, the TSA and the Trump administration continue to resist union requests for airport screeners to be tested for COVID19 so they and their families can have peace of mind.
But there was our Governor providing cover for the President, who earlier in the month had called for armed mobs to descend on state capitals where Murphy’s fellow Democratic Governors where doing their best to protect the public health and let medical science guide their decisions.
We will never know what might have happened if our Governor had walked out on any part of the president’s delusional self-indulgent exchange with reporters.
We know what did happen.
The next day Trump got his headline.“ Gov. Murphy praises Trump’s coronavirus response during Oval Office visit.”