Sometimes, the United States is alluded to as a “Christian nation.”
Christianity encourages us to be kind and to consider the needs of the poor, sick and less fortunate to be as important as our own. This is a universally applauded code of behavior.
Yet it’s Christians particularly, who, for two millennia, have run with this “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” brand. It seems to have legs.
Last week Americans celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ — as a national holiday — under heretofore unimaginable circumstances. Yes, better times are coming: we have a vaccine and a new president.
Meanwhile, we must cope with a catastrophic pandemic and economic meltdown. Nearly 18 million Americans have been infected by the virus, and millions are jobless and destitute because of it.
So let’s run with this purported “Christian” nation thing. How’s that code of Christian conduct working out for us here in the crisis-ridden United States of America?
If ever we needed to treat others as we wish to be treated, it’s now. In local communities as grounded in charitable works as ours, that Christian code seems alive and well. But in our national affairs, ill will toward others, not good will, has become the virulent norm.
There are 330 million Americans. Shortly 330,000 of us will have died of COVID-19, many tens of thousands unnecessarily. (Here in eastern Washington, the per capita death rate — 69.1% vs. 33.6% 100,000 — is more than twice that of western Washington.)
This is a stupefying failure of national leadership. Worse yet, it’s a moral failure by a leader who owes his presidency to Christian supporters. The Trump administration purposefully abetted the pandemic.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently made public documents showing that the Trump administration’s political appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services squashed objections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) medical professionals and imposed a deliberate strategy of allowing the virus to spread unchecked.
The goal, though publicly denied by the Trump administration, was to “flood the zone” to infect as many younger people as possible with the virus. President Trump’s insistence on opening schools and colleges nicely dovetailed with this strategy. This mass infection scheme was meant to achieve “herd immunity.”
As Health and Human Services senior advisor Paul Alexander heartlessly put it in an email to his boss: “So the bottom line is if it is more infectiousness [sic] now, the issue is, who cares? If it is causing more cases in young, my word is who cares… as long as we make sensible decisions and protect the elderly [sic] and nursing homes, we must go on with life…”
“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high-risk groups to expose themselves to the virus, PERIOD…”, Alexander added. “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle-aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk … so we use them to develop herd…. we want them infected…”, he argued.
That Trump administration officials tried to hide their depraved herd immunity effort argues that they knew their claim that the virus posed little risk to younger people was false. People age 64 and under comprise roughly 20% of COVID-19 fatalities. By the end of December, medical researchers say, it will have caused 66,000 excess deaths among Americans age 25 to 44.
The administration blamed the medical experts who had objected to the herd immunity policy when the pandemic worsened. When the CDCP’s Dr. Anne Schuchat urged everyone to mask up, Alexander accused her of lying: “Her aim is to embarrass the president.”
Is this how a Christian nation treats its sick?
What about workers?
And what about the plight of impoverished jobless workers and small businesses, the lifeblood of our economy? Economists cited by the Washington Post estimate that 100,000 small businesses permanently vanished in the first two months of the pandemic. In the restaurant business alone, two million jobs disappeared.
But our behemoth businesses prospered. “These are times when the strong can get stronger,” John Donahoe, the tone-deaf head of Nike, cheerily proclaimed in November.
Between April and September, 45 of the 50 most valuable publicly traded American companies turned a profit, according to a Washington Post analysis. They paid shareholders $240 billion in stock buybacks and dividends.
Meanwhile, 100,000 workers at 27 of these companies were laid off — even though many of these firms had promised no layoffs during the pandemic.
In 2017, Congress kindly lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Many of these corporations admitted that much of the ensuing tax savings would be paid to shareholders. Rewarding workers with higher salaries? Um … not so much.
Corporations protest that they’ve made generous pandemic-related donations. True, though it’s paperclip money compared with their astounding profits — or what salary increases would cost them.
Why are we now battling twin toxins, the coronavirus and the mistrust virus? One hint: Increasing the wealth of the wealthy by putting workers out of work during a pandemic in a country riven by economic inequality.
Congress and corporate America seem hell-bent on proving that capitalism and Christianity are natural enemies.
If we really aim to be a Christian nation– or merely a successful one — we have to do better than this.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.