An essay written by my 18 year-old son, William Firman, a high school senior and aspiring political science major.
For the first time in a while, every aspect of our lives faces a standstill. Schools across the country will be closed for the remainder of the academic year. Our brave healthcare workers — not equipped to handle the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic — are now risking their own lives to do their jobs. Millions of working families who put bread on the table are seeing their only lifeline cut off, having to file for unemployment. It is in these tough times for which we rightfully turn to our elected leaders to guide us, and to find a light at the end of a dark tunnel, and of course, there are many who are living up to that responsibility.
I live in Western Pennsylvania. I approve of Governor Tom Wolf’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in our state. But no elected official has demonstrated proven leadership more than Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan. While center-left voices on social media continue to fantasize about Governor Andrew Cuomo being a Democratic draft for President, I actually admire Governor Whitmer’s response to this crisis more. Governor Whitmer has been used by people on the right as a punching bag throughout this crisis, from Donald Trump denigrating her as “the woman from Michigan” to recent protests in Lansing by far-right simpletons wielding automatic weapons and confederate paraphernalia. Her resilience in spite of all the attacks, her commitment to the people of her state, and her refusal to back down on this much-needed lockdown shows, in stark contrast to the Trump administration, competent leadership.
This isn’t partisan admiration; you can praise Republican Governors like Mike DeWine of Ohio or Larry Hogan of Maryland while lambasting Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, who, in all his brilliance, wanted to throw a ticker tape parade at this time. There are Republicans who have handled this poorly — enter Brian Kemp of Georgia and Tate Reeves of Mississippi — and Democrats and Independents, such as Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman who have handled this virus with equal ineptitude.
President Harry S. Truman stated, “the buck stops here.” As previously mentioned, in times of crisis responsibility falls upon our elected officials, specifically in the executive branch, to lead the way towards rebuilding this country and reassuring the American people who are skeptical about her future. This past week for me has done nothing to disprove that.
Monday, April 13 was rainy but peaceful and the somber weather outside set the tone for what was going to be an emotionally taxing afternoon. At 1:30p.m., my father received a phone call. Forty-five minutes earlier, my grandfather passed away from COVID-19 at the age of 73. The phone call was someone letting him know about the unfortunate news. That day, I had planned to cook chicken for dinner, given that one way to alleviate my chronic boredom during self-quarantine is to, once a week, join my mother in cooking. It is a family bonding moment between me and my mother in our own unique way. But throughout making that dinner, what occupied my mind was how my grandfather died. My aunt very poetically said our grandfather, an avid sports enthusiast, was returning to the baseball field, guided by our late Uncle Herman, to gain his angel wings.
Sadly, I am not poetic. I’m angry.
Thousands of people who have died from this virus so far likely died alone, in a hospital room, gasping for air. Their last breaths, likely unheard by others, reflect thousands of stories of people fighting for their lives and thousands of people wondering, “Why me? Why is this happening to me?” With the thought of my grandfather, who also had been dealing with vascular dementia, now having to endure additional suffering, my grief morphed from sadness into unfettered anger. I was sad that he was initially going to pass away from dementia, but I had come to terms that he would leave this world soon. I am angrier now that he died from a pandemic that I believe was preventable.
This was preventable.
On January 20, both the United States and South Korea confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 in their respective countries. Under the guidance of President Moon Jae-in, South Korea tested over 274,000 people between January 20 and March 17. In the same time span, in the United States, we have managed to test merely 25,000 people — 10 times fewer, despite the fact that the U.S. has six times the population of South Korea. Even when faced with those facts, Donald Trump falsely claimed that, “We’ve done more tests in eight days than South Korea has done in eight weeks.”
Piggybacking on that, from January to March, Trump and conservative mouthpieces on Fox News deliberately downplayed the severity of this virus. Between Trump’s remarks on February 26 that “the 15 [cases], within a couple of days is going to be down to, close to zero” to Jeanine Pirro stating, “All the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly doesn’t reflect reality,” the silence on this issue was deafening. The reason I cite this is because for months conservatives in the White House and on right-wing propaganda networks minimized how serious COVID-19 was going to be for their own political gain. When it became apparent that our country was going to become the hotspot for this pandemic, it was too late to turn back the clocks.
Even now, alt-right conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones are protesting against lockdown orders, chanting “Fire [Anthony] Fauci.” Even now, charlatans like Phil McGraw (also known as “Dr. Phil”) who have profited off of exploiting mental illness appear on Fox News denouncing lockdown orders to once again make a profit. (When the hell did we ask for his opinion?) Even now, Trump is demanding — without any authority to do so — that people get back to work and for Governors to “Liberate America” so that the economy can rebound in time for Election Day. Even now, Brian Kemp of Georgia and legitimately elected Governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Henry McMaster of South Carolina are reopening beaches and other public areas in blind obedience to Trump’s attacks on those who dare keep their people safe. Even after thousands of people lost their lives from this virus, people like Congressman Trey Hollingsworth (R-Indiana) argue that human life is expendable compared to the needs of the economy. And let’s not forget Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas who appeared on Fox News last month and said, “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves?’… and if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”
So much for being “pro-life.”
These lockdowns are warranted, and the reason they are is because of prior inaction, not just on China’s part — in which Trump is now trying to scapegoat despite having previously endorsed President Xi Jinping’s response to combating the virus in February — but on our part as well. In the time between the first case of COVID-19 being confirmed, and the time it took for even an iota of conservative voices to recognize this virus isn’t going away, the Trump administration did next to nothing to prevent the spread. They refused to issue ventilators and masks to Governors whom Trump disagrees with and later Trump floated a bizarre conspiracy theory that hospitals were hoarding ventilators and masks. They accused Democrats of politicizing the virus. The administration made racist dog whistles — they not only repeatedly called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” which resulted in a spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, but an administration official also reportedly called COVID-19 the “Kung Flu virus.” As the death toll went up, so did Trump’s attacks on non-conservative media for their reporting on the virus. Instead of taking meaningful action before the spread of COVID-19, the administration sat on its hands and did nothing.
It’s not as if the administration was shuffling chairs on the Titanic either; they were playing Musical Chairs — they danced on the graves of those who died under their watch for months — and families like mine are paying the price for reckless inaction.
The decision to downplay the virus was not merely imbecilic; for some people it was calculated. People like Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia), a staunch Trump ally, dumped millions of dollars in stocks after trying to reassure their constituents that the virus was not as serious as experts say. It’s an unfathomable added layer of cruelty in the initial Republican reaction to the virus by working to reassure the vulnerable while trying to avoid an economic catastrophe for themselves. Senator Burr, in particular, should be in jail.
Even today, Trump tries to use his trademark “Whataboutism” strategy to deflect blame and attack President Obama for the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic (in which 12,469 died compared to over 49,000 as of this writing from COVID-19).
I won’t be blaming Democrats or even President Xi for my grandfather’s passing. Political dissention aside, the personal responsibility falls squarely on Trump and his administration for failing to act against a pandemic that will likely get much, much worse as the months go on. Even if Trump miraculously changes his administration’s response from an incompetent one to that of stable and steady leadership shown in leaders like Governors Whitmer, DeWine, or Wolf, it’s too late. I have lost someone I will never get back; my family has been torn apart, and for that I will never forgive him.
I will also never forgive the small but vocal minority of brainwashed people who took to the streets of Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states. Their ignorant protesting and defiance of social distancing by gathering in the thousands to demand businesses re-open in spite of the rising death toll can and will exacerbate this crisis. Not only are these protesters putting themselves at risk by closely interacting with each other, but they now risk transmitting this virus onto unsuspecting people in public who have likely been, unlike them, taking the correct precautions. Many of these protesters are wielding signs with the slogan, “Give me liberty or give me death” and unfortunately, it almost appears as if they’re asking for both.
Additionally, risking your own health and safety to “own the libs” isn’t exactly politically convenient either. If businesses were to re-open, as we are seeing in states like Georgia, cases are going to spike like we haven’t seen before. More people are going to die, and we may see “a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter [which] will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.”
That’s not me talking; that’s Robert Redfield, the director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), appointed by Trump. The economy would likely be overwhelmed as we saw in the early days of COVID-19 affecting the United States when the stock market suffered the worse nosedive since 1987. Given that Donald Trump’s approval ratings show a six-point decrease in the last six weeks, more casualties from this pandemic and the collapse of a robust economy he inherited from his predecessor, Trump’s chances of re-election may grow weaker if he gets what he wants. Given all this, it’s almost unfathomable that conservatives would want to see public areas reopen this early. It would end up hurting Republicans who are fighting to hold onto the White House and the Senate in November against formidable challengers on the other side. But I digress.
“When the truth offends we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there, but it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth; sooner or later, that debt is paid.” — Valery Legasov
Valery Legasov, best known for his investigation into the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, best exemplifies my anger at this administration for exacerbating this crisis through its negligence. This administration, guided by a naked emperor, lies repeatedly to protect themselves from the truth. We’ve seen it during the impeachment trial, we’ve seen it when the United States abandoned our Kurdish allies in Syria, we’ve seen it when we damn near caused a war with Iran, and we’re seeing it now.
But I’m not going to give up hope. My grief over the death of a member of my family will not prevent me from being politically active. In fact, the death of a man who encompasses everything I love about my family has only fueled my desire to be involved in political action and change. The day after my grandfather passed away, I registered to vote; it’s really the least I could do. A reckless government response killed a man I loved, but it won’t stop me from keeping his memory alive, along with the memories of thousands of other innocent people whose lives were taken as well and whose blood is now on the hands of Donald Trump. I will keep those thousands of forgotten victims in my mind as I, and many other family members of COVID-19 victims cast their votes against Trump in November.
William Firman is an 18 year-old high school senior from Western Pennsylvania who is hoping to study political science in college this fall.