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Little sense of shared grief as virus deaths near 100,000

Noah Bierman and Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

A super PAC aligned with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) launched an ad this week that interspersed images of Trump golfing and downplaying the disease while a woman emotionally recounts her father's death and a ticker tallies the growing fatalities.

"In November, we are literally voting for our lives," the woman says.

Trump has focused on numbers throughout the crisis.

Early on, he assured Americans that infections would drop to zero and dismissed the disease as no worse than the flu. He said publicly that he was reluctant to allow a cruise ship to dock with infected American passengers because it would make the nation's case count rise.

He has repeatedly accused China's authoritarian government of downplaying its national death toll, while his allies question whether the U.S. numbers are inflated; evidence suggests COVID-19 deaths more likely were undercounted. He also has accused the World Health Organization of letting China conceal the virus, letting the danger grow, and threatened to cut off U.S. funding.

Because U.S. cases and deaths far exceed any other nation, Trump has relentlessly argued that the figures appear inflated because more testing is done here. But the country's sluggish start on testing is widely blamed for the higher death toll because since it slowed the response.


"It's almost irrelevant that the numbers are people. He switches them, mocks them -- he does everything with these numbers to avoid the fact that these are people," said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University.

Zelizer argues that Trump's version affects how the rest of the country experiences the pandemic, reducing deaths to a number on a television screen and diminishing the "human introspection in terms of what the death toll is compared to wars."

Obama's solo singing of "Amazing Grace" at a 2015 service for the nine black worshipers killed at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., became a seminal moment of his presidency. Bush's impromptu comments through a bullhorn at ground zero -- his arm around a firefighter -- was his. Lincoln's stirring address at the Gettysburg cemetery is crucial to the national canon.

But Trump speaks rarely and mostly only in passing of the emotional toll the deaths have taken on the nation's psyche, or the countless individuals grieving for loved ones.


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