Susan Estrich: The race card, Trump style, 2020 version

Summary: But it is beyond shameful when loss is so starkly divided along lines of race and class, and when the president emerges as the cheerleader of the Take a Risk Club.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich commentary
Tribune graphic

Donald Trump has been trying for years to play his Willie Horton card, to divide the country along lines of race as a means of reaffirming his base.

You can hardly give him credit for creativity, strategically speaking. It's not so different from the way former President Richard Nixon played "law and order," the way former Sen. Jesse Helms played the pink unemployment slip (that always went into a black hand), the way former President George Bush โ€” Daddy Bush โ€” played the black man on prison furlough (William Horton). Crime, welfare reform, affirmative action: Prick up your ears for the bias below the surface.

During this pandemic, it is not below the surface. It is before our very eyes. In the first days of the pandemic, the pictures showed Americans from every corner of the country and every walk of life succumbing to the terrifying coronavirus. And that was necessary, if not absolutely representative. It reminded me, just a little, and tearfully, of the boost "heterosexual transmission" was thought to give AIDS funding.
But it took very little time and very little probing to see that this was not a "We are the World" pandemic. No, not even in our own country. By the time you read this, there will surely be new numbers. If you think about the fatality rate for blacks versus whites and compare it to the admittedly lopsided imprisonment rate, you're thinking in the right ballpark.
We're talking about black people being six times more likely to contract and die of COVID-19.
You wonder why people are angry in Minnesota. I'd be on the streets. President Donald Trump has made black life cheap.
Oh, I've heard the usual lip service: This isn't about race; it's about diabetes and obesity and high blood pressure and poor access to medical care. People say these things with a straight face as if they are not precisely describing the black experience in America.
So the cities got killed, literally, particularly the parts of the cities where blacks live and COVID thrives (purely coincidental because blacks happen to be poor and lack access to health care, etc.). Who would have thought?
Everyone. You saw it every night on TV. Thank God for Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, or no one would have put on a mask.
But it isn't just the bright-blue cities where Trump has flaunted his disinterest in death. There are all those red states that don't have big cities, but they do have poor rural areas where people work in meatpacking plants and the virus has raged. And they do have second- and third-class nursing homes where a huge percentage of the nursing-home deaths have occurred and the virus is showing up every day.
Americans are reopening. People who need a check are going back to work, afraid for their safety. Trump has turned it into a macho issue. Wearing a face mask, social distancing -- that's sissy stuff for Mr. Macho, especially where mostly poor black and those who are "very, very old" (to quote the president) are dying. And it's partisan. Who cares about the poor blacks in those red states? Who is watching out for them? In one America, why should the state you live in determine the danger of your job?
Not to sound like a bureaucrat, but whatever happened to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration?
It is shameful that some Americans are risking the lives of others.
But it is beyond shameful when loss is so starkly divided along lines of race and class, and when the president emerges as the cheerleader of the Take a Risk Club.

Susan Estrich can be reached at

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