Trump’s Grotesque Legacy — A Mound of Bodies Higher than Mount Rushmore

Photo by Dillon Groves on Unsplash

While Trump whines incessantly about the election (which Biden won by the largest number of votes in US history), he seems oblivious to the thousands a day dying of Covid-19 in the USA. The total US death toll is about to pass 300,000. For arguably the richest country in the world, with many excellent hospitals and medical schools, this is a shocking and deranged outcome.

The US death toll, which is the largest in the world and almost a fifth of the world total, is an indictment of Trump’s ‘management’ of the situation and an indictment of a dogmatically capitalistic healthcare system that fails those on average incomes, let alone the poorest. Given the impact of infectious diseases on society through history, it should be obvious that a healthcare system should be there for all citizens as, if not prevented or treated, they spread widely. But this penny doesn’t seem to have dropped for dogmatic capitalists. Like Donald Trump, who himself was treated at a taxpayer funded (‘socialist’) hospital.

Trump, with his pathological hatred of two-term president Obama, promised to reform healthcare for the benefit of the masses. In four years, all he managed was crazed childish attacks on Obamacare and he thought of nothing better to replace it. His envy of articulate, attractive, Harvard-educated black man Obama seems to have been a far bigger driver for Trump’s agenda and actions than his interest in the health and wellbeing of the masses.

Trump’s responses to Covid have ranged from playing it down, babbling incessantly about China long after it had become a much bigger problem in the US, and suggesting bizarre ‘treatments’ — such as somehow getting light into lungs and injecting disinfectant. He later claimed he was joking about the ‘treatments’ — not a great way to spend a medical press conference as the virus spread to every part of the country and bodies piled up beyond the range of Trump’s narcissism-tinted glasses.

When leaders are callous, narcissistic and indifferent to the suffering of ordinary people, it is critical to find ways of getting beyond the highly questionable ‘death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic’ way of thinking, which can be used to push on with atrocious actions. A good way to do this is to put numbers in context. When we do this with Covid deaths it is hard to see Trump as anything but the worst president in the history of the USA.

The Vietnam War is one of the biggest wounds the USA has suffered, not to mention the people of Vietnam. The wound was devastating to US identity and confidence and opened demographic chasms. The battle between better educated liberals and bellicose right-wingers continues to this day — and was significant in both the election and the subsequent rejection of Trump. A number of powerful 1980s films about Vietnam and the aftermath illustrated how deep the wound went into the body of the USA. Given that 300,000 Covid deaths (in less than a year) dwarves the 58,220 US deaths in Vietnam (over 11 years), we would expect films and documentaries to continue working through this for decades. Trump is certainly not going to be the hero of those.

Even the horror of World War Two, with a devastating 291,557 US lives taken, snuffed out fewer American lives over the years the US participated than Covid has taken in less than a year.

More recent devastations that remain deep wounds related to US identity and confidence had relatively tiny death tolls compared to Trump’s era of Covid mismanagement. That is not to say that the 2,977 deaths caused by the September 11th 2001 terror attacks are not significant — I’m actually suggesting the opposite. Every life taken and family bereaved is important — people are not merely statistics — and the attack changed the world. Given the impact of almost 3,000 deaths on the US and wider world, 300,000 deaths in a single country, due to an infectious disease that requires (but has failed to receive) careful and consistent management by the government, has ramifications of monstrous proportions.

Not only can we not yet perceive the long-term impact of such a failing (including on those people affected by long Covid) but 300,000 is only the level we are up to now. Despite Trump’s insistence that the US epidemic is essentially over because there are now vaccines, there is no reason to assume at this stage that it will be administered to the number of people required for herd immunity to be achieved. Trump himself has encouraged the antivax and anti-science movements and railed against the use of public health measures, such as facemasks and social distancing. In fact, his own rallies have been the anathema of rational public health strategies and a slap in the face of science and the clinicians risking their own lives to save others.

With the level of infection in the US being what it is — and opposition to public health measures being what they are — it seems likely that at least half a million Americans will be killed before infection rates are under control. To put that in context, the American Civil War, which lasted four years, resulted in around that number of deaths.

Donald Trump, being a narcissist, likes to see himself as an historically significant figure. That is one of the few things I would agree with him on. He is significant in that he has reigned over one of the most devastating periods in US history — and has remained obsessed with his own image as the bodies pile higher than Mount Rushmore. That, rather than his smug face carved into the rock, will be Trump’s grotesque legacy.

Will is an anthropologist, journalist and former clinician. He is the author or Veneer of Civilisation, Psychopathic Cultures and Beyond the End of the World

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store