Dying of Whiteness

Mount Rushmore

Jonathan M. Metzl’s extraordinary 2019 book, Dying of Whiteness, How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland just gets more relevant as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens and our country approaches the 2020 election. As the virus rages across the country with no end in sight and President Trump attempts to distract his “base” by stoking the “culture wars” and a “white backlash” (have you heard those 4th of July speeches of his!?), it has never been more apparent than many people are quite literally dying of whiteness, thousands and thousands of white people, along with a disproportionate number of African Americans and other people of color whose circumstances unfortunately make them especially vulnerable to the disease.

One increasingly gets the sneaking suspicion that over 130,000 American deaths, all the horror taking place in hospital emergency rooms and ICUs nationwide, is nothing but collateral damage as Trump’s racist campaign to win reelection gets into full swing. By failing to lead the fight against the virus, including blatantly encouraging people NOT to wear masks, social distance, or take other common sense precautions, is there any question that President Trump and his band of Republican enablers have blood on their hands? This humble spirit finds it downright amazing that a substantial portion of Trump’s followers are literally willing to risk dying a horrible death—and subject their friends and relatives to the same, especially if they are elderly and/or have underlying health conditions—because they refuse to accept the reality of the COVID pandemic.

Trump and his enablers have blood on their hands as the death toll mounts!

In fact, it’s never been more apparent that Trump’s followers hate the “elites” and the “other” worse than they fear death. It’s nothing short of frightening how easily some of these people are willing to believe the biggest threat to America isn’t the pandemic, but the attack on their “heritage,” as now embodied by Confederate monuments. If Dr. Metzl is right, and “people become more ideological when they become more desperate,” our country is dealing with some very desperate people who are fighting nothing short of what they view as an apocalyptic battle to save . . . well, something. In the meantime, according to President Trump, the COVID virus will just fade away, not to worry.

Trump’s base has frequently shown themselves to be deluded—especially by supporting policies that clearly hurt rather than help them—but their behavior in the face of the COVID pandemic is nothing short of delusion on steroids!  Could it be more obvious that human nature’s flaws are so grave that all our technological progress is powerless to overcome them?  There have been egregious cases of this phenomenon throughout history, and I personally witnessed one of the worst examples when the lords and masters of the Cotton Kingdom managed to persuade poor white men to fight the Civil War and die by the hundreds of thousands because THEIR country was under attack by the North. Yep, dying of whiteness— it’s déjà vu all over again!

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