"My fellow Americans, I am today ordering that Monday, Aug. 3, shall be a national day of mourning. All of us should take time on that day to honor the memories of more than 135,000 souls taken by COVID-19. Flags will be lowered to half staff."
— President Donald J. Trump
"When our leagues resume play for their shortened seasons, all players will wear black uniform patches to acknowledge the tragic coronavirus deaths." — Adam Silver, NBA commissioner; Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner
"I am asking all New Yorkers to observe a moment of silence at noon each day until further notice, as we remember the lives lost to COVID-19. I urge people in cities and towns across the nation to join the citizens of New York in expressing our collective grief." — Bill de Blasio, New York City mayor
None of these statements has been made, and a reasonable question is, why?
What's happening to us? Are we already experiencing what could be called the "thoughts and prayers" phenomenon?
So often, when tragic events leap to the top of our collective consciousness, Americans have pledged to never forget, to take action, to work for social and political change and, of course, to offer thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. Then, as has happened so often with gun violence, we quash our emotions and move on.
One thing is certain: The public and its news media can't rely on the Trump administration to acknowledge the gravity of the pandemic. Our president is never seen shedding a tear or leading the nation in grieving. Better to resume campaign rallies in a display of reckless disregard for the well-being of the living and the memories of the dead.
Police brutality is absolutely worthy of protests and outrage, but the overpowering national objection to it in recent weeks is in strange contrast to the failed pandemic response. Yes, many Americans complied with social distancing and other rules — at least for a few months — but why hasn't the nation stood in protest over scandalous conditions at nursing homes, prisons and meatpacking plants?
With a U.S. COVID-19 death toll greater in five months than the 14 years of American combat in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined (95,000 lives lost), many of us are in deep despair over this horrific loss, while others seem unable — or unwilling — to process such staggering numbers. America's difficulty in putting the pandemic's toll in proper perspective is causing significant emotional, social and political problems.
Where do senior citizens, particularly those who are in nursing homes, rank? I've heard some right-wing talk show hosts shamefully scoff that many of the dead are old, some already suffering other illnesses. Between the lines: These deaths are less newsworthy because they don't count as much as those of younger persons.
Even the basic math has become controversial. Some conservatives claim death counts are being inflated to make the Trump administration's handling of the crisis appear worse than it is. Others, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield, believe the toll is much higher than has been reported.
When some politicians and their misguided followers choose to treat death counts as mere points on a graph, much like a stock table, it leads to reckless decisions about reopening public places before safety conditions are met. It creates a national numbness. It allows politicians to frame the deaths as collateral damage in their self-proclaimed war. It twists a national crisis into a political pretzel.
No one's death, regardless of age or preexisting medical condition, should be dismissed as a statistic. Why aren't we wearing pins or ribbons in remembrance of the dead? In addition to 7 p.m. tributes for heroic doctors and nurses, why isn't there also a national moment of silence at noon each day to honor those who have passed? Or a national day of mourning? Why aren't more flags at half staff?
News organizations have devoted enormous space and airtime to the pandemic. Most, including this one, have worked vigilantly to track down individual stories and give names and faces to the dead. But it's not enough.
Our friends and neighbors are dying in unthinkable numbers. When we stop giving that proper focus it's the first step in allowing a president and his cowardly allies on Capitol Hill to escape retribution at the ballot box in November.
We talk a lot these days about a "new normal." If by normal we mean treating so many deaths as routine, then we should be ashamed. I can think of more than 135,000 reasons why.
Peter Funt is an American actor, host, TV producer and op-ed columnist. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.