COVID – 19: Blaming and Suffering


Until last night, I was convinced that I had seen the worst of the mainstream media. But the 60 Minutes segment focused on attacking Peter Navarro for the shortage of PPE’s, and juxtaposing his efforts against the beleaguered and exhausted frontline healthcare workers, was beneath contempt. Ascribing responsibility to him (and the current Administration) for the disaster in New York, was beyond sleazy and reprehensible; it was shameful and outrageous. Nowhere in the segment was even one question raised about the total lack of preparedness of the Cuomo administration; and the recommendations of the mayor and public health director for New Yorkers to go about business as usual. There was not even a token effort to float the idea that perhaps everyone, at all levels of government, was taken totally by surprise, and that no one could have anticipated the enormity of the pandemic. The segment was not only the worst of yellow journalism, it was unabashed propaganda.

When blaming and scapegoating dominate the public discourse, it is a sure sign that we have lost historical perspective and and that we have run up against our limited life experience of pain and suffering. When I’m asked/accused lately, of minimizing the impact of the COVID – 19 pandemic, people expect me to respond with the politically correct homily that one death is one too many; that the toll so far is horrific; and that this is one of (if not the very worst) thing that has ever befallen our world. I don’t respond that way because I don’t believe it. Of course, the death of any cherished person is a tragedy, and many deaths compound it. But as a crushing human experience, the pandemic pales in comparison to truly catastrophic events. It is a testament to our lack of perspective, that media commentators cannot bring themselves to point out, when illustrating the daily body count, that we continue to be significantly below what all the “models” have predicted. Why is perspective important? Because, without it, our solutions are knee-jerk and ineffective, at best; and shortsighted and damaging, at worst. Unfortunately, given where we’re at now, the pandemic is not the catastrophe; the solution is.

So, how can we look at the pandemic with some historical perspective and respond with effectiveness and balance. Here’s some facts about what the human community has endured:
The bubonic plague wiped out half the population of Europe.
Various forms of the flu virus have killed millions of people worldwide.
The Holocaust destroyed over 20 million people, including most of the Jewish population of Western and Eastern Europe.
The Stalinist regime was responsible for 30 million deaths
Mao Tse-tung ordered the slaughter of millions of his own people

The list could on for pages; almost infinitely. But what’s even more telling, is the lack of personal experience with suffering, that has indelibly distorted our reaction to trauma and pain.

I grew up with survivors of institutionalized anti-Semitism. My great aunt spent part of what should have been her childhood, in Auschwitz. She told us, one day, what it was like, arriving at the concentration camp. She was separated from her parents, who she never saw again, and was lead off to be experimented on, like rat mice. She only told us about Auschwitz once. It was too painful, for her, and us, to hear about again. All four of my grandparents escaped certain death and immigrated to America as teen-agers. Everyone they left behind was murdered.

My mother’s mother lived with us during all of my growing up. She was a truly tortured soul. She had a ceaseless, hacking cough, from untreated illnesses as a child. Every night, when she was sure we had all gone to bed, she left her room, went down stairs and repeated a grim, sad ritual. She checked the locks on all doors and windows, again and again and again. She could only sleep soundly, when the sun came up, and she felt safe.

In our own life, Arleah and I have buried a child, battled cancer, and survived a spinal disease. There is nothing, in life, comparable to putting your child’s body in the ground, and walking away with inconsolable grief.

Undoubtedly, we will survive the pandemic. I fear, though, that our poorly thought-through solutions, hampered by our limited life experience and inability to grieve, will damage us individually and culturally.

Morrie Shechtman

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