Here was a sub-headline from an article in the Chicago Sun-Times last week about the potential coronavirus death toll in the United States: “LBJ’s lies cost 58,000 American lives. I assumed Donald Trump couldn’t inflict anything more harmful. I was wrong.”
That was from a piece titled, “The cost of lies; coronavirus death toll could top Vietnam.” Indeed, author Neil Steinberg deserves some credit for jumping on board the media’s new tragic obsession before it was hip.
I’m talking, of course, about comparing the number of deaths from coronavirus in the United States to the number of American deaths during the Vietnam War.
If you haven’t witnessed this line of thinking yet, here’s a helpful takeaway produced by writer Kate Hyde:
It looks like they all got the memo. pic.twitter.com/pGwEmm9XbM
— Kate Hyde (@KateHydeNY) March 31, 2020
As you can see by clicking on a picture of each of the respective tweets, this is a pretty common refrain from the media — and there’s almost always some politicization of COVID-19 involved.
Take Steinberg’s piece in the Sun-Times, which is pretty much of median intelligence as this thought process goes.
“The Vietnam War raged for the first 15 years of my life. I’d sprawl coloring as Uncle Walt read the death toll on TV. When I was older, the war became my benchmark for presidential folly: sacrificing thousands of American lives to avoid admitting the obvious: We lost,” he wrote.
“During the first three years of the Trump administration, I kept pulling out Vietnam like a talisman. Sure, things are bad, but look: They’ve been much worse. We’re lucky.
“When fellow Dems swooned, wailing that we’d reached rock bottom — America broken, democracy dead — I’d try to cheer them up by dangling my lucky token. See this? Within our lifetime Lyndon B. Johnson — a Democratic president, for those unfamiliar — also lied, followed by Richard Nixon, a Republican, and their lies led to the deaths of 58,000 Americans. While Trump is certainly affecting lives, he isn’t taking many. There isn’t a growing body count to lay at his feet.
“I didn’t think to add: ‘Yet,'” he wrote.
You can kind of guess at the rest of the piece without even having to read it: He explains how Trump bungled the response, Republicans don’t really believe that life is sacred unless it involves “religious fanatics … sticking their noses up into the business of women they never met” and how “America took a gamble, allowing itself to be led by a charismatic fraud.” We arrive at the endpoint of this being the same as the Vietnam War without really establishing a clear link between the two other than the fact that he says both crises were mismanaged and will have a significant body count.
Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro pointed out the problem with this parallel.
“Yes, covid-19 is not like the flu. It is also not like Vietnam or 9/11, you idiots,” the podcast host tweeted Wednesday.
“Were disease like wars or terrorist attacks, more people would die from the actual flu in a bad year than Vietnam, and many more people would die every single year from the flu than 9/11.”
Yes, covid-19 is not like the flu. It is also not like Vietnam or 9/11, you idiots. Were disease like wars or terrorist attacks, more people would die from the actual flu in a bad year than Vietnam, and many more people would die every single year from the flu than 9/11.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 1, 2020
From Health: “Flu season in the US, which runs from October through May, claims tens of thousands of lives every year. This season CDC estimates that, as of mid-March, between 29,000 and 59,000 have died due to influenza illnesses. Add to that the misery of hundreds of thousands of flu-related hospitalizations and millions of medical visits for flu symptoms this season.”
That means even the flu this year might kill more Americans than died in Vietnam if it ends up on the top end.
I think we’re all aware by this point that coronavirus, whatever it may turn out to be, isn’t the flu. All that said, the subtext of the tweets like the ones Hyde took note of is essentially what Steinberg put into text.
Diseases aren’t wars, though. You don’t choose to enter into a pandemic. You choose your response to it.
As for Trump’s response — yes, he shouldn’t have publicly discounted the virus early on and said that it was under control.
However, he also implemented a clamp-down on travel from China and Europe when the media savaged him over both.
No matter how you feel about how President Trump dealt with the coronavirus threat, it cannot be compared to the multi-decade debacle that was the Vietnam War. Coronavirus will likely be Trump’s legacy, but he’s not responsible for the disease.
I freely admit that both sides are throwing around the war parallel too liberally, but that still isn’t a justification to put coronavirus in league with the biggest foreign-policy ball-drop in post-World War II American history.
That’s lazy politicking — something I’d hoped we would avoid in a time of tragedy.
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