SOUL CRUSHING

It’s Monday, April 6, 2020.

On this day 303 years ago, black slaves and some indigenous people rebelled against colonizers in what’s now New York’s Financial District.

They set fire to a building and, while firefighters fought the flames, shot, stabbed or beat to death nine white colonists, according to an account of the time by the British royal governor.

Eventually, British troops from the area put down the insurrection. 

There were 27 people were convicted for taking part. Of them, 21 were executed – mostly by burning, although one was described as “broke on the wheel,” which is a gruesome form of killing involving breaking bones and writhing in pain until death. Six others were said to have committed suicide.

The insurrection led to even more draconian prohibitions on slaves in New York City.

By the way, if you don’t think New York seems like a place where slavery flourished, a visit to the African Burial Ground National Monument – once this pandemic ends, of course – is well worth your time. 

Sorry to start your latest day of this downer existence with this downer from the past.

It’s understandable, though, that Americans might be inclined toward the sad side as this pandemic continues.

Today, the 10,000th American will have died from the coronavirus. That number is staggering to a nation that blissfully watched Kansas City beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl just two months ago and didn’t imagine this.

What’s more staggering is that the death toll is headed higher – perhaps much higher.

This is a tragedy. It’s compounded by the circumstanes. 

A horrible form of death from something caught while just negotiating life. An illness that not only kills the victim but endangers the people trying to save her or him. And death that comes without the comfort of loved ones – or even the freakin’ remembrance of mourners at a burial or memorial.

One other thing compounds this: A President of the United States who doesn’t give a damn.

Frank Bruni’s excellent op-ed piece in today’s New York Times captures this. And, because it’s written by Frank Bruni, it’s that much more potent.

I don’t watch Trump’s daily self-adulation fest masquerading as an update on the crisis. I want information, not narcissism.

But what appears to emerge from this is a complete lack of empathy for what the American people are experiencing.

Part of it, I truly believe, is that Trump sees where people are dying – particularly in New York – and sees people who didn’t vote for him. In his eyes, they deserve their fate.

Let one of the reporters at these briefings ask that question if you want to see the orange rug on his head fly off.

A nation that should be inspired to fight this enemy is instead forced to endure petulance when a frustrated governor complains about the chaos of the government’s response – or cheers that the ratings of these “briefings” are so high.

It goes against mainstream journalism’s instincts to not cover a presidential briefing. In generic terms, it would seem like malpractice not to show the nation’s leader in a crisis – would radio networks have ignored FDR speaking on the war effort?

But the appearances have gone beyond the misguided extolling of an unproven COVID-19 treatment, or the dissing of overmatched governors or trashing reporters for asking simple questions.

They’re crushing America’s soul and impeding its will to fight the virus. 

Trump’s daily briefings are the emotional equivalent of putting the victims of the coronavirus on the wheel and breaking their bones.

You and I can make the choice not to watch them. But they shouldn’t be on TV – under the guise of informing the American people – in the first place.

One other quick thought:

I’ve long advocated a celebration of health care workers, first responders, grocery and drug store workers, and food preparers and deliverers. Once this is safely over, of course. 

A ticker tape parade down Broadway seems the least we can do.

But there should also be a national monument for the victims of this scourge. A beautifully rendered tribute to the people who shouldn’t have died for this government’s inaction.

Where should it go?

How about 721 5th Ave. in New York City? 

The city and state could seize the land in an eminent domain action and we can tear down the useless structure that’s there, building something for the public’s benefit.

OK, maybe we keep the escalator as a reminder of something that should never happen again.

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