My Turn: How America escaped Armageddon

  • jacoblund jacoblund

Published: 4/30/2021 11:12:13 AM

For most of us, it is not hard to imagine what life in our nation would be like if Trump had won the 2020 presidential election. It could have been the nightmare of a permanent fascism. America’s liberal democratic history, with it the nation itself as we know it, would have ended in 2020. How did we escape our national Armageddon? What saved us from our potential self-destruction?

In February 2020, we were told about a virus known as COVID-19 by President Donald Trump who thought no more of it than the flu. Although the virus was rampaging in a fair portion of the world outside the U.S., the president assured the nation that it was nothing to worry about and the virus would vanish to “zero” by the weekend. As the weekend came and went and more weekends came and went, the virus did not vanish. To the great annoyance of the confident president, it spread, spread and spread.

A year later, by the time the president had to vacate the presidency because he had lost the election to a rather conventional Joe, named Joe Biden, the virus had infected over 25 million Americans, killing close to half a million of them. With millions without jobs or incomes, and consumer activities largely frozen, America’s economy, Trump’s crown jewel and sure-fire card for his reelection, was in ruins. With these economic ruins came the inevitable wrecking of his almost-certain triumph as America’s president for life.

In an amazing way, for its irony, the invisible little virus single-handedly destroyed Trump’s taken-for-granted fascist plans. The invisible virus saved the American republic from its very certain death as a citadel of liberal democracy, while demanding a ransom in the agonizing deaths of a half-million lives who mostly died in isolation. The half-million Americans who died lonely and painful deaths gave the Democrats a slender but miraculous chance to defeat the incumbent demagogue who would have very likely made America’s short history even shorter.

Human history is in essence a continuing story of ironies; and the story of half-million Americans dying so that their nation’s liberal tradition would survive another day surely is one of the greatest ironies of history.

But there is another great irony of history with which to understand our own in America. In May 1948, the country that we now know as Israel was born in the U.N. vote to partition Palestine into two parts, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. Thirty-three members of the U.N. voted for the partition and 23 either voted against or abstained. The vote would have gone against creating the Jewish state, it is now historically recognized, if there had been no Nazi atrocities against Jews in Europe which killed six million Jews. In the intervening three years after World War II, this Nazi genocide had become the heart-rending moral crucible of world conscience. In all, the six million Jews that perished in gas chambers, labor camps and shallow graves, over half of all living Jews in Europe, gave their lives to create a nation in which the surviving Jewish generations would live free and secure.

Providence, in its ultimate irony, sacrificed half of the Jews to save the other half, and, nearly 80 years later, it also sacrificed a half-million American souls, in its new Holocaust, to save their arguably unworthy republic. It makes one shudder how life and death intersect to determine the fate of generations to come. How many more lives would the nation have needed to sacrifice to keep its future generations, especially those of the non-white Americans, living free from white supremacy and secure from Trump’s, and Trump-wannabe’s, open fascism? One million more? Ten million more? How many American lives is our democracy worth?

In this self-mortifying historical reverie, the nation has every reason to forever memorialize the half-million Americans who died in the COVID pandemic, by carving on their grave-stones these simple words: “You died to save America!” And we will add to the epitaph the simple pledge of the living Jews to their own dead, “Never again!”

Jon Huer, author of “Auschwitz, USA” and “Call from the Cave,” about the Holocaust and its causes, is Professor Emeritus of the University of Maryland and a Greenfield resident.

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