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“What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?”

The coronavirus does not care whether we are Republican or Democrat; mainline or evangelical Christian; Jew, Muslim or Hindu; white, black or brown; Chinese, Italian, Iranian, Russian, African or American, richer or poorer, older or younger. We are all human and subject to the same illnesses. Our nationality, faith, race, class, location or age does not shield us from our common human frailties.

While the coronavirus does not discriminate, it does prey on those discriminated against: principally persons of color, who already suffer from economic discrimination, and the related diseases and disillusionment that especially affect black persons – and poor white people as well — who lack adequate financial security and health care. As the data reveal, black persons especially are vulnerable to the virus.

For example, the “latest Associated Press analysis of available state and local data shows that nearly one third of those who have died are African American, with black people representing about 14% of the population in the areas covered in the analysis.” More “medical professionals, activists and political figures” are calling for “a reckoning of the systemic policies they say have made many African Americans far more vulnerable to the virus, including inequity in access to health care and economic opportunity.” Civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson summarized the issue: “It’s America’s unfinished business – we’re free, but not equal.” (“Racial toll of virus grows even starker as more data emerges,” By Kat Stafford, Meghan Hoyer and Aaron Morrison, www.necn.com, April 18. 2020)

During the 2016 presidential campaign, at a rally in a predominately white suburb in Michigan, Donald Trump appealed to black voters with, “What the hell do you have to lose?” Trump went on: “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed – what the hell do you have to lose?” (“Trump pitches black voters: What the hell do you have to lose?,” By Tom LoBianco and Ashley Killough, CNN, Aug. 19, 2016)

President Trump’s incompetent and dangerous leadership in dealing with the coronavirus reveals that what black people “have to lose” is their lives! After his election, Trump’s priorities did not include helping communities of color to get out of poverty by providing them with good schools and jobs – the very safeguards against disease and virus. He was about providing tax breaks for the wealthiest, a fat budget for the Pentagon to continue fighting America’s lucrative forever “war on terror,” and bans and walls to keep out those he deemed The Other. He ignored the historic “poverty” of black people that has created heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, asthma and other illnesses, making them more susceptible to COVID-19 and more likely to succumb to it.

President Trump was also intent on getting rid of Obamacare, which provides health care for tens of millions of Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions – a large majority of the very people of color to whom he was supposedly appealing during the presidential campaign. The fact that he made his appeal to black voters in front of a mostly white audience is telling. He was not really appealing to black persons, but to his mostly white Michigan supporters: enabling them to rationalize their own privileged history and status with a tip of the hat in passing to black reality.

President Trump sees black persons – and white people — as expendable. He exploits their religious holidays and national pastimes for his political purposes. First, he wanted to “pack the churches at Easter, saying, “The day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ is ‘very special day’ to Him.” And, “It would be a beautiful time and just about the timeline that I think is right.” (“Beautiful Thing’: Trump hopes to see ‘packed churches’ on Easter Sunday,” By Anthony Leonardi, Washington Eximiner, March 24, 2020) But at Easter, the coronavirus was running rampant across America. And polls indicated that people wanted the social restraints to continue; so Trump backed down and extended the quarantine until the end of April.

Next, President Trump wanted to pack the stadiums with sports fans. “I want fans back in the arenas,” he said, “as soon as we can, obviously.” He added, “And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey.” In a conference call, reported by ESPN, he told the leaders of professional sports “he hopes to have fans return to arenas and stadiums as early as August and also reportedly said the NFL schedule ”should” start on time in September.” (“Trump wants fans back in stadiums, arenas ‘as soon as we can,’” By David Schoen, Las Vegas Review Journal, April 4, 2020)

President Trump included Little League baseball. “To all our youth who are missing the start of their @Little League seasons, hang in there!, “ Trump tweeted. “We will get you back out on the fields, and know that you will be playing baseball soon . . . bats will be swinging before you know it.” And then these homey words: “In the meantime, take care of mom and dad, and know that this will not be forever. “ (“‘We have to open our country again’: Trump insists NFL season should start on time in September despite the pandemic,” By Frances Mulraney and Wires, Daily Mail, 5 April 2020)

Little Leaguers better “take care of” their “mom and dad” because president Trump is not about to. In fact, he has encouraged the modest protests of moms and dads and others in three democratic-governed states. They are calling for the end of social restraints, in protests in front of the state capitols. Trump encouraged them, tweeting, “‘LIBERATE MINNESOTA!’” Also,” ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN’ and ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save our great 2nd amendment. It is under siege!’” Certain people showed up at the protests with assault rifles and ammunition strapped over their shoulders. Will Trump encourage similar protests in November if there are close presidential races in certain states?

The right to bear arms has nothing to do with social distancing. But Trump needed to pour gunpowder on the virus. His injection of the Second Amendment is merely another attempt to avoid accountability for his failure early on to take the dangerous pandemic seriously. He minimized the number of cases, blamed China for the virus, accused the leadership of the World Health Organization of passing on “Chinese misinformation,” and even blamed the Democrats and the “Fake News” for politicizing the virus as the “new hoax.” (“Trump calls coronavirus Democrats’ ‘new hoax,’” By Lauren Egan, NBC News, Feb. 28, 2020)

The protesters are not only endangering themselves, but they can transmit the coronavirus to others as well. Nevertheless, President Trump excuses their dangerous behavior. “ ‘These are great people,’ Trump said at a recent news conference. . . . ‘They’ve got cabin fever. They want their lives back. Their lives were taken from them.” (“Trump allies have their fingerprints on lockdown protest,” By Anita Kumar, POLITICO, April 21, 2020)

Ironically, the social distancing’s aim is to make sure their lives are not “taken from them.” Most Americans agree, as a reported “YouGov/Economist poll released Wednesday found that 61 per cent of Americans think President Trump should institute a nationwide stay-at- home order, compared to just 22 per cent who disapproved.” (“Trump’s dangerous ‘LIBERATE’ tweets represent the voices of a small minority,” By Aaron Rupar, Vox, April 17, 2020)

President Trump has become America’s premier snake oil salesman: touting one drug, and then another, hell-bent on putting a positive spin on the deadly coronavirus for the sake of his 2020 presidential campaign. First he reportedly pushed hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, that when used together to treat the coronavirus, “could become ‘one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.’” (“FDA Warns Against Wide Use Of The Drugs Trump Hailed As ‘Game Changers,’” By Colin Dwyer, NPR, April 24, 2020)

As reported , “The Food and Drug Administration has recently warned that hydroxychloroquine could raise the risk of heart failure.” A reported “provisional study of Veterans Affairs patients shows that taking the anti-malarial drug is linked to higher death rates from the novel coronavirus.” (“Disinfect the White House quackery,” The Editorial Board, The Boston Globe. April 28, 2020). The Federal Drug Administration and other medical experts have warned against taking hydroxychloroquine without hospital guidance. Still President Trump urged its use with, “What the hell do you have to lose?” And as also reported: he “repeatedly urged that the drugs receive serious consideration from researchers and patients – and quickly.” (“FDA Warns Against Wide Use Of The Drugs Trump Hails As ‘Game Changers,’” Ibid)

President Trump’s obsession to prop up his 2020 presidential campaign is also seen in his compulsive need to grab hold of any political life preserver in the choppy coronavirus seas his incompetence and denial created. As reported, “He suggested that the injection of disinfectants into the human body could help combat the coronavirus.” New York Times writer Matt Flegenheimer continues, “Even by the turbulent standards of this president, his musings on virus remedies have landed with uncommon force, drawing widespread condemnation as dangerous to the health of Americans and inspiring a near universal alarm that many of his past remarks – whether offensive or fear-mongering or simply untrue – did not.” (“Trump’s Disinfectant Remark Raises a Question About the ‘Very Stable Genius,’” April 27, 2020)

In the face of President Trump’s blatant immoral leadership, a national prayer group is legitimizing him. Called “The Presidential Prayer Team” the group identifies itself as “the nation’s largest full-time nonpartisan ministry dedicated to encouraging and inspiring people to pray for the president and the leadership of the United States of America” The Presidential Prayer Team is planning to “host the largest prayer event in the nation’s history on the National Day of Prayer on May 7, 2020.” Its aim: As “our country continues to face the unique challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are unable to gather in their churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship.” The Presidential Prayer Team’s bottom line: “The ability to bring praying Americans together virtually on the National Day of Prayer has never been more important.” Why? “We must continue to pray for the nation, for healthcare workers, for first responders and – as strongly as ever – for President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force during this great time of need.” (Email called, “As Social Distancing Continues, The Presidential Prayer Team is Hosting the Largest Virtual Prayer Event on 2020 National Day of Prayer,” from Kara Weller (kara@pierce-pr.com), April 30, 2020) .”

Ironically, as part of the advance publicity, I, and probably countless others, was invited to speak with Jim Bolthouse, president of The Presidential Prayer Team, “in advance of next Thursday’s historic online prayer event on the National Day of Prayer.” (Ibid)

Prayer is a powerful means by which by which people are inspired in conflict or calm. As a former hospital chaplain, I repeatedly witnessed the power of prayer to comfort and strengthen patients and their loved ones.

But prayer is also used to keep people in their place: to encourage passivity in response to the political sins that oppress people’s minds and bodies. Political leaders, and their accommodating prayer groups, often use prayer as a way of getting people to be still: to fold their hands and do nothing – to accommodate.

And in the case of the full-time Presidential Prayer Team, prayer appears to be profitable. Its ‘TOTAL REVENUE’ for 2018 was listed at “$1,234,824” and “Net Assets: $1,346.80”. (“The Presidential Prayer Team: Charity Navigator,” www.charitymavigator.org) The Presidential Prayer Team’s stated mission is to have Americans “pray for America, our president, our national leaders and our armed forces.” (Ibid) This is not about the Constitution’s separation of Church and State, but the service – and subservience — of Religion to the State. Here religion’s traditional prophetic role of speaking reality and moral truth to political power has disappeared.

Pray for the nation’s “healthcare workers” and “first responders”? Of course! And one way to pray for them is to stay at home and practice social distancing. And certainly pray also for the victims of the coronavirus and their families.

“Pray – as strongly as ever — for President Trump?” People of faith should be confronting him and members of his administration for their pursuit of political power at the expense of the safety of Americans. Trump should be held accountable for the loss of countless American lives, not lifted up in prayer.

The critical presidential election is in November. “What the hell do you have to lose?”

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Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.  

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