Jason Sattler, Opinion columnist
Published 4:45 p.m. ET Feb. 22, 2021 | Updated 4:49 p.m. ET Feb. 22, 2021
Robert E. Lee’s home, now Arlington National Cemetery, became a final resting place for Union soldiers in 1864. We should follow the Union example.
How can we honor the more than half-million Americans who lost their lives to COVID-19 while marking former President Donald Trump’s shameless failure to “preserve, protect and defend” this country and its Constitution?
Easy. Let’s bury the dead at Mar-a-Lago.
This small measure of justice would have an obvious historical precedent. Arlington, the former home of Robert E. Lee that is now Arlington National Cemetery, became a final resting place for Union soldiers in the spring 1864 — after 82,000 soldiers died in one month of fighting. Who could argue this wasn’t a just punishment? Lee had abandoned his post in the U.S. Army to lead the army of what Frederick Douglass called the “slaveholders’ rebellion.”
Lee’s treachery was obvious. Trump’s crimes against his country, however, are far more devious, and continue as he remains dedicated to undermining our democracy. The ex-president tried to refuse to give up his power, even after he was defeated in a fair election. And you cannot dissect the ex-president’s incitement against Congress, his vice president and our constitutional order from his monstrous approach to the pandemic.
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Instead of embracing a unifying, comprehensive assault against COVID-19, he did all he could to turn his followers against science, their fellow Americans and their own health. Instead of embracing the basic safety measures his own government advised, Trump actively took steps that spread the virus, endangering millions and costing one member of the Secret Service part of his leg.
It’s hard to call Trump’s failures when it came to addressing the pandemic “failures,” since most were intentional. And they began long before the novel coronavirus ever appeared.
Former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Feb. 10, 2021, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In 2018, the same year the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense was disbanded,the Trump administration began gutting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staffing in China. The cuts included “health experts, scientists and other professionals who might have been able to help China mount an earlier response to the novel coronavirus, as well as provide the U.S. government with more information about what was coming,” Reuters reported.
Trump’s team also tossed aside the Obama administration’s 69-page playbook for successfully confronting a pandemic based on learnings from containing Ebola.
Even if health experts had been able to blare a timely alarm directly in Trump’s ear, he likely wouldn’t have listened. He was too busy parroting Chinese government propaganda about the outbreak. He did this until he seemed to realize he had been conned by President Xi Jinping and then stepped up his xenophobic blathering against China, which probably helped fuel an outbreak of hate crimes against Asian Americans.
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Beginning in March, Trump silenced the CDCand continually offered rosy predictions that undermined caution, even as America was hitting a peak of deaths and cases that dwarfed the carnage the country experienced in April. He repeatedlycomplained that we were testing too many people, turned opposition to masking into a cornerstone of the right’s approach to the pandemic, and supported the mobs protesting the restrictions that states put into place to contain the COVID-19 spread.
Trump spent the last month of his presidency ignoring the pandemic and obsessively spreading lies about the election he just lost and trying to overturn the result.
In a speech on Jan. 6, the day President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was scheduled to be finalized, Trump sent his supporters to the U.S. Capitol to “fight” against Congress completing its duty. When the insurrection that Trump’s followers launched was done, five Americans were dead. That day, the United States recorded 3,964 deaths from the virus, a record up until that point. More than 95,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in January alone.
Union set example at Arlington
Even if you don’t agree with the experts from a Lancet Commission stating that Trump’s “inept and insufficient” response made him responsible for about 40% or 200,000 of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States, you cannot deny the horror of Trump’s lies — including accusing medical professionals (who’ve risked their lives and their families’ lives on a daily basis for unending months) of inflating the numbers of deaths for financial gain.
Trump flooded the media with his self-serving malarkey, knowing his followers would believe him. And his followers have paid a severe cost for their faith. According to health care analyst Charles Gaba, the 100 counties with the highest COVID-19 death rates voted for Trump by 21 percentage points.
For some slight measure of justice, we must follow the example the Union set with Arlington.
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Families of COVID-19 victims who cannot afford a decent burial should be offered a chance for their loved ones to become permanent members of Mar-a-Lago, without paying the $200,000 membership fee Trump doubled when he “won” the presidency. There are now over 500,000 COVID deaths in America, and counting. Inspired by the 30 Union soldiers who rest eternally in Mrs. Lee’s rose garden, we should bury as many of them as we can at Mar-a-Lago, until every foot of the property is occupied.
In a just nation, there would be only one monument to Robert E. Lee — Arlington National Ceremony. Likewise, a revamped Mar-a-Lago filled with the literal reminders of the death Trump enabled and mocked would be a just monument to a monumental disaster of a presidency.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP
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