The GOP Never Gave Ray DeMonia a Chance to Survive

Racism, Demagoguery & Political Opportunism are Killing America

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Ray DeMonia of Cullman, Alabama was a good and decent man, an antique collector and auctioneer, beloved by friends and family.  He and his family were vaccinated, so they didn’t have to worry much about Covid.

Two days short of his 74th birthday Ray died of a heart attack that, in and of itself, had nothing to do with Covid.

But that’s only part of the story.

On August 19th, the Mayor of Cullman, Woody Jacobs, declared a state of emergency because the county’s hospital was overwhelmed with unvaccinated Covid patients.  Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and their local hospital had maxxed out its ICU capacity.

Two days later, August 21st, an out-of-town huckster brought 50,000 unmasked and mostly unvaccinated people to this little town of 15,000, kicking off one of the nation’s largest superspreader events.

So when Ray had his heart attack on August 23rd the local hospital was not only overwhelmed and in a state of emergency, but the crisis had spread to hospitals for hundreds of miles around.  Ray showed up there in cardiac crisis and the hospital immediately set about trying to find a bed for him someplace else.  The experience wasn’t pretty.

As his family wrote in his eulogy:  

In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non-COVID related emergencies. Due to COVID 19, CRMC emergency staff contacted 43 hospitals in 3 states in search of a Cardiac ICU bed and finally located one [200 miles away] in Meridian, MS. He would not want any other family to go through what his did.

Ray died a few days later; the delay getting him to Meridian couldn’t have helped.

But that’s only part of the story.

That superspreader event in Cullman was hosted by the nation’s most famous racist in a town that, for about a century, was known as one of hundreds of southern “Sundown Towns.” As in, “N*****, don’t let the sun go down on you here in Cullman,” one of the multiple signs that graced Cullman and many other “Sundown Towns” across the South right up until the 1960s. 

Because Cullman wanted cheap labor back in the day, they allowed Black people into town during sunlight hours.  As sociologist James Loewen wrote, “African Americans who worked as maids and handymen commuted into Cullman in the mid-1950s by carpools,” but by sundown they had to head back to what was originally called “The Colony.”  That’s now the little nearby town of Colony, Alabama and it’s still over 93 percent African American.

The town of Cullman where Ray lived (with no indication whatsoever that he was a racist of any sort) is still largely whites-only, as is all of Cullman County with only a 1.4 percent African American population, pretty much all living in the town of Colony.

But that’s only part of the story.

Let’s never forget that the Trump administration was all gung-ho on getting the pandemic under control from February through early April of 2020.

But then came April 7th of last year when the New York Times ran a front-page story with the headline: Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States.

Other media ran similar headlines across the American media landscape, and it was heavily reported on cable news and the network news that night. Most of the people dying were Black or Hispanic, not white people.

American conservatives responded with a collective, “What the hell?!?”

Limbaugh declared that afternoon that “with the coronavirus, I have been waiting for the racial component.” And here it was. “The coronavirus now hits African Americans harder — harder than illegal aliens, harder than women. It hits African Americans harder than anybody, disproportionate representation.”

Tucker Carlson, the only prime-time Fox News host who’d previously expressed serious concerns about the dangers of the virus, changed his tune the same day, as documented by Media Matters for America.

Now, he said, “we can begin to consider how to improve the lives of the rest, the countless Americans who have been grievously hurt by this, by our response to this. How do we get 17 million of our most vulnerable citizens back to work? That’s our task.”

Brit Hume joined Tucker’s show and, using his gravitas as a “real news guy,” intoned, “The disease turned out not to be quite as dangerous as we thought.”

Left unsaid was the issue of to whom it was “not quite as dangerous,” but Limbaugh listeners and Fox viewers are anything but unsophisticated when it comes to hearing dog-whistles on behalf of white supremacy.

That was the week the Trump administration cancelled their plans to send masks to every American family and started encouraging people to “get back to work!”

Thus, the history of Cullman jumps into clearer relief when you realize that Donald Trump chose that town out of the entire United States for his most recent rally on August 21st to speak to 50,000 people.  

It’s a pretty loud echo of Ronald Reagan’s first 1980 speech after being nominated for president at a county fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi where 3 civil rights workers were notoriously murdered in June of 1964. The theme of Reagan’s speech to the whites-only crowd was “states rights,” then code for a state’s right to enforce racial segregation, and Reagan was endorsed by the Klan just three days before that very speech. 

It was the same county fair where Donald Trump Jr. gave his debut political speech for his father’s 2016 candidacy mentioning Reagan’s appearance there and saying, of the Confederate battle flag, “I believe in tradition. I don’t see a lot of the nonsense that’s been created about that.”

But that’s only part of the story.

America just passed a milestone: one in every 500 Americans has now died of Covid.  We have more Covid cases and more Covid deaths, both per-person and in absolute numbers, than any other country in the world.  Only India, with about 4 times our population, and Brazil, run by “Little Donald Trump” Jair Bolsonaro, even come close.

We’re also the only country in the world where one of the two major political parties has decided it’s to their political advantage to spread the disease around. Republicans are trying to use the pandemic to politically cripple our economy and President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party in anticipation of the upcoming 2022 and 2024 elections.

But that’s only part of the story.

Ten days after Ray DeMonia died, Denmark opened up.  As in totally open.  For business and everything else.  Bars, restaurants, theaters, stores, sports events – everything, completely open. Mask-free.

As AFP reports: “With no masks in sight, buzzing offices and concerts drawing tens of thousands, Denmark on Friday ditches vaccine passports in nightclubs, ending its last Covid curb.”

They celebrated the opening with a concert in Copenhagen for 50,000 people. A safe concert, the first in Europe.

Because there’s no more Covid crisis in Denmark.

Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, Danes wore masks and social distanced. People were respectful and careful.

They’d put a vaccine passport into effect back in March, so by the time Ray was heading to the hospital pretty much everybody in Denmark except the kids were vaccinated. 

Which is how the country stopped the Covid virus dead in its tracks. As of yesterday there were 13 people lingering on ventilators in Denmark.  

In the entire country.  Thirteen people.

And that’s the real story.

America could be open like Denmark, if we’d had a president in 2020 who urged people to take the virus seriously and wear masks and social distance. 

But we didn’t: instead, we had Donald Trump, who was so vain and anxious that an economic slowdown would hurt his reelection chances that he encouraged people to go to work and go shopping and spread Covid far and wide.

America could have been open like Denmark if, this year when President Biden made the vaccine available for free to every teenager and adult in the country, politicians and the media had joined hands with public health officials and the new administration and encouraged everybody over 12 to get the vaccine.

But instead, we had Fox “News” and the GOP, so places like Cullman, Alabama are now overrun with disease and death and hospital workers are frightened, exhausted and in deep despair.

We could be open like Denmark.  And Ray might still be alive, recovering at home with his family. 

Instead, we have Trump, Fox, the GOP and an out-of-control pandemic.

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