This tragedy was preventable. It happened because Republican politicians believe some people are worth more than others

Five hundred thousand deaths can be hard to picture. But we have to try. Imagine, for instance, that everyone in Miami, Colorado Springs or Minneapolis died in the course of a single year. If that seems too absurd, combine the number of Americans who died in the second world war, Korea and Vietnam, then imagine that they too had been killed in a single year, on American soil.

But such thought exercises only get us so far. They help us understand the scale and speed of the coronavirus crisis, but not much else. In particular, they don’t help us appreciate the ways in which death has been unequally distributed across America, and how that has affected society’s response. The disappearance of an entire city would affect a broad cross-section of society, while wars tend to unify the whole nation even as they kill mostly the young. But coronavirus is different, generating neither equal suffering nor equal concern. Instead, it disproportionately kills the elderly, the poor and racial minorities.

Andrew Gawthorpe is a historian of the United States at Leiden University, and host of the podcast America Explained

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