Gen. Colin Powell died this morning at the age of 84. What a life that was. In his later years, Powell became enmeshed in partisan politics, and younger people may remember him for that. But for most of his life, he was much bigger than mere politics.
If you’re old enough to recall the first Gulf War, you know that Colin Powell was one of the last public officials that most Americans believed in. Powell’s life, his story, seemed to confirm everything that was good about this country. Powell grew up in the South Bronx, a son of immigrants from Jamaica. In 1958, he received his commission in the U.S. Army. At that time, much of the country was living under Jim Crow laws, but Colin Powell thrived regardless. He served two tours in Vietnam with distinction. He went on to advise presidents, and in the end, he made it all the way to the top of the U.S. military. After he retired, he became secretary of state.
Toward the end of his life, Powell sometimes said that his remarkable career was proof that affirmative action worked, but it always seemed like a halfhearted talking point. Anyone who knew Powell personally can confirm that he was as impressive as any person in the U.S. government and far more than most of them. He was legitimately smart, deeply knowledgeable about the world. He was openly patriotic. He was hardly a diversity hire. He was so obviously superior to a lot of the people around him. When the supposedly brilliant Harvard-educated neocons in the Bush administration assured us that the occupation of Iraq would be quick and simple. Colin Powell knew better. He may have gone to lowly City College, but he was smarter and wiser than they were. Unlike other people in Washington, Colin Powell got where he was on merit, and that was inspiring to watch. Powell’s success meant that our system worked. Our system was meritocratic at the time. It elevated the best. Thirty years ago, our meritocracy was the country’s unifying principle. All Americans were proud of it. Colin Powell embodied it.
A lot has changed in the years since, and that’s one of the reasons that Colin Powell’s death tonight is so poignant. Like almost everyone his age, Colin Powell was fully vaccinated against COVID, and yet, according to his family and doctors, Colin Powell died of COVID. Of course, that fact does not make his death any less sad. Nor is it unusual. Many thousands of vaccinated Americans have died of COVID. Former CDC Director Robert Redfield announced just today that about 40% of all recent COVID deaths in the state of Maryland, for example, are among those who have had both shots.
So what does that tell you exactly? What tells you you’ve been lied to? Vaccines may be highly useful for some people, but across the population, they do not solve COVID. That’s not speculation. It is an observable fact. People have been fully vaccinated can still get the virus. They can still transmit the virus to others, and they can still die from COVID. Colin Powell is hardly the only example of that.
So the question is why are they telling us otherwise? And the answer is simple. They’re telling us that to divide us from each other, to set the country against itself. That’s been going on for a long time, but it never needed to happen. There’s no inherent reason that a virus should rip apart the United States. COVID easily could have brought us together. Shared suffering often does that – 9/11 did that.
And yet, from the very beginning, demagogues, like Joe Biden and many others have used this virus as a hammer to smash the bonds that connect Americans to one another. During last year’s presidential campaign, Joe Biden, repeatedly and always with a straight face, told us that every single American who died from COVID died because of Donald Trump’s negligence. That’s not an overstatement. Every single one. Just look at the data, Biden said. But there were no data that was false, and yet no public health official contradicted Joe Biden. Now, Biden is telling us that the only reason people are still dying from COVID is because stubborn, mostly working-class Americans won’t submit to his shot.
Only the unvaccinated are dying, Biden claims. And yet, at the very same time, Biden tells us that the unvaccinated somehow threaten the lives of the vaccinated. It’s not logical. It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s not simply divisive. It’s absurd. And still, some percentage of the terrified population believes it. He’s the president, after all, and you see the effect of that everywhere. People, you know in love and for you that you can’t come to the wedding, you can’t come to the funeral, you’re not invited to the birthday party unless you’ve had the vaccine. They’re afraid of you. They can’t explain why they’re afraid of you. The president told them that you are dangerous and so they’re afraid.
The question is, over time, what does that do to your most cherished relationships, to your friendship, to your family relationships? What does it do to the country? It means that at the very deepest level, below the level of law, the level of your own neighborhood, at the level of your own family. America has once again become what it was when Colin Powell got his commission in the Army. America has become segregated not between Black and White, but between vaccinated and unvaccinated, clean and unclean.
The question is, how long will this go on and how long once it ends, will it take for us to recover? That’s impossible to know now, but we do know that it’s a tragedy and it did not happen by accident. A small group of credentialed partisans did this on purpose.
Anthony Fauci: It is, as we said, a pandemic and an outbreak of the unvaccinated
Rochelle Walensky: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
Jen Psaki: As Dr. Walensky said earlier today, this is really becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
Joe Biden: We still have a long way to go. The fact is this has been a pandemic of the unvaccinated, unvaccinated
This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, they all repeat that line just as they’ve been told to. But that claim is a lie. This is not a pandemic of the unvaccinated. It never was that. This is a pandemic of the Chinese government born in a lab in Wuhan and brought here either accidentally or not. That’s the fact of it. COVID is not and never was something the average American wanted or caused. Trump didn’t bring it here. Neither did his voters. No one deserves to die from the coronavirus, no matter who they voted for. Failing to support Joe Biden’s orders is not a death penalty offense.
Now you’d think that would all be very obvious, but suddenly it doesn’t seem obvious. You’ll read that some plumber in Wichita was choked to death from COVID alone in a hospital bed, and then you watch as the blue checks and social media celebrate his death. He wasn’t vaccinated. They’ll tell you he deserved it. Some preacher in Florida will die, leaving behind not just a grieving family, but tweets skeptical of the COVID vaccine, and then suddenly his death becomes a neat little morality play performed at maximum volume for the rest of us. See, this is what you get.
This is the most corrosive possible way to approach the deaths of fellow Americans, but the president himself joins in gleefully. He scolds these people, these otherwise decent Americans as they die alone in agony. How dare they take up the space in our hospital, Biden says, they’re occupying the beds of worthy patients, people who followed instructions and therefore deserve health care. People who deserve to live.
Pause for a moment and think about that, we don’t think about it enough, but we should. Colin Powell followed the instructions. He did what Joe Biden asked. So did 40% of fully vaccinated people who recently died in Maryland. They all died anyway. So what are we to make of their deaths since every death is now a morality tale? Are those deaths more or less tragic than the passing of the disobedient plumber in Wichita or the preacher in Waco? In fact, they’re all the same in their significance and in their effect.
People cried when these people died, people who love them, vaccinated or not. Every life matters. Every single one, every death is sad. That’s obvious, it’s the most basic fact of the human condition. How do we forget that? Because they told us to forget it. And the irony, of course, is the people telling us to forget that and treat our fellow Americans as criminals who deserve to die, clearly don’t mean a single word that they are saying. They are not sincere. They’re not interested ultimately in our health. They are fixated on maximizing their own power. And we know that because of the distance between what they say and what they do. That’s always how you know.
Recall when Joe Biden told us it was not simply wrong or unhygienic, it was unpatriotic not to wear a surgical mask.
Joe Biden: We’ve been calling on governors and mayors and local officials, Republicans, Democrats, institute mask mandates within their jurisdictions // We need everyone to do their part for themselves. For their loved ones, and, yes, for your country. It’s a patriotic duty.
It’s a patriotic duty to follow my instructions, which are completely disconnected from any actual science or medical guidance. There’s no evidence that works. There never has been any evidence that works. And yet Joe Biden just told you, if you don’t do what he says, you’re a bad American, OK, he must really mean it, does he?
Well, let’s see. This weekend, Joe Biden and his wife strolled through an upscale restaurant in Washington, Fiola Mare, without wearing masks. Now they did that in violation of the city’s indoor mask mandate, the one that he approves of. It’s all on video, we’re not making it up. But Biden didn’t feel he was caught. He’s the president of the United States. He knew he would be filmed as he walked through the restaurant, but he didn’t wear a mask. Why? Because masks are for servants, and he’s the president. He’s not a servant.
As if to confirm that attitude, which is real, this afternoon his flack told reporters that Joe Biden has nothing to apologize for. He’ll be fine for violating the law. He’s above the law. He will suffer no consequences for flouting a law that you would be entangled in. Now, you’re probably not shocked by that, because we’ve seen it so very often. Just a few weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi and her donors dined without masks as masked servants shuffled behind them. Sandy Cortez did the same. She paraded, around a gala at the met her face stark naked as her attendants covered their faces, maybe in shame. Last week, the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, was photographed maskless indoors, once again violating CDC guidelines that he specifically promised to enforce at that event, but didn’t for himself. Was he embarrassed? No, of course not. Because that’s not the point.
Stopping the spread of COVID is not the point. Dividing the country into rulers and the ruled is the point. And if that’s not obvious now nearly two years in, we don’t know what to tell you. It’s all around us. Hours ago, Terry McAuliffe is running for governor in Virginia – the election is in a month. He’s got a lot to lose. Stacey Abrams was with him, Stacey Abrams, by the way, at very high risk of COVID complications due to what they call underlying comorbidities. The two of them were photographed embracing totally unmasked. Now, both of them, of course, have demanded mask mandates for their subjects. It’s unpatriotic not to comply. But it goes without saying that they exempt themselves.
As if to continue. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot violated her own mask mandate at the WNBA Finals just yesterday. Here’s a picture of her maskless in a massive crowd. Once again, Lori Lightfoot wasn’t caught. She uploaded that picture of herself to social media. It wasn’t an accident. She knew what she was doing. here she was in August, telling her to wear masks indoors. This is what you’re saying to her subjects.
Lori Lightfoot: We are encouraging people that are inside to wear a mask. That’s consistent with the CDC guidance, and we believe that that is the right guidance. (edit) Inside, just as you all are here today mask up. That’s critically important
It’s critically important for you, but not for me. So this is the fundamental divide in the country, this is what happens while the rest of us nodded along as if we were meant to take those orders, literally. We have a division medical apartheid. We have rules. But some people have exempted themselves from the rules and they’re not ashamed of it. And that’s how you know what it is. It’s not hypocrisy. It’s hierarchy.
At least one member of Congress is saying it absolutely out loud. At a campaign event earlier this month in Detroit, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan explained that she only wears masks for the camera. Keep in mind as you watch this, that Rashida Tlaib demands that your child wears a mask in school for eight hours a day.
Unmasked attendee: Thank you so much for coming out. I appreciate it. //
Unmasked attendee: Oh my bad, sorry (thinking he’s disrespectful for not wearing a mask) Oh, I thought you were like, oh wait, he’s the one unmasked guy.
Rashida Tlaib: No, no, no – I’m just wearing it because I’ve got a Republican tracker here.
So you’re at danger of getting COVID or more ominously, spreading it to the elderly, to the vulnerable if you don’t wear a mask. But we who make the rules, are at no such danger and have no such obligation to protect the vulnerable. And the same goes for vaccines. If you don’t follow orders and get the vaccine, you’re causing COVID, even though when you look at the numbers, there’s no evidence of that.
So what are we looking at? We’re not looking at a response to a health emergency. We’re looking at a system of government that is changing very fast. One in which laws explicitly do not apply to the people who make the laws. One in which the only way to have a normal life, one where you can walk around outside with your face showing is to declare your allegiance to the right political party and to have political power. Now, this is all starting to seem normal now, but it’s not normal. It is, in fact, brand new.
Colin Powell, whatever you think of him, didn’t grow up in a country like this. And you don’t want your children to grow up in one, either.