More than 568,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States. That total includes 7,100-plus in Mississippi and 98 in Oktibbeha County.
If more than half a million deaths seems small to you, consider this: From December 1941 to August 1945, about 419,000 Americans died in World War II. COVID-19, by comparison, has killed 26 percent more people in just 13 months.
Yet, to hear Ward 1 Starkville Alderman Ben Carver tell it, the virus “just isn’t that deadly.” Well, if comparative math holds any meaning for Carver, let’s not book him to speak at any VFWs on Memorial Day.
Math doesn’t seem to be the driving force behind Carver’s insistence that COVID is overblown and mask-wearing mandates have been an unnecessary infringement on citizens’ rights. Science isn’t playing much of a factor either. Nor is compassion or common sense.
For Carver, it seems he either simply doesn’t get it or he’s pandering to a base of self-righteous, individual freedom zealots he hopes make up a large enough swath of his ward to re-elect him in June.
His political calculations may very well prove helpful to his campaign brand. But it doesn’t make it right when he so consistently and cavalierly values how he feels about masks over public health and safety. Assuming his Sunday school teachers over the years have ever read their Bible past Leviticus, then the “let ‘em eat COVID” mentality Carver applies to the general citizenry here surely makes them cringe with disappointment. Or maybe it doesn’t.
This brand of right-wing politics has been breeding for years to a point where it’s become vogue to be callous and selfish. In some circles, being elected to public office at all depends on selling out to an “Us vs. Them” where “our” freedoms are the only ones that matter, and more the better if observing them exacts a price on “them.”
The first time I really saw this in action on a local level was in a Facebook comment 10 years ago. A person with whom I attended church, who worked in a public position and someone I considered to be reasonable, posted unironically, “Everyone is entitled to their own facts.” Not opinion. Facts.
Boy, did I laugh at the time. I’m certainly not anymore.
This way of thinking is very simple. If you don’t like science, it’s not real. If you don’t want your stride to be hindered by a deadly pandemic, then it’s a hoax. If the government wants you to wear a mask, well then you say they don’t work and refuse. If your candidate loses a presidential election, then the election was rigged.
Then you use confirmation bias to source it, repeat it to as many people as possible, yell and scream at those who are wearing masks because you don’t agree with them, and, you know, possibly storm the U.S. Capitol in an effort to hang the Vice President of the United States.
Whether Carver is a true believer in “me before you” philosophy or if he’s just looking to profit from it is immaterial. Either way, he added an odd exclamation point to his entrenched position on masks Tuesday when — after months of pounding the table and proclaiming his disdain for the mask mandate — he voted against ending it April 30. Why? Because he wasn’t going to support a measure to lift a ban at any point other than immediately. In other words, give Carver what he wants exactly when he wants it or he doesn’t want it at all.
To top it off, he repeated bad science claiming masks were ineffective in curbing the spread of the virus, adding later the bit about the deaths evidently not being significant enough for public mitigation efforts.
So, how many deaths do you need, Ben, to make it significant enough for your campaign? A reported 11 million or so died in the Holocaust, assuming you believe that happened (and let’s be honest, we’ve established very little here is “safe to assume”).
A better exercise might be bringing the loved ones of the 98 Oktibbeha Countians who died from COVID-19 to the next board of aldermen meeting. During the citizen comment period, they can take turns telling Carver, “COVID was ‘deadly enough’ for my family.”
Zack Plair is managing editor of The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]