After 1 Million Deaths, Accountability Essential for America’s Coronavirus Criminals and Profiteers 

Interview with John Nichols, The Nation magazine's national affairs correspondent and author of Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiteers, conducted by Scott Harris

The coronavirus pandemic, now in its third year, has killed over 1 million Americans, with the World Health Organization estimating that the global death toll is nearly 15 million. Among all wealthy nations, the U.S. has the highest Covid-19 deaths per capita.

There’s extensive evidence that President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others in the administration’s Cabinet deliberately sabotaged the federal pandemic response, based in part on gaining perceived political advantage. According to the Lancet Commission on Public Policy and Health, about 40 percent of the nation’s coronavirus deaths could have been prevented if the U.S. average death rate matched other industrialized nations. The Lancet report specifically cited Donald Trump’s “inept and insufficient” response to the pandemic.

In his new book, “Coronavirus Criminals and Pandemic Profiteers: Accountability for Those Who Caused The Crisis,” The Nation magazine’s national affairs correspondent John Nichols calls out politicians across the political spectrum and corporate executives who profited politically or financially from the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Nichols, who reviews who was at fault and why the nation must hold these men and women accountable for their crimes.

JOHN NICHOLS: It’s jaw-dropping to me that Donald Trump was impeached twice, once for his strong-arming of Ukraine, which of course has come back to haunt. And then a second time for his strong-arming of the United States as regards to an attempted coup to overturn an election result, both legitimate impeachments, no question of that. But it’s sort of amazing to me that Donald Trump hasn’t been, or wasn’t impeached for his handling of COVID, which was by any measure, an incredibly — not just irresponsible and politically — crude approach. It was deadly. According to the Lancet studies, 40 percent of the deaths in that first year of COVID in the United States were effectively unnecessary. And what Lancet, the British medical journal determined, was that was the level of death in the United States was above the rate of death that the U.S. should have had if it had just handled the pandemic in the way that on average other countries did.

You look at Trump and he set the tone without a doubt. And obviously, he sent the signals within his administration. There’s no question in my mind that he is personally responsible for, you know, hundreds of thousands of people dying unnecessarily, for millions of people getting sick unnecessarily and for tens of millions of people going through economic and social hardships that continue to haunt us. So there’s no end to the accountability that he should face.

SCOTT HARRIS: Let’s talk about Vice President Mike Pence. He was actually given that portfolio of managing the pandemic crisis.

JOHN NICHOLS: That’s right. And he was supposedly also the adult in the room. Now that’s an absurd concept. There’s no suggestion really by anybody who knows Pence, that he was any more mature or any more functional than Donald Trump. Pence’s political career as a hack who served some time in Congress, then as a governor was a disastrous governor. And then because he was facing the prospect of not getting re-elected in Indiana, decided to join Trump’s ticket at a low point for Trump and ended up as vice president still because he knew how to wear his suit properly and, you know, kind of keep quiet at the right time. Things of that nature. It was assumed that when Pence was put in charge of COVID, that he would handle it responsibly. The reality is, as I write about in the book, Pence has a long history of mishandling healthcare issues and of dramatically undermining public health responses in part because of his extreme positions rooted in being a far-right social conservative and also because of his close relationships with pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry. And so bottom line was that he was not the right person to put in charge.

SCOTT HARRIS: To date, I believe there has been zero accountability for any of these policymakers who are responsible according to these studies from the Lancet and other universities who study this thoroughly responsible for hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. What about accountability? You talked about the Pecora Commission under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that the Senate had investigated the 1929 Wall Street Crash. And is that a model that could be followed? It doesn’t look likely that it’s gonna go forward in this Congress, but what could happen potentially that would hold the folks accountable so there’s not a repeat of this irresponsible and reckless way that this pandemic was mismanaged?

JOHN NICHOLS: There has been no accountability. It’s stunning. In my mind, I outline a number of different forms of accountability that matter. First and foremost, there’s criminal accountability. And, there is simply no question that Trump and others around him were criminally negligent. And it’s certainly worthy to have investigations, which a Pecora- style commission, much like what Roosevelt had an the Congress had at the early stages of the Great Depression to look into the bankers and wrongdoers. Something like that would be very, very appropriate. There’s also civil liability and Scott that’s really important. There’s so many people who were put in dangerous or deadly situations, their lives either risked and in some cases lost. There are families that have every reason to sue corporations and governmental entities over this. And they should finally though, I’ll talk about congressional accountability and that congressional accountability or the official accountability can take two forms.

One is impeachment and sanctions, things of that nature, which are quite appropriate. But the other one that I I’ve really been emphasizing a lot is taxation. Taxation is a form of accountability. America’s billionaires started the pandemic in control of about $3 trillion. As of today, they control about $5 trillion. There was an exponential increase of wealth on the part of the billionaire class at the exact same time, but they were telling everybody else they had to engage in shared sacrifice. It is absurd to let them keep that wealth. They should be taxed at the same level that we taxed war profiteers during World War II, which is at around 90 percent.

The same goes for corporations, including the pharmaceutical companies, which have cashed in and, and made huge fortunes, even though many of the strategies for approaching the pandemic came not from their research or anything like that, but from the public sector. If we don’t have accountability, we run the risk of having another pandemic where the profiteers and the politicians end up treating us as pawns in the game. And we really can’t afford that because we’ve got a million people dead and the next pandemic could cost a lot more lives.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with John Nichols (18:06) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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