Either some Republicans are really as heartless and uncompassionate as their reputation says they are, or Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is just really bad at math and has no idea what he’s saying.
Neither conclusion is particularly heartening, especially when Senator Johnson and his Republican colleagues still control one of our nation’s two legislative bodies that America is counting on to come up with adequate solutions to the health care capacity issues and the onrushing major depression caused by Donald Trump’s refusal to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously enough and quickly enough to prevent the widespread dissemination of the virus throughout all 50 states.
Senator Johnson was trying to paint a more optimistic picture of the current situation when he spoke to The New York Times and complained that the media was distorting the picture of the coronavirus’ effects by focusing on the extraordinarily high rate of fatalities caused by the virus in comparison to the ordinary flu that Trump was comparing it to just a few short days ago.
“One thing the press has not covered at all is the people who have really recovered,”Johnson, a reliable Trump ally, told The Times. “Right now all people are hearing about are the deaths. I’m sure the deaths are horrific, but the flip side of this is the vast majority of people who get coronavirus do survive.”
Senator Johnson’s sunny “look on the bright side” outlook provides cold comfort for anyone whose grandparent just passed away after catching the deadly respiratory virus.
If that was all Johnson said, one could chalk it up to an attempt to keep spirits up during this trying time, but he continued down a path that proved that his callousness exceeded his mathematical abilities in a followup interview with a home-state newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.
“I’m not denying what a nasty disease COVID-19 can be, and how it’s obviously devastating to somewhere between 1 and 3.4 percent of the population,” Senator Johnson said.
“But that means 97 to 99 percent will get through this and develop immunities and will be able to move beyond this. But we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about. We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu,” he continued.
Craig Gilbert, the Journal Sentinal reporter speaking with Johnson, pushed the senator on his comparison of the coronavirus to the much less deadly common flu and got him to acknowledge that CODID-19 has a much higher death rate, but still, Johnson insisted that “getting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population (and) I think probably far less.”
A death rate of 3.4% sounds like a small fraction, but when you consider the current U.S. population is estimated to be around 327 million, the raw numbers a simple mathematical calculation produces helps you realize that Johnson is dismissing the deaths of 11 million Americans as a small price to pay to keep the U.S. economy humming along nicely for the GOP’s wealthy donors.
If Senator Johnson is so unconcerned about the potential deaths of 11 million Americans, one must ask the question of Wisconsin voters: Is this the man that you want to represent you and your families — including those elderly family members who will be overrepresented in the fatality tolls — as Congress addresses the pressing decisions that the coronavirus crisis presents?
Perhaps only a maximum of 3.4% of Senator Johnson’s constituents would agree that 11 million deaths is an acceptable toll to pay for a stable stock market, but we think it’s probably far less. Even in raw numbers that percentage should be small enough to elect someone new when his term is up in 2022.
Unless, of course, that 3.4% estimate of coronavirus fatalities includes his own death, which would only go to prove that COVID-19 at least has a sense of irony.
Original reporting by Lisa Lerer and