WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about Covid-19 vaccines for children, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 21, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Also pictured, L-R, are Arsema Desta, Site Lead at Anacostia/Congress Heights COVID Center, and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Covid-19 vaccines for children under 5 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signed off on the decision over the weekend and children can start getting the shots beginning this week. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing mild symptoms. This news arrived as the nation continued to experience yet another wave of the highly contagious virus with few to no mitigation efforts or policies in place. 

In 2021, when former President Donald Trump left office—against his will despite having lost—about 400,000 people in the U.S. had officially died of COVID-19. For most of Trump’s reign, there were no vaccines for COVID-19; they only began to be used in the final weeks of his administration, and their benefits had not yet been widely felt. Indeed, for the first few months of the pandemic, there hadn’t been very effective therapeutics at all; in New York City, the death toll grew so quickly, they had to use refrigerated trucks as temporary morgues, and people in jail were asked to dig mass graves for the bodies.

Trump was a cartoon villain of COVID mendacity, running around the country hosting maskless rallies; when he himself contracted the novel coronavirus and was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he went out for a joyride when he should have been quarantining. 

Meanwhile, throughout 2020, then-presidential candidate Biden campaigned that he’d be better than Trump on the pandemic: that he cared deeply (perhaps because he’d experienced so much death in his own family personally), that he’d restore “the soul of our nation,” and that his administration would “follow the science.” 

The Biden team and the Democratic-controlled Congress did come in throwing everything they had at getting people vaccinated and put much more money into doing so than the Republicans probably would have. But their approach quickly devolved into a vaccine-only strategy, and their attitude about funding ongoing mitigation efforts have embraced COVID downplaying and denial. 

“I’m actually pleased to see the pandemic is not top of mind,” Dr. Ashish Jha, President Biden’s Covid coordinator, told The New York Times. “It means we’re making progress. The last thing I want as the Covid response coordinator is for us to get back to the point where Covid dominates our lives in scary ways.”

Biden’s team, and Biden himself, stopped engaging in non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), with the president hosting a maskless State of the Union. While sending tens of billions of dollars to Ukraine, and while passing the largest military budget ever—for more than $800 billion, clocking in at tens of billions more than Trump’s administration had ever asked for—Biden and the Democratic-controlled congress failed to pass their last $15 billion COVID spending bill. This means that people without insurance can no longer receive free testing or treatment for COVID-19, despite the fact that they are more likely to get, become seriously sick from, and die from it. 

This result has been deadly. While 400,000 people in the U.S. died under Trump, more than 600,000 have died since under Biden. 

Which means that for every two people who died under Trump, more than three have died under Biden. 

How the hell did this happen? 

It is not just that Biden has presided over the pandemic for longer than Trump did; remember, Trump didn’t really even have vaccines to stem the death, and vaccines alone don’t abate this genocidal disaster. 

As soon as Biden assumed office, many establishment liberals and much of the mainstream media—who are unable to think outside of a “Democrats good, Republicans bad” binary—stopped caring about the pandemic. Also, on behalf of their corporate owners, many newsrooms actively pushed for a “return to normal.” And, as I argue in my forthcoming book, regardless of which party is running the U.S. government, there are multiple ways America perpetually creates what I call a “viral underclass.” But for many journalists, it was easier to view Trump as an abnormal monster who made the pandemic so bad, rather than to wrestle with how it is our American way of life that initially made the pandemic more deadly in the U.S. than in any other country on earth, and which continues to make us have the most deaths of any nation. 

When Biden became president, the death rates did drop as mass vaccination took off, but he and the Democrats have asked for too much of vaccines and have failed on many other fronts, including failing to pay people to isolate for 10 days (and to be paid to rest and recover for longer if needed); failing to upgrade ventilation in public spaces (while urging local governments to spend federal COVID money hiring more police); and failing to pay for the uninsured to get tested and treated. Even when a federal judge appointed by Trump rescinded the CDC’s order that people had to be masked on public transportation, the Biden White House failed to fight it or even ask for an emergency injunction while they appealed the ruling.

And while the White House has pushed a narrative that it’s up to everyone to exercise personal responsibility to stop the ongoing pandemic (an exercise in folly that could never work), Biden has also failed to use the power of the “bully pulpit” to even do that. The consequence of flying around the world, gathering indoors with hundreds of people, just as maskless as Trump, has resulted in the nearly 80-year-old president testing positive for a deadly virus. President Biden has modeled that it is safe for octogenarians to do the same when it most definitely is not

Meanwhile, the vaccination apparatus the U.S. put together with spit, tape, prayer, and the volunteer labor of millions has been passively and actively dismantled, allowing us to slowly become an unvaccinated nation. For vaccines wane, and over time, being unboosted equals being unvaccinated. By December 2021, only 30% of the nation had been boosted; thus, because vaccines’ power and the use of NPIs were both higher in the summer of 2021, we are in more collective danger now that the vaccines are losing strength and we have almost no NPIs. This happened concurrently with the CDC changing the maps of how to assess risk, leaving people looking at green maps (with data that would have made them red a year ago) and perceiving that we are at much less risk while we are at more. 

When the U.S. hit its official count of 1 million COVID-19 deaths, Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff for five days and then seemed to hope everyone would be too selfish or demoralized to care anymore. 

Biden failed to get tests and masks to people before last winter’s surge. He has failed to enact, or even personally model, NPIs. He’s failed to do infrastructure upgrades or to provide economic support that would help the poor weather this pandemic, such as keeping the child tax credit, ending student debt, or raising the minimum wage. 

He’s restored the soul of nothing and only followed the science if it didn’t hamper commerce. 

The result? 

Biden hasn’t just put his own life in danger: his body count for the virus will always be far more significant than venal Trump’s. Right now, about 440 people in the U.S. a day are dying of COVID-19. If it holds, that will mean about 13,000 more people will die every month, about 160,000 a year on Biden’s watch.

And for this, Biden and the Democrats should be forever ashamed.

Steven W. Thrasher

Steven W. Thrasher, PhD, is a professor of public health, LGBTQ+ studies, and journalism at Northwestern University, and the author of The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide,...