“The New Yorker” Goes All In on Our Precious Bodily Fluids

The names of 2,977 people are engraved on the bronze parapets of the 9/11 Memorial at 180 Greenwich Street in Manhattan, and the entire footprint of the Twin Towers is now part of a great national place of remembrance. As a New Yorker at the time, I remember making my way down to the site in the first few weeks afterwards to bear witness to what had just happened and to honor the dead, the acrid smell of the gigantic pile of rubble burning in my nose, attaching itself to my clothes.

Over 20 years later, that September day retains a singular importance in recent American history. We not only remember the dead; we have handsomely compensated the surviving families, with President Biden signing a bill at last year’s end sending $2.7 billion to the nearly 6,000 spouses and children of those who died that fall morning.

When we neared the mark of 100,000 deaths from this pandemic, The New York Times devoted the entire front page to the names of the dead. When we hit half a million in 2021, there was a graphic in the center above the fold commemorating the loss. A map across the whole front page marked the threshold of a million American deaths in May 2022, tracing the swath of sorrow cut across the country in a million tiny dots on the page. As a nation, we have spent over $5 trillion on the pandemic, just in congressional spending alone.

Sing a song of forgetting…
Sing of not remembering when
Of memories that go unremembered and then…
—from Next to Normal (Yorkey & Kitt, 2008)

Reactionary Centrism

Last week alone, nearly 4,000 people in the United States died of Covid-19. The toll has been at a similar level since last summer: a 9/11’s worth of deaths every week to 10 days. And yet, where we once remembered, all we want to do now is forget. Yes, some advocated for “the urgency of normal” even at the height of the Omicron surge; high-profile figures like David Leonhardt at The New York Times and Leana Wen in The Washington Post endorsed these views—but it was hard to ignore the vast toll of the dead last winter, even if Leonhardt assured us that “Omicron was milder.” But something is different now.

A flurry of pieces in mainstream, prestige media outlets like The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Washington Post—followed by some admiring posts on social media from clinicians who should know better—took things a few steps further at the end of 2022. These commentators suggested that those who refuse to forget, move on, and stop paying attention to the pandemic are “holdouts,” “hardliners,” adherents to a “fringe politics”—and, an appellation almost too silly to write, “communists.” The implication is that people who still care—or care too much—are beyond the pale, and also, perhaps, harboring a touch of danger in what they represent.


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