Malign Neglect or Depraved Indifference?

On September 22, the United States recorded its 200,000th death from Covid19. Since then, the death rate has accelerated so that in eight short weeks another 50,000 men, women and some children have died. At this rate–and we have no reason to assume that it will decelerate–by Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, we will have surpassed 300,000 deaths. It may be then that within a matter of a few months more than 400,000 Americans will have died from Covid—surpassing the number of Americans killed in World War II.

We now know that some substantial portions of these deaths could have been avoided if a competent, caring government had acted with dispatch. We had no such government. Instead, we had a government leader who initially tried to cover up the extent and lethality of the virus that he had been warned in January posed a serious threat to our population. Instead, he took a public position that all was well, that the situation was well in hand and there was no cause for alarm. We know now that those assurances were false When the person in charge of the government, the man responsible with marshalling the federal government’s response, failed to use all the legal tools and power at his disposal, the pandemic—rather than ebbing as he blithely predicted it would—exploded. He took no action—dramatic or otherwise. And now, in the ninth month of our experience with the pandemic, he has turned his back on it and focussed instead on trying to find a way to reverse the election he has lost. One more fiction on top of the thousands he has pushed since taking office in 2017.

Malign neglect is just a term indicating that in response to a problem, one ignores it with negative consequences. Depraved indifference is different. It is a legal term, and can be charged as a crime. Here is a description of it:

“To constitute depraved indifference, the defendant’s conduct must be so wanton, so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so lacking in regard for the life or lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes a crime. Depraved indifference focuses on the risk created by the defendants conduct, not the injuries actually resulting.”

At the same time that little or nothing is being done at the federal level to alleviate the damage being done by the pandemic, the current administration seems bent on undermining our economy and national security. Administration officials responsible for planning the distribution of a Covid vaccine when it arrives are not being permitted to talk to anyone representing the incoming Biden administration. Treasury secretary Steven Menuchin is discontinuing a program conducted in coordination with the Federal Reserve designed to facilitate loans to businesses and local governments, despite the objection of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. President-elect Biden is not receiving intelligence briefings because the current President will not concede his loss or permit the transition to officially begin.

We have gone from panic to anger to numbed resignation, counting the days until this nightmare ends and we can look to the federal government to do its job. It would be comforting to know that that will be the end of it, but it won’t be. Joe Biden received almost 80 million votes, more than anyone in American history; but his opponent received almost 74 million votes, almost 11 million more than he received in 2016. Clearly tens of millions of Americans were prepared to have the incumbent continue for another four years. He has made it quite clear that he is not going away. And whatever the reasons for his popularity with a minority—but a huge minority—of the American public, they will not disappear either.

Another revelation has been the cowardly fecklessness of Republican senators and members of Congress. They have either aided and abetted the President, or for the most part remained silent in public while reportedly expressing sentiments ranging from dismay to disgust and disapproval in private.

But I digress. My main question, simply put, is: Can Donald Trump be charged with murder? Or manslaughter? Is this, in fact, a case of depraved indifference? His actions, or lack thereof, certainly seem to fit the definition of depraved indifference. Were he a lesser official charged with responsibility for the well being of perhaps a dozen human beings and they died under his care and supervision, a competent prosecutor could reasonably be expected to bring charges against him. And while we’re at it, let’s stop calling his aides and assistants “enablers,” and call them what in fact they are: accomplices. Any one, or combination, of them could have acted to speak up and try to preserve the lives of so many who have died. And if they were fired for acting without authorization from the top, then so be it. They would have tried to do the right thing, instead of doing nothing.

I have said this before, and I’m not alone in this observation. These past four years have been a sobering epiphany in how thin is the democratic veneer of order and civility in our society. The so-called institutional checks and balances embedded in the Constitution don’t work when the responsible office-holders fail to act in the manner that the document’s drafters understandably assumed they would. Has human nature changed since the founding of our republic? The Founding Fathers understood the uses and dangers in the exercise of power. That’s one of the reasons they designed our government as they did. And it seemed to work fairly well, if not terribly efficiently (and that may have been the point) for more than two hundred years. Until now. And this is not the first time in our history that millions of Americans have been aggrieved and alienated from our society. Franklin Roosevelt came along at just the right moment to give voice to the anger and suffering of millions of Americans. He moved the institutions of government to enact change, not for his own benefit or for the enrichment of his class, but for the greater good. Who can honestly claim that that’s what Donald Trump represents? He may be voicing the anger and frustration of those 70 plus million who voted for him, but he hasn’t done anything significant to address their grievances or alleviate their pain.

And, now in 60 1/2 days he will be out of office, but not gone—but also no longer immune from prosecution.

2 Comments

  1. David Greenberg on January 7, 2021 at 10:53 am

    The revelation that “depraved indifference” is actually a criminal offence has given me hope that he will finally be called to answer for this crime. I am writing on the day after the congressional mob scene, June 7, and I realize that you almost foresaw this aberration. So, maybe there is hope that justice will prevail…indite the mutherfucker…! NOW!

    • Lawrence Meyer on January 7, 2021 at 1:57 pm

      Language, David. You’re on camera.

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