I started calling him “The Prophet” in 2008 during a tense Congressional hearing about the drug epidemic in Major League Baseball.
With Biblical emphasis, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings scolded the stewards of baseball for tolerating the widespread usage of performance-enhancing drugs during the home-run frolics in the recent generation.
His powerful figure and righteous stance was befitting the prophet who is honored by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“This scandal happened under your watch,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said in “Field of Dreams” gravity to Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr of the players union during the Congressional hearing last Tuesday. “I want that to sink in. It did.”
That’s what I wrote back then, and I followed him from afar as he dominated Congressional hearings during the disgraceful time of Donald J. Trump, trying to motivate see-no-evil Republican representatives with a Biblical exhortation: “We’re better than this.” Amen.
I was horrified to see how weary he appeared during those hearings early in 2019, and I was not surprised when he passed months later. He gave it all he had.
Now Elijah Cummings is returning to Congress, in the form of a portrait by a young Black artist from Baltimore, Jerrell Gibbs. The story of the artist and the work is in the Sunday New York Times and, I am sure, elsewhere.
But are “we” better than this? And who is “we?”
I ask this as Elijah Cummings’ nation seems to be degrading itself, day by day. Just a few examples:
--- A thick swath of adults are refusing to take Covid vaccinations that would protect themselves and their loved ones and other human beings – virus droplets as lethal as, well, bullets.
-- Politicians in many states are conniving to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote.
-- And people are scooping up all forms of rapid-fire guns to prepare for, well, for what?
“I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children” – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Bob Dylan, 1963. (Talk about prophecy.)
Let us swerve to 2021 – in the wake of the Rittenhouse decision in Wisconsin -- when parents in Michigan bought a very lethal pistol for their 15-year-old son.
The boy (“in the hands of young children”) gives off appeals for help, and is ignored by his parents.
His obsession with the weapon is noticed by school officials who, at the very least, notify the mother, whose reaction is to send her son a snarky (sign-of-the-times) text message:
“LOL I’m not mad at you,” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.”
The next day, her son killed four classmates and wounded many others in the high school.
Then she and her husband went on the lam and were flushed out in downtown Detroit.
Now it appears that Mrs. Crumbley wrote a letter to none other than President-elect Trump in 2016, praising his stance on freedom to carry a gun.
“As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms,” she wrote, according to The Daily Beast. “Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
She complained about parents at other schools where the “kids come from illegal immigrant parents” and “don’t care about learning.”
In her own way, Jennifer Crumbley was prophetic. When I read her screed, I began to think of others - young guns, so to speak -- who scorn the country they allegedly serve.
The sneer on the young man’s face reminds me of members of Congress named Gaetz, Hawley, Cawthorn, and the unleashed aggression in the mother’s “LOL” text reminds me of sneering warrior-representatives Greene and Boebert.
Are “we” better than this?
Soon the august presence of Rep. Elijah Cummings will take its place in the Halls of Congress.
I hope his ideals will grace those who walk past.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.