by Tim Wise
There is a virus ravaging America, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of. It has been here for a long time, for much longer than Covid-19. Patient zero would have been present among the nation’s founders perhaps, or even earlier, in the colonies of what would become the United States. It has mutated over time, and some have been struck with more serious symptoms than others who contracted it. But we have all been exposed, no matter the care we have taken to avoid it.
This virus lives in the DNA of the nation, in our history books, our economic policy, our politics. It has roots in our culture and has shaped our worldview. It is a virus so central to America’s existence that it is hard to imagine us without it. Whatever antibodies it provides clearly falter.
It is a virus of indifference to (or active contempt for) broad swaths of humanity. It is the same virus we have occasionally located in other lands while ignoring its presence in our own. And so we said it was over there, in Germany, until we crushed it in the name of a superior system. Nothing more to see.
But it was here. It had always been here. The Hitlerian philosophy of “life unworthy of life” was not German in the least. It was borrowed from this country’s top scholars — eugenicists from the 19th and early 20th centuries who sat atop the nation’s leading academic perches and held forth on the superior and inferior classes of humanity. If anything, Nazism was an act of copyright infringement for which America would likely sue if not for the fact that such action would expose the source of the sickness and make our continued denials untenable.
It is a virus of white supremacy, but not only that. Once you endorse the idea that some — Africans, indigenous North Americans, and others — are disposable, you begin down a slope whose slipperiness will deliver you to a location wherein the notions of superior and inferior cannot be so easily contained.
And so poor white folk can be disposed of as well, as can the old and frail, the sick, the disabled — anyone deemed lesser. Having opted for the creation of a hierarchical taxonomy of human value, one can only hope against hope that the monster, once loosed, can be again harnessed.
And yes, I know, it all sounds hyperbolic. Perhaps some would even think it “un-American” to suggest the ubiquity of such a virus here.
But I can prove it with a simple thought experiment about the present pandemic…