I’m of the generation that was born during World War II.

We’re now in our mid-to-late 70s. We were a little pre-boomer, but many of us joined or led the rights revolutions of the 1960s, struggled against the Vietnam War, and hoped to make the world more just, generous, and joyous.

That was then.

Now, inexplicable though this seems to me, we usually tilt Republican. But that may be changing. Polls now show the president trailing Joe Biden by double digits among seniors.

Why? Perhaps it’s because, for Donald Trump, we’re simply expendable.

As President Trump’s bungled response to the pandemic has become more evident, our cohort, even including the conservatives among us, has seen that the price of Trump’s failure of leadership is death.

It was March when Texas Republican leader Dan Patrick set out the GOP’s go-gently-into-the-night approach to elders. He proposed it would be noble for us to take our chances on death by coronavirus if that’s what it takes to keep the economy humming, which Trump and the Republicans saw as the key to re-election.

What could possibly be more important?

At the time, fewer than 500 Americans had died of COVID-19. Now, seven months later, well over 220,000 Americans have succumbed due to Trump’s mishandling of the contagion. Eighty percent of the dead were over 65.

When a deadly infection flames across an entire nation like a wildfire, the times demand leadership. Trump ran the other way.

When difficulties arose with our coronavirus testing, he declared: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” When shortages of PPE and medical materials plagued the states, he told governors on a conference call this spring: “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves. We’re not a shipping clerk.”

Trump had no plan for the pandemic then, and he doesn’t have one now. He recently told supporters in Arizona he was “tired” of talking about the pandemic.

But then no plan is needed, in Trump’s considered opinion, since the pandemic is a “hoax.” The virus, he has counseled, is “totally harmless” in 99 percent of cases. “Don’t be afraid of COVID-19,” he offered. “When you catch it, you get better.”

Of course, 220,000 people died and will never get better. Such people are, in the presidential view, apparently not worth thinking about.

Trump explained this last month: Coronavirus “affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems and other problems . . . That’s it. You know, in some states, thousands of people, nobody young.”

His words of comfort to younger voters: It’s only your parents and grandparents who will die.

But Trump’s response is even worse than ignorant denial, neglect, and indifference. For months Trump aggressively campaigned against the efforts of public health authorities to control the virus, dividing the country and sabotaging their efforts to control the pandemic.

Doctors, epidemiologists, and public health officers all prescribed social distancing, wearing masks, and business and school suspensions as the way to prevent millions of deaths.

But Trump instructed his fervid followers not to bother observing the precautions, even encouraging armed demonstrations against public health rules. He recruited and deployed tens of millions of potential carriers of contagion.

A nation divided between those doing what it takes to contain an epidemic and those who selfishly flout necessary precautions cannot hold a pandemic in check. And so the coronavirus expands. Recently, the 12 states with the highest seven-day averages of new cases were all states that had voted for Trump in 2016.

Out here in the real world, COVID-19 is very much to be feared. There is no magic cure and no vaccine. Injecting disinfectant won’t stop it. Neither will denial. And we elders are the likeliest to die because the president is a reckless misleader.

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Mitchell Zimmerman

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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