Politics

The Real Lesson of Herman Cain’s Death

For Republicans, Black people’s suffering will always be someone else’s problem.

Cain speaks at a podium on a dark stage
Herman Cain speaks during the final day of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Herman Cain’s last month must have been treacherous.

He spent most of it on a ventilator and unconscious. Less than two weeks after his attendance at a June rally for President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it was confirmed that Cain had contracted the novel coronavirus. While it’s difficult to pinpoint exposure precisely, the campaign gathering—Trump’s first major rally since the pandemic overtook the country in March—was widely discussed as a possible superspreader event for COVID-19. And he’d been traveling recently. He was a high-risk patient due to being a stage 4 cancer survivor, but those close to Cain maintained that he’d spent his last years in good physical health.

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Cain died on July 30. He was 74.

Since his death, the pandemic has passed through its second peak, and spiking case numbers indicate a third is on the horizon. The number of well-known Republicans contracting COVID-19 is increasing as well. The White House has become a hot spot for the virus, and it is sweeping through the House and the Senate. But despite the ever-greater reach of the virus, Cain remains by far the party’s most prominent fatality.

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It’s a death indicative of the racial disparity in America’s adverse coronavirus outcomes. Black Americans experience the highest mortality rate for COVID-19, according to a data analysis by APM Research Lab. That same analysis concludes that Black people are three times as likely to die after contracting COVID-19 as their white peers. They are nearly five times as likely to be hospitalized, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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That Cain is the only person in his political set to lose his life mimics the very inequality the GOP profusely denies exists. Throughout his career Cain was the only Black person at the table. Being at the table didn’t provoke anyone to make data-backed policy decisions that could have prevented him, and countless other Black folks, from contracting COVID-19 in the first place. In fact, he was opposed to those same policies even after he’d been diagnosed. His death came and went without more public acknowledgment from the GOP than a few tweets. And, after he was dead, the @THEHermanCain Twitter account kept on promoting the party line to downplay the virus that had killed him—first under his name, then with the account redubbed the “Cain Gang,” credited to “his team and family.”

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To be clear, this is not a requiem for Hermain Cain. We should be sure to remember him for who he was: a man who allegedly sexually harassed women and touted birtherism and xenophobic Trumpian policy before it became associated with the current lame-duck administration.

But this is a testament to the core values of the Republican Party. Even as more and more public-facing Republican officials test positive for the coronavirus, they continue to disregard sensible public health efforts to contain the disease. The White House has gone as far as to vehemently undermine it. Trump knew how deadly the virus was in February and still made sure to “play it down.” Cain’s death after the Tulsa rally did nothing to discourage the Trump campaign from filling the rest of the summer and fall with crowded public events, or to prevent Republican officials around the country from encouraging their supporters to reject public health measures. More than 257,000 people have died as a result of such cruelty and apathy.

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It’s difficult to separate this negligence from who is dying.

Perhaps the best way to present the dichotomy is to point to Trump’s own battle with the coronavirus. On Oct. 2, after a week of travel and public communing, Trump tested positive for COVID-19. After experiencing oxygen drops and high fever, he spent several days in the hospital. The severity of Trump’s run-in with the coronavirus is unknown, since the White House and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center issued conflicting reports on the president’s condition. But his treatment plan indicates an attempt to stave off severe disease. Trump, who had an elevated risk of severe disease, received remdesivir; supplemental oxygen; monoclonal antibodies, which can be given to people who can’t form an immune response on their own; and dexamethasone—a steroid typically reserved for the most severe cases of COVID-19.

The president has since recovered. He is 74.

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