The United States is closing in on 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases. As I write these words, the death toll in America has surpassed 56,000. That is a lot of people, but even more are impacted when you add the grief and sometimes compromised situations of family members and loved ones.
When we count up the dead, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote, "we forget to multiply them by two, by three." The great Russian writer was talking about the families of those who perished in Soviet labor camps -- not from a lethal new virus -- but the point is the same.
In this crisis, Americans cannot do what they did after Pearl Harbor or 9/11, which was mobilize for war while simultaneously enjoying the prerogatives of a free people: go to church, temple, the beach, restaurants, athletic events, neighbors' houses -- and our jobs. But the instinct remains, and this is a good thing, whether our political class realizes this or not.
Liberals have thrown hissy fits at the merely sight of protesters exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and question the government's quarantine orders. On the other side, prominent conservatives lost their minds when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expounded on her love of ice cream for a late-night television audience from her San Francisco home.
"I enjoy it," Pelosi told James Corden as the makeshift camera showed an expensive freezer lined with gourmet ice cream. "I like it better than anything else," added the California Democrat. "I don't know what I would have done if ice cream were not invented."
Pelosi's uncontroversial choice in desserts was somehow deemed insensitive to the plight of her fellow Americans. It engendered a meme, "Nancy Antoinette," along with an attack ad from Donald Trump's reelection campaign.
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Nancy Pelosi's late-night paean to ice cream was supposedly tone-deaf because of what? Her expensive freezer? The vast array of ice cream she showed off? The fact that many Americans are struggling during the pandemic lockdown? Sure, all of that, which I understand, but she never pretended to be poor. What she has proclaimed is a solicitude for the poor. And is President Trump suddenly a critic of lavish living?
As for the Marie Antoinette reference, good grief. Didn't that poor woman suffer enough? A popular teenage queen when she arrived from Austria, she was beheaded by Jacobins at age 37 in front of a howling mob after a two-day trial on trumped-up charges heard by an all-male jury that resented the fact that she was foreign-born. It's simply irritating to still hear, more than two centuries later, the bogus quotation attributed to her (also by a man) that when told that the common people had no bread, she replied, "Let them eat cake."
It's an absurd line, when you think of it, not to mention obviously sexist. Who could be that callous and stupid? Certainly not Marie Antoinette, whose acts of kindness included personally tending to a poor farmer gored by a stag and taking an orphan into her household and ensuring that he was educated.
"She was so happy at doing good and hated to miss any opportunity of doing so," wrote a contemporary named Madame Campan.
Thomas Jefferson, who knew Marie Antoinette when he served as ambassador to France, believed -- as do Nancy Pelosi's critics -- that the French queen missed the importance of political symbolism. Jefferson once mused that if by some twist of fate Marie Antoinette had spend her twenties and thirties in a convent, the French Revolution would never have happened.
That's hyperbole, in my view, and in any event, Thomas Jefferson was hardly a Trappist monk himself. Among the comforts TJ relished was ice cream, as did many succeeded U.S. presidents, even in wartime -- as we will see tomorrow.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.