• Josey Goggin

The Art of the Deal in the Age of Covid-19

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Today we passed 224,710 Covid-19 deaths in the United States.[1]


On Friday we set a record for highest number of new Covid-19 infections in one day since the start of the pandemic with at least 80,005 cases.[2]


We didn’t ride out the initial surge like the rest of the industrialized world, like we thought we could, like we desperately hoped we would when news of the coronavirus reaching our shores first broke into the news.


Instead the death toll continues to rise. A deadly drumbeat of numbers in an unfolding tragedy beyond our grasp. 916 deaths yesterday.[3]


Nine hundred and sixteen.


What is it that you know well, that is made up of nine hundred people? Maybe your small town? Your business? Your clients? Your neighborhood? Your kids’ school?


2977 people were killed on September 11, 2001.[4] It was a national trauma, worthy of breathtaking memorials and annual recognition. Yet, now, when nearly the same number of our people die of Covid-19 every three days, there is no plan for a memorial. No plan for a public mourning period, no compassionate grieving. All we see coming from the White House is gaslighting about the numbers, the testing, and self-congratulations for a job well done.


In mid-April, weeks into California’s shelter-in-place, I realized I was losing the ability to hold the number of people lost in my head. I was horrified. If I couldn’t grasp the scale of the loss, how could I ever hope to deal with it, how could I come to understand its depth?


As the administration desperately swept the scale of the pandemic under the rug, waved it off as a hoax, planned on a miracle, I came to understand there would be no national reckoning, no mourning period, no recognition of our grief, no mourning of our loss. Not under this administration.


Despite the mounting death toll and the palpable losses surrounding us, the man occupying our White House couldn’t, and can’t, summon an ounce of compassion for those impacted by the hundreds of thousands of individual losses. As I listened to him ramble at the coronavirus briefings, I heard the same words, the same phrasing, the same language he has relied upon for decades: deals and winning, self-congratulations and lack of personal responsibility.


I wanted to erase his words.


I wanted to remember the people we’ve lost, to bring them back to life.


I started reading about people we’ve lost, collecting their names, their photos, trying to get a sense of who they were, of what we lost, of what we will miss out on in the years to come. I picked up a couple of copies of The Art of The Deal at a used bookstore to wipe out what he has said. Taking them apart turned out to be deeply satisfying, and hilariously metaphoric process.


The binding looked sewn. It was not. Just a bit of stitching glued on at the top and bottom.


The paper quality was crappy. So crappy in fact, that when I began to sketch on the pages my ink lines blurred and bled, and the paper came apart under anything heavier. His books are the embodiment of the same shortcuts and imitation of quality threaded through everything this man touches.


Flipping through the pages I found a sentence here, or phrase there leaping out at me. Every single one was so obviously him, so perfectly matched to his goals.


So at odds with everything we desperately need at this time in this country.


I began to underline and make note of them. Less than 24 hours later I had at least one marked on every single page. Multiple coats of gesso easily erased the rest of his words.


Then I began to paint, watercolor portraits of those we have lost. I have painted over a hundred fifty people who died in the pandemic on the pages. I have ninety more to go.


Portraits are only my first step in this project, but in the wake of the horrifying disregard this man shows for our house, our laws, our fundamental belief in democracy, and with the most important election of our generation fast approaching, I can’t wait until my project is complete to begin sharing it. Between now and January 6, when Congress certifies the election results, I will share several portraits each day and update my progress on this social commentary here and on my social media.


By the time I finish 240 portraits will replace the words in The Art of the Deal.


By the inauguration on January 20, 2021, 359,494 people are projected to have died in the United States.[5]


Every portrait I paint will stand in for almost 1500 people.


Fifteen hundred people.


I have cried more times than I can count in the past months reading of families serenading their loved ones to their deaths over iPads, of others wondering why all they could think about was whether their loved one was cold as they passed, of their despair over knowing that if their loved one had not believed the drivel coming from one man’s mouth they might still be alive, of how they were all so, so alone.


It is work to hold this many people in our hearts and minds. But it is work we must do. Without facing our grief, mourning our dead we can not move forward. Take time to read about the people we have lost. Take time to remember them.


It is our job to hold them in this world.


Please vote on November 3, 2020.



See my growing gallery of portraits here.

[1]. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

[2]. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/23/health/us-coronavirus-friday/index.html [3]. https://covidtracking.com/data/charts/us-daily-deaths [4]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks [5]. https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america?view=total-deaths&tab=trend


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