On August 30, 2020, Herman Cain tweeted, “It appears the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media first made it appear. “
Or at least his official Twitter account did. Because Cain had died of COVID-19 about a month ago at the age of 74. The former Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank chairman was diagnosed nine days after attending a Donald Trump re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he and many attendees gathered inside and took to in particular refused to wear masks while the pandemic was raging.
In the days following his death, the internet caught on to the irony of Cain’s disappearance as a result of his own recklessness, which led to the creation of the “Herman Cain Award” bulletin board on the popular website. Reddit. The offspring of the infamous Darwin Award is presented posthumously to people who “have made a public statement of their anti-mask, anti-vax, or COVID-hoax views, followed by hospital admission for COVID.”
With around 438,000 members in this Reddit community, there is certainly no shortage of audiences for sardonic schadenfreude. But it raises a pressing moral question: Should these candidates deserve our sympathy rather than our ridicule?
Look at Cain as a prime example. He made the American dream come true by moving from poverty to his post at the Federal Reserve and as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He rose to prominence within the Republican Party, campaigning for his presidential nomination in 2012. Cain said he signed up with the GOP in direct response to a black man who remarked: ” Black Republicans? There’s nothing like that. ”Perhaps it was this counter-stereotypical identity that found the party mutually attracted to Cain. And maybe Cain’s usefulness as a token was why he was called to the rally which allegedly resulted in his disappearance.
While Cain himself has been responsible for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, he too has been a victim. He became a model on stage to gain Trump’s approval – and when he died he was forgotten when the tale of his confrontational death no longer matched that of the Republican Party. This begs the question: if the Republican Party could show such apathy towards one of its own, what does that say about its concern for its constituents?
By repeatedly refuting the validity of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the Trump administration has opened the door to conspiracies and conflicting information, leaving Americans in confusion, turning to conservative public figures and social media to sort the responses themselves. It has now even eluded Trump himself, who was booed by his own audience this week after revealing he had received a COVID-19 booster.
It could be argued that the moral justification for the Herman Cain Prize is more valid in recent cases such as the death of famous anti-vaccine televangelist Marcus Lamb, who used his platform to spread his nefarious beliefs to others before he to be a victim himself. But what about those who don’t have a platform? What about those friends, family and community members who were left to wander amid the chaos of disinformation and ended up in the deep end?
More than a year has passed since Cain’s death, but the pandemic has barely stopped. Kansas City reported its third-highest peak in weekly cases since the pandemic began for the week of December 4. This resurgence should recall the edifying tale of his disappearance.
Those who fall ill and die from COVID-19 because of the disinformation that is intentionally spread by bad actors in a twisted pursuit of political power deserve our sympathy. Herman Cain deserves our sympathy.
If the opportunity presented itself, all of Reddit’s sardonic Herman Cain Award nominees would nullify the “honor” knowing that it meant their beliefs led them to the grave. One argument for the morality of the award is that it might enlighten those who still have time to avoid their own nomination.
Carter Groves is a native of Kansas City and a student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
This story was originally published 23 December 2021 5:00 a.m.