Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Coronavirus Crisis And Denial

In both public health and political terms, the president's reckless self-absorption is hurting
Trump, Coronavirus Task Force Members Meet With Pharmaceutical Executives

A physician reader sends me the PDF of a 2007 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which the authors study records from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and conclude that closing schools and banning public gatherings early saved a lot of lives. Here’s a link to the paper; here’s a screenshot of the précis, etc:

We are not going to do that, obviously. We are in the “oh, look at all those dead rats piling up on the street; sure hope somebody does something about it” stage of this pandemic. It’s all in Camus’s The Plague, which you should be reading now. Camus sets his fictional narrative in the 1940s, and says that the people of the city simply could not imagine that something like the plague could affect their modern society. From the novel:

Today a small British airline, which had been struggling financially, declared bankruptcy as the result of lost business due to coronavirus. The Times reports that the airline industry is facing losses that an industry spokesman calls “almost without precedent” from this thing.

In China, some people who had the virus, and recovered, are falling sick with it again — at least one man has died. This suggests that the body does not develop immunity to it, or perhaps, to put it another way, its attack on the immune system is such that the body’s normal immune response can’t recover. Think about that.

And look at this latest news from Washington:

The Trump administration won’t be able to meet its promised timeline of having a million coronavirus tests available by the end of the week, senators said after a briefing from health officials.

“There won’t be a million people to get a test by the end of the week,” Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida said in Washington Thursday. “It’s way smaller than that. And still, at this point, it’s still through public-health departments.”

Our government wasted the entire month of February, while the virus was shredding China, in not preparing tests on the likelihood that the virus would arrive here. How do you explain this?

I strongly recommend subscribing (it’s free) to the coronavirus subreddit, a moderated list where you can get excellent updates.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States is staying focused on the important things:

And he’s defending himself from consequences of his crackpot Hannity remarks last night:

No, as a matter of fact, he did not say “sick people should go to work.” Here’s what he said precisely:

‘So, if you know, we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work. Some of them go to work, but they get better.’

In context, he’s saying that it’s really not that big of a deal — hey, some people even go to work, though they’re sick, and they get better. Which is no doubt true, but again, in context of the entire interview, he’s downplaying the seriousness of this thing, and failing to reinforce what public health officials have been saying: that if you have symptoms, stay home.

Trump said this line in an interview in which he said that worrywarts are making this seem worse than it is. Listen to the president’s own words here:

Listen to the entire clip. Trump is busy blaming the media for distorting his words. This has been the narrative inside the White House for some time, it appears. A week ago, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, said at CPAC that media reporting on coronavirus is “all about” the media wanting to weaponize the pandemic against the president:

That does not seem especially credible outside the most committed members of the Trump Tribe. Here’s some news today about a new Pew survey:

The American public has long expressed negative views of some of Donald Trump’s personal traits and behaviors, including his temperament and his tweeting. A new national survey finds that just 15% of U.S. adults say they like the way he conducts himself as president. A far larger share (53%) say they don’t like how he conducts himself, while another 30% say they have mixed feelings.

For the most part, Americans also do not agree with Trump on most of the important issues facing the country. Fewer than half (42%) say they agree with Donald Trump on many or nearly all of the top issues facing the country today; nearly six-in-ten (58%) say they agree with him on few or almost no issues.

Even 73 percent of Republicans polled agree that Trump is “self-centered.” Pew notes that even though most Republicans don’t like the way he conducts himself, they still approve of the job he’s done. That’s sustainable when things are going well for the country. But we are at the beginning of a pandemic that, public health considerations aside, is going to have massive social and economic impact. The markets are diving not because the media are telling them to, but because investors can see clearly the long-term significance of this crisis. I remind you that China has all but shut down its economy to fight this thing. That doesn’t happen over nothing.

Think of it: Boeing enters this crisis in serious trouble over its self-inflicted 737 Max problem. Now it is facing an airline industry that expects catastrophic losses. This will have obvious impact on Boeing’s orders. What will it mean to the American economy, and to the economy in Washington state, if Boeing goes under?

No president has the power to prevent this pandemic from reaching our shores, and it would be unfair to blame Trump for it. But it is perfectly fair to give him credit or blame for the way he handles the crisis. Trump has enormous political liabilities in the best of times … and suddenly, these are not the best of times, and they are not going to be good for the foreseeable future. The idea that the President of the United States is sitting in the White House thinking only about himself, sending out childish tweets about his political enemies, and blaming the media for hyping the coronavirus threat — well, the political idiocy of this response could easily be the thing that not only gives the White House to the Democrats, but also costs the GOP the Senate. Trump has no cushion here.

So it goes. I cannot for the life of me understand why, leaving aside the public health aspects of the president’s response, people cannot see what a political disaster he’s making for himself and the GOP. He doesn’t have to act like the zombie apocalypse is upon us. He only has to behave like Rudy Giuliani did as Mayor of New York City in the fall of 2001. But then, as we know, Donald Trump saw the Twin Towers fall, and thought about … himself:

UPDATE: Important editorial from a Twitter coronavirus news aggregator account (follow it here) run by scientists and medical professionals:

UPDATE.2: Important thread from the editor of The New Atlantis:

UPDATE.3: An account of an event today with the chief epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins:

UPDATE.4: In northern Italy, an advanced first-world nation, ten percent (!) of COVID-19 positive cases end up in the ICU. Think of the strain on resources:



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now