‘Let’s blow it all up.” That was the sentiment that animated any number of Republican-primary voters in 2016. The “it” was (take your pick) the Republican Party, the “establishment,” the country. There were many good reasons for voters to be dissatisfied with the state of things in 2016. There were also any number of able candidates who could have instituted reforms. But that wasn’t the mood, at least not for the nihilistic 30 percent. It’s hard to think of a less conservative impulse than “Burn it Down!” But that’s what this minority did, voting for the malignant narcissist who had never served anything other than his bottom line.
Eventually, when the Republican Party’s winner-take-all rules made Trump the likely nominee, most Republicans threw in their lots with him too, because partisanship is the opiate of the people. By elevating Trump, they violated their sacred responsibility. Before considerations of policy or identity or history or “fight,” voters must ask themselves whether the person they are granting the powers of the presidency is fit to handle an emergency. If the answer is even a bit uncertain, that person must be ruled out.
Trump has been fortunate until now — as have we all — because no crisis happened. But the coronavirus has obliterated that lucky streak. It’s the most serious challenge we have faced since the 9/11 attacks, and it may yet turn out to be far deadlier. Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician for the U.S. Congress, estimates that between 75 million and 100 million Americans will contract coronavirus. If the mortality estimates of 1 percent hold up, that would mean up to a million Americans could die. It may not be as bad as that, but it could be worse.
If we are not successful in inhibiting the spread of the virus right now — to “flatten the curve,” as the epidemiologists have taught us to say — the crush in our hospitals could be catastrophic. If hundreds of thousands of sick Americans show up at hospitals all at once, the staffs will be overwhelmed. The U.S. has about 1 million hospital beds, and 68 percent of them are usually occupied. That leaves about 300,000 spare beds. In China, 15 percent of those infected required hospitalization. If the virus spreads very rapidly, and if only 5 percent of American cases require hospitalization, we will run out of hospital beds on May 16. This is, as the saying goes, as serious as a heart attack. It means many Americans who are now out for dinner or walking the dog will die on gurneys in makeshift clinics in hospital cafeterias. Some percentage of them will die because they couldn’t access intensive care.
Trump did not create the virus, but his solipsism has deepened the crisis. What is his chief talking point? That he halted flights from China. He did this on January 31, after major airlines such as United, Delta, and American had already canceled dozens of flights and waived cancellation fees for their passengers.
Trump spent the next six weeks boasting about this brave defiance of political correctness while also lying to the American people about the scope of the threat. Just at the key moment when people needed to wash their hands, avoid crowds, and learn ways to protect themselves and others to slow the progression of this pathogen, Trump and his mendacious minions were peddling a stream of falsehoods. On February 24, for example, the president tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. . . . Stock Market starting to look very good to me.” Two days later, he said that the number of people infected was “going very substantially down, not up.” “The 15 [cases] within a couple of days, is going to be down to zero.” When the stock market panicked, Larry Kudlow suggested that investors buy the dips.
Rush Limbaugh told his 20 million listeners on February 24 “the truth” that “the coronavirus is the common cold, folks.” Sean Hannity quoted an “MIT guy” to the effect that “coronavirus fear-mongering by the Deep State will go down in history as one of the biggest frauds.” Fox host Laura Ingraham told her viewers that “Democrats and their media cronies have decided to weaponize fear and also weaponize suffering to improve their chances against Trump in November.”
The crowd that howls about “fake news” is the most pernicious purveyor of it — even on a matter of life and death.
After days of plunging stock prices, declarations of emergencies by governors, closings by private companies, cancellations of professional sports, and 38 deaths, the president finally decided to stop lying and admit, in a televised address, that we have a problem. But such is his indifference to the seriousness of his job that he made three factual errors in the prepared remarks. As for the bits that weren’t inaccurate, the most he could muster were some vague promises of stimulus and yet another travel ban (for Europe, but not Great Britain). Nothing about improving testing. Nothing about providing paid sick leave for those who need it. Nothing about procuring more ventilators for hospitals, or masks and gloves, which are also in short supply.
The crisis is here, and we’ve put a serial liar and cheat in the big chair. We must never do anything so reckless again.
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