Is America’s Veneer of Civility About to Crumble Alongside Its Leadership?
Public Response to the Full-Blown COVID-19 Crisis Could Make Black Friday at Walmart Seem Like a Walk in the Park
Albert Einstein famously said, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Einstein did not foresee our “stable genius” in the White House. That “fish” is not only completely out of his element — more so than any president in the history of the United States — he also refuses to own his unwavering stupidity.
“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Donald Trump shout-tweeted two Sundays ago, shortly before midnight. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
Trump, seemingly, cannot discipline himself from plagiarizing boneheaded policy directions and cues from Fox News talking heads. The Next Revolution host, Steve Hilton, had said as much during his 9 p.m. show.
“You know that famous phrase, ‘The cure is worse than the disease?’” Hilton declared. “That is exactly the territory we are hurtling towards. You think it is just the coronavirus that kills people? This total economic shutdown will kill people.”
Now everyone has a right to their opinion, full of “dumbfuckery” as it may be. But Donald Trump is — although it pains me to say it — president of the United States. That he repeats with alacrity such breathtakingly mindless hysteria should not be his special skill. But it is.
Maybe I’m social distancing too much with Trevor Noah. But I can picture Trump after Hilton uttered that bit of twaddle — a bloated puffer fish, a “Jabba the Hutt of privilege,” armed with double-barreled, gold-plated squirt sanitizer, pacing the Oval erratically, eyes peering left and right for signs of the unseen enemy. Coronavirus seems destined to take him down, if not out, from his White House perch. And he’s not having it. Indictments — and prison — await him. So it’s war. And he is the wartime president, goddammit. Goddamn Xi and his fucking Chinese virus. [Idea bubble pops.] But only I can fix it! It will be the biggest war, the best war, ever fought by any president in the history of the United States — with the best ratings ever. The economy is so last week anyway. It’s about the war now, Stupid — Keep up, Pence! And if 2.2 million Americans die — people die in a war, right? We are overdue for a purge anyway — the elderly, those hangers-on with preexisting conditions, the dumb… My God, they don’t deserve to live. And the poor, pfft, their time is up, anyway. [Whips out phone — tap, tap…] How the fuck do you spell “decision”? Ivankaaa!
By Monday, Trump had doubled down on his — because, until he denies it next week, it is his — divinely inspired thought. Scaling back efforts to constrain the spread of coronavirus was now the harebrained scheme.
“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” Trump declared with the kind of bombast only he can muster. “America will again, and soon, be open for business…If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s shut down the entire world, [but] this could create a much bigger problem than the problem that you started out with.”
“I’m not looking at months, I can tell you right now,” he added defiantly, as if to knowledge-shame the world’s top scientists and epidemiologists, the mere minions who had been unanimous in their advice to curb the virus. Common Sense had long fled the White House. But now, Expressed Warnings were being bullied to defect.
By Tuesday, Trump pumped up the rhetoric, committing “to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter” — then, less than three weeks away — because, well, “it’s such an important day for other reasons, but I’ll make it an important day for this too.”
That Trump did not think it perverse to link the untimely deaths of large swaths of the population with the Christian celebration of Jesus Christ rising from the dead should have been ringing every alarm bell across this country. Except, it didn’t. Two pastors, Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, La., and Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida continued with business as usual. Spell had been busing in about 1,000 people for Sunday service because the coronavirus pandemic is “politically motivated” — a reminder that Trump’s disinformation propaganda has dangerous consequences. Howard-Browne was arrested.
By Thursday, the United States had surpassed China, which is four times more densely populated despite being roughly the same size, to become the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. Trump’s “America First” credo had taken on new meaning. But more importantly, our numbers have not yet peaked. Testing limitations prevail. Backlogs at private labs slow down efficient patient care and the delivery of critical data to evaluate how many Americans are actually infected.
By Friday, confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States crossed the 100,000 mark. The death rate, already exponential, was doubling every 3.03 days and trending toward less time (2.57 days). Deaths already topped 2,000. At that rate, in 30 days, without social interventions working, or a cure, there would be 512 times (2 raised to the power 9) that number — 1,024,000 — “a lot of fucking dead people.” Compare this with the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated had caused 60.8 million illnesses, 273,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths.
By last Sunday, with body bags beginning to pile up, the rich and famous included, Trump had toned down the bombast. Federal social distancing guidelines would extend until April 30. But, then, he accused New York City’s healthcare workers of “worse than hoarding” surgical masks and other personal protective equipment.
“[Trump] cannot conceive a facility going from 20,000 masks to 200,000 with this pandemic,” Assistant Nurse Manager Sandra Brissett wrote on her Facebook page last Sunday. “He has not entered a hospital, skilled nursing facility or assisted living facility to make this assessment. No wonder staff were told to improvise and have ultimately paid the price with their very lives.”
In his “inspirational” Sunday message, Trump had not a word of gratitude for the sacrifices being made by healthcare workers. No apology for the supply chain problems that continue to endanger their lives. No explanation for the 17.8 tons of personal protective equipment shipped out by his administration to China in February, despite warnings from January about the looming crisis. No expression of condolences to the families of the dead.
Trump was quite vocal, however, about the “very good job” his administration will have done if the death toll is kept to 100,000. The White House task force now projects 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from COVID-19, even with full mitigation efforts like social distancing — more loss than in the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined, in which there were 143,858 American casualties.
A very good job?
This is the magnitude of the coronavirus crisis, made worse by a disastrous lack of leadership. Trump brazenly declared recently that he takes no responsibility for the incompetent national response of his administration and the federal government. But Trump has blood on his hands! There will be no rewrite of history on my watch. No rewrite of the missing six weeks in which Trump failed to act after being made aware of the looming danger. Albeit in my zoomorphic visions, he is the epitome of the imbecilic ostrich with his orange-coiffed head digging deeper into the rabbit hole of fraudulent Norman Vincent Peale Power of Positive Thinking theology.
“It’s going to disappear,” Trump famously said, lording it over facts, science and critical thought. “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
A week later, April 5, the number of people infected has more than tripled to 311,637 cases; 8,802 people have died. Only 1.6 million people have reportedly been tested — 0.484 percent of the 330 million U.S. population.
COVID-19 is a wake-up call to the world. But for America, it is a reminder that a tiny but well-placed stone in the slingshot of the universe can bring even the mightiest giant to its knees — overnight. In 2016, we could identify Russia. This time, the force is unseen. The state-of-the-art weapons and military technology we have been financing for decades at the expense of healthcare and social services are no damn good in this “war.”
Never in recent decades has America witnessed as swift and shocking a deterioration in its economic outlook as within the past seven weeks. The 30-percent drop in the S&P 500 since its all-time high in mid-February is the quickest decline in its history — $10 trillion in shareholder wealth vanished. The first wave of unemployment claims are already at unprecedented levels and about to get worse. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has attempted to convince the public that the central bank will not lack resources to support the economy, and that present conditions do not constitute a real economic recession. However, such voices are not bastions of trust. People are concerned now about their very survival.
Indeed, Americans are understanding what destabilization looks like, that it’s not some nebulous thing to commiserate about “over there.” These conditions — in which businesses are shuttered, there’s no income, basic commodities disappear from the shelves even as buyers line up to see what’s left, all the while worrying about how they will feed their families — are normal to many who show up at our borders. In fact, many come seeking asylum from countries in which America has been the “virus” of destabilization.
In many aspects, immigrants are ahead of the curve of most Americans. None of this is “unprecedented” where they come from. They understand that economic recovery will not be overnight. And they understand what’s coming down the pike when people line up around the block outside hunting shops in a massive surge to buy guns; it’s not just about protection from looters. Asian-Americans, for example, were buying weapons to protect themselves from potential racist attacks because, in Donald Trump’s America, immigrants — and Obama — are the scapegoats for all our ills.
This is the unspoken commentary of this crisis — how the veneer of civility may well disappear in the competition for scarce resources, how America is no longer isolated from the realities of the rest of the world. Anarchy could prevail — law enforcement and the National Guard are not exempt from COVID-19. Many of us in America who have lived through catastrophic events like hurricanes and earthquakes understand Carl Jung’s observation: “The psychology of a large crowd inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology.” Americans see this every year at Walmart on Black Friday.
Doctors and nurses are already deciding who lives or dies. So are Trump and his “tremendous” team, according to how caches of emergency supplies are being dispatched. On March 27, Trump shamelessly said that states like Washington and Michigan whose governors were not “appreciative” enough of his efforts were on his “do not call” list.
This has consequences!
Meanwhile, renegade Republican governors in states such as Texas and Missouri still have no apparent urgency to enact statewide lockdowns despite a study, which revealed that social distancing would be “an unproductive measure” if adopted by less than 70 percent of the population. This all but guarantees a rollercoaster effect of containment and epidemic.
New data from Gallup suggests that, while 92 percent of adults are avoiding “events with large crowds, such as concerts, festivals or sporting events,” only 59 percent had adequately “stocked up on food, medical supplies or cleaning supplies,” which will undoubtedly require trips into public spaces.
The daily updates provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., constitute a prescient reminder to other states of the tsunami on the way. On March 25, New York City EMS reportedly received 6,406 medical 911 calls — the highest volume ever recorded in the city — surpassing the record set on 9/11. At Elmhurst Hospital Center, a 545-bed public hospital in Queens, where the emergency room is filling up with more than 200 people at times and a refrigerated truck is stationed outside to help accommodate the dead, the scene has been described as “apocalyptic.”
And when we think that the axis of social evil around which far-right politics revolves couldn’t possibly steer any further into the fascistic abyss, somehow, it finds the gear. Last Monday, skepticism about the numbers of reported dead began circulating the Republican nuttery. The week before, it was a call for social Darwinism — the sacrificial deaths of seniors over 50 as a preferable state to an economic shutdown. Especially when cloaked in religious-speak by quacks like R. R. Reno, who asserts that the desire to save lives over the economy “reflects a disastrous sentimentalism,” it is a reminder that the Kool-Aid-drinking cults of death like that of Jim Jones only shape-shift.
This fuels consequences.
Can America Survive COVID-19 with Trump at the Helm?
In the recent bestseller, A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America, the short-lived former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci reportedly asked Trump, “Are you an act?” Trump replied, “I am a total act, and I don’t understand why people don’t get it.”
Which, actually, isn’t true. The majority of American voters “got it” — from 2016. Trump exposed himself to be a capricious, vengeful little man who normalized hatred and lies. Former First Lady Michelle Obama famously warned, alluding to Trump, “The presidency doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are.” Mental health professionals also expressed grave concerns about Trump’s temperament; how he’d handle a genuine crisis threatening the nation. Now we know. His characters flaws are a matter of life and death.
Donald Trump is accustomed to chaos of his own creation with human adversaries he can intimidate and confront. He’s not accustomed to riding shotgun with real experts in the driver’s seat, not accustomed to being unable to buy his way out of trouble, not accustomed to being unable to bully his way toward his ends, not accustomed to being judged solely by the content of his character. But he has been weighed, he has been measured, and he has been found wanting.
It is time for Donald Trump to resign.
© 2020 Donna Kassin. All rights reserved.