A pall has been cast over the world. The COVID-19 novel coronavirus, colloquially called “coronavirus,” is grinding society to a halt.
Colleges and schools have cancelled classes, sporting events, and field trips. Basketball is over. No more operas, concerts, festivals, trade shows, or large gatherings of any kind. Even Disneyland, “the Happiest Place on Earth,” is closing. People are to be avoided, rather than embraced. Education, sport, culture, travel, celebration, and community are all officially on hold. It feels like the Dark Ages suddenly descended, while a fearful population works from home and hopes the toilet paper won’t run. Nobody is happy, and everyone can feel that we are all going through something terrible together.
Ironically, this unprecedented situation has reminded us of the importance of communal life and shared experience. As divided and awful as things have seemed in our politics, the coronavirus crisis has made us realize that a society which included all the social parts was actually pretty damn great. We miss it already.
This is a sad and scary time, and President Trump has not helped. His first bright idea for fighting a virulent viral plague? A payroll tax cut. Unsurprisingly, even Congressional Republicans balked at this deficit-ballooning non-sequitur.
On Friday, March 6, en route to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, Trump stopped for a brief cameo at the Centers of Disease Control, where he bragged to reporters that he could have been a doctor because “I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it... Maybe I have a natural ability.” Then he touted the tests – which don’t exist. Trump said of coronavirus tests in the U.S., “But I think, importantly, anybody, right now and yesterday, that needs a test gets a test. They’re there, they have the tests, and the tests are beautiful. Anybody that needs a test gets a test.” In truth, there was and is a dire shortage of federally supplied tests, as Trump’s own coronavirus task force head Mike Pence confirmed days later.
But no matter. Because as Trump said at the CDC, “I like this stuff. You know my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like, a record number of years. He was a great super genius, Dr. John Trump.” It’s OK America, Donald Trump’s Dead, formerly smart uncle will get us through this! He was at MIT, after all. Anyway, as state and local health agencies scrambled to find testing kits, and with the number of diagnosed cases soaring, Trump jetted off to Florida for a few rounds of golf.
On Wednesday, March 11, the president gave a highly anticipated, nationally televised address. It played like a poorly produced infomercial for ineffectual government. Trump first took the occasion to dispense a dose of xenophobia, pointing out that the “foreign virus” “started in China,” as if it somehow mattered where the pandemic began. He then announced a U.S. travel ban on all passengers and cargo coming from Europe, but he was wrong about what his own executive order said (a cargo ban was not included, and U.S. citizens and citizens’ families were exempted from the passenger travel ban). And he bragged that the U.S. economy was strong enough to defeat the virus, as if good employment numbers could disinfect a biological menace.
The stock market rewarded Trump’s remarks appropriately the next day, by staging its largest single-day point drop in history.
Here’s the good news. On the coronavirus, nobody’s really paying attention to Donald Trump any more. State and local health officials have taken charge, declaring local health emergencies and dictating rules and protocols to slow or prevent the spread of the disease. The media, Congress and federal health officials are listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has candidly described the structural deficiencies in coronavirus testing infrastructure. The stock market is realistically pricing in the dramatic economic slowdown now underway, without paying attention to Trump’s unjustified optimism about how some more tax cuts and (socialist) bailouts for airlines and cruise lines will fix everything. The media is quickly refuting Trump’s nonsensical, pathetic attempts to blame the testing bottleneck on President Obama, and his tweets to this effect are getting no traction. There is so much important, rapidly breaking news that Trump’s attention-seeking antics are getting the back of the media’s hand, and very little air time.
Even though it means cancelling important events and taking hits economically, people are doing what they are supposed to – listening to actual doctors and scientists, heeding state and local health directives, cancelling trips, staying home, washing hands, and minimizing social contact. People are paying attention to reality rather than Trump’s self-aggrandizing fantasies, because we actually have a problem on our hands, and this is not the time for more of Trump’s stupid nonsense.
Nations come together in times of crisis. In this serious moment, there finally seems to be an awakening to the fact that Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and this is a time to pay attention solely to the people who do.