Terry H,. Schwadron
July 6, 2020
By now, we’ve heard every version of coronavirus explanations, dismissals, fears and blame from our government officials.
We find ourselves being saddled with vastly growing outbreaks of the virus without a plan. We’re re-opening while we’re closing again, testing more while never not testing enough, and fighting an idiotic culture war over the wearing of masks.
More than six months into the disease, the message from the White House has moved from an ineffective and late “whole of government” attack on virus, to the unscientific idea that more testing is causing the cases to surge, to withdrawal and reluctant acceptance that we all need just to live with the uncertainties.
Live with it? What exactly does that mean? Neither lockdown nor re-opening, with some jobs back and other whole industries like entertainment not, and uncertainties as thick as mud?
At this moment, no one can say whether schools will open in September, whether the economy will re-find the millions of jobs it has lost, or whether we can safely use mass transit.
And somehow, Donald Trump thinks this is acceptable.
If schools open, but do not have sufficient staff to cover illnesses, are they open? If schools open on a staggered basis, will that actually halt contagion? If schools are not trained to handle electronic teaching or if they lack devices or connectivity, how are we coping with a significant loss in learning? How will disabled students “live with it” or those who depend on government-sponsored meals?
The questions are all ignored by this White House, which thinks local officials need to worry those details.
Indeed, Trump thinks he should be whipping up public fervor at campaign rallies and holiday unmasked, crowded gatherings where he can rail against imagined left-wing revolutionaries while ignoring the crisis in our homes and streets.
For Trump, this is now formally a political balance sheet only. There apparently is no real effect of more than 130,000 American deaths as the result of coronavirus and the threat for tens of millions. There is only the veneer of “normality” for which he wishes, with absolutely no actual processing of what is real.
Trump doesn’t find talking about the virus politically helpful, so he basically has decided to ignore it, preferring to find partisan fodder in defending statues honoring Confederate heroes, beat the drum for gun ownership and demean anyone who criticizes him.
In the face of a diminishing international voice for America, a wider looming health care crisis, a virulent hunger problem in the country, rampant joblessness and a pandemic of racial injustice, Trump wants to talk about a national garden of statues.
Yet, if you believe the polls, Trump is losing the political support he craves.
Whatever lessons we have learned through these six months of contagion, we find ourselves on our own. You and I may live in a state with an understandable approach to disease control, like New York, or in a state like Florida, where the policy changes by the day, but always favors letting businesses stay open with few enforceable rules. Nevertheless, in the end, we’rebeing encouraged to make our own individual decisions about mask-wearing with government guidance that doesn’t seem to matter very much.
So, we see daily incidents of people yelling at each other about masks, or pushing store staff who insist on protections before admission, or using the whole mask business as a ruse to throw partisan political outbursts at one another.
Throughout, Team Trump insists only on praising itself for a job done well enough to have withstood a yet worse illness and death rate. The expectation had been to use the full powers of government to dampen the spread of disease like so many other countries, to issue a series of aid packages and guidance that would allow for careful re-opening, and to restore a sense of predictability to markets and Main Streets.
This White House has done none of the above, and cares about reelection over my health.
What do We Want?
If we are to accept that coronavirus is out of control as a mutating virus, what exactly should we be doing? I’d argue that if we must believe that the new abnormality will be with us for at least another year before vaccines emerge in sufficient numbers to calm our lives, we should be taking a much different approach at the White House.
Clearly, there is no match today between the needs of a re-opened society in 40 states and any hope of keeping case numbers down. Whether through “pool testing,” as is now being discussed, enforceable rules against large indoor gatherings, or some intelligible way to overcome aversion to mask-wearing, the White House should be redoubling efforts toward controlling spread. The government already is investing in treatment and vaccine development, months off.
But wouldn’t we expect a series of physical and medical requirements as soon as possible for schools and factories? Shouldn’t we expect some coordinated, enforced worker safety standards? If jobs and the health of the economy must contend with a continuing contagion problem, what is Congress waiting for to extend unemployment benefits?
Individuals, states, the federal government have intermeshing roles here. Much as in an orchestra, individual decisions about tempo, tuning, style and such leads to group chaos; decisions by the strings or brass alone are not helpful to the whole; there is a role for a conductor who is hearing the contributions of smaller elements. It is as much work to produce bad music as a more harmonious sound.
In other words, if we’re going to have to live with virus in the view of the White House, where’s the plan for that?