Tag Archives: politics

The Trump Coronavirus Fake-out

The “president” has taken the nation on a long down-escalator ride to reverse the progress of the last seventy years—the post-World War II era, roughly speaking—dismantling, for example, progress in civil rights, progress in environmental protection, and progress in foreign alliances and diplomacy. 

Then, along came the coronavirus. After complaining that the media were hyping the coronavirus threat—another “hoax” to make him look bad—he ordered travel restrictions on January 31, including banning foreigners from entering the US if they had recently traveled in China.

Aside from the travel restrictions, Trump took no action to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak in the US. Instead, he continued to downplay the threat, repeatedly saying it was “totally under control.” On February 26, he said there were only 15 people infected in the US and they were all getting better: “within a couple of days” it would be “down close to zero.” The next day he said: “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

The president objected to allowing the passengers on the cruise ship Grand Princess to come ashore in San Francisco because that would raise the number of people in the US infected with the virus: “I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus had become a pandemic. There were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people had died from the disease, “COVID-19.”

The US lagged behind other countries in testing for the novel coronavirus. As of March 20, the US had performed about 300 tests per million population, far below the rates of testing in other countries. In the same time-frame, for example, South Korea had performed over 6,000 tests per million, Australia more than 4,000, Italy more than 3,000, Germany more than 2,000 and the UK more than 900 [data from the website Our World in Data].

A new vocabulary developed to describe our plight. We were advised to “shelter in place,” to practice “social distancing” and to “self-quarantine.” No one could say how long these measures would be in place. There was no vaccine and there were no anti-viral drugs known to be effective in treating COVID-19. Development and testing of a vaccine was expected to take 12 to 18 months.

On March 13, the Dow Jones Industrial average closed at 23,185.62 after a record high closing of 29,551.42 set on February 12. Ten days later, on March 23, it closed at 18,591.93, down by 20 percent.

The loss of shareholder wealth can largely be attributed to the coronavirus and public health measures that were put in place to “flatten the curve” (reduce the rate of infection). Advice to avoid public gatherings of ten or more people, to practice “social distancing” (keeping at least six feet away from other people), and to stay at home unless going somewhere was absolutely necessary, resulted in an abrupt drop in consumer spending with no end in sight. Stock values plummeted as investor uncertainty prevailed, but only by flattening the curve could we hope to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with critically ill COVID-19 patients.

After Senate approval of a $2 trillion spending bill (including a $500 billion loan fund for big businesses), the Dow spiked on March 26 to close at 22,552.17, but the market was likely to remain volatile in the months ahead as the virus continued to ravage economies worldwide.

It was nearly impossible to take it all in. It was disruption on a global scale, something that we had not experienced before in my lifetime. In an odd way, our voluntary isolation brought us closer as a human family as people around the world on every continent faced the same risk of infection from the same microscopic lethal army. There was no effective weapon anywhere in the world to combat the virus. For now, the only effective strategy was to isolate ourselves. We could reduce the risk by denying the human hosts that the virus depended on to propagate and spread.

On March 16, the Trump administration announced a 15-day plan to address the spread of the virus, including advising “older persons” and people with underlying health conditions to stay home and away from others. The administration advised everyone to avoid gatherings in groups of more than ten and to avoid discretionary travel, restaurants, bars, and visits to relatives in nursing homes.

Just 7 days later, in a midnight “tweet” on March 23, the president declared: “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” Later that week, he told Fox News: “I think Easter Sunday [April 12] and you’ll have packed churches all over our country, I think it would be a beautiful time. And it’s just about the timeline I think is right.”

Of course, it was too early to know whether the administration’s earlier social distancing guidance was having the desired effect of slowing the spread of the virus. The incubation period of the virus (the period between becoming infected with the virus and the onset of symptoms of COVID-19) could range from 2 to 14 days, according to the CDC. The reported number of COVID-19 cases in the US had grown tenfold from 4,226 on March 16 (when the guidelines were announced) to 44,183 on March 23 (Trump’s tweet-date).

Whether the cure is worse than the problem depends entirely on what you perceive “the problem” to be. The president, it seemed, had concluded that COVID-19 was no worse than seasonal flu: “we’ve never closed down the country for the flu.” If you think it’s no worse than the flu, then maybe you can believe that it would be “beautiful” to pack churches for Easter with coronavirus spreaders.

The coronavirus was not the flu. A presidential proclamation would not make it so. True to form when confronted by facts incongruent with his imaginary world, the president tried to rebrand the coronavirus as fake news. The problem could not be worse than the cure. He would bamboozle his base but he would not be able to fake out the virus.

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Don’t Screw This Up

If Democrats are unable to reconcile the differences between the two wings of the party (moderates and progressive liberals), what chance do they have of governing effectively after the election? A new administration can make progress on its policy promises only with some measure of reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats.

A vote for Bernie Sanders is a vote for continued gridlock in Washington D.C., at best, and that assumes that the Democrats hold onto the House. With Sanders at the top of the ticket this fall the greater the risk that Republicans will continue to dominate the Senate and even take over control of the House.

The election in 2016 taught us that it is possible for a presidential candidate to win the presidency without having a majority of the popular vote. That could happen again this year. The question for Democrats during this primary stage is which candidate would make it more likely that the party will have a victory in the Electoral College.

Sanders, by his own rhetoric, is running not so much to be a leader as he is to champion a “movement” or a “revolution.” I must admit that the notion of revolution appealed to me in my early 20s. We said we wanted a revolution… well, you know, it never came. Perhaps, as I grew older, I lost faith in the revolution, but Bernie still seems to believe.

The entire Sanders progressive agenda rests on his revolution becoming a reality. His theory of governing is that his agenda will be so popular that a grassroots’ movement will rise up and demand that Congress enact it.

But no matter how bold, or how logical, or how just, or how right these revolutionary ideas will seem to many, it is naïve to think that there will be no resistance from an equally determined oppositional leadership. There is no doubt that the Sanders revolution will encounter setbacks–probably more setbacks than successes–and the revolutionary fervor of his supporters will dwindle. The revolution itself will peter out.

The truth is that Sanders is running on a romantic memory of younger days when revolution was so cool they wrote songs about it. It appeals to today’s 20- and 30-year olds for the same reasons that it appealed to those of us of the Sanders generation who came from a certain socio-economic background.

Why did our revolution have to die? Why did the Age of Aquarius have to end? If only we could go back and see it through. We could have changed the world.

The Sanders movement has foundered on the hard reality of Super Tuesday. The massive turnout that he needed to fuel his revolution did not materialize. There is little reason for Sanders to expect that the remaining primary races will tell a different story.

Already, he is pushing the idea in the mind of his supporters that “the establishment” is to blame for the failure of the revolution to take hold. The rhetoric is so familiar. It was the establishment that held us back fifty years ago. We railed against the establishment. It was the target of our revolution. When the revolution died, the establishment was the convenient culprit, but maybe we just got tired of the struggle.

By casting the contest within the Democratic Party as us progressives versus them establishment moderates, Sanders is playing a dangerous game. To defeat the Republicans in November, the party cannot afford to mire itself in a self-defeating battle in which the damage is done as soon as sides are declared.

The party message in the fall is unity over divisiveness. Democrats must first demonstrate that they are capable of unifying themselves before anyone will believe that they can bring the country together.

For Sanders, that means having a plan B if the promised revolution continues to fizzle. Real leadership in that circumstance would be to show by example that reconciliation within the party is not only possible but necessary for success in the general election. Blaming the establishment does not get it.

For his part, Biden must resist the tendency to demonize and instead embrace the Sanders movement. There must be a meaningful role for progressive policies within the party.

Just as important, Democrats must make a home for disaffected Republicans who have no faith in liberal ideas but who share a desire for a return to decency and honesty in our politics.

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