The Signal this week: America has jumped the shark when it comes to the pandemic. After politicizing both mask-wearing and the reopening of state economies, Trump is now presiding over an out-of-control spread of the novel coronavirus, from sea to shining sea.
The numbers are absolutely terrifying. The United States recorded more than 50,000 new cases on Wednesday; earlier this week, Dr. Fauci told Congress that he fears that number could soon reach 100,000. Even that number might prove to be too conservative: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently noted that Arizona, with a population of a little over 7 million, was recording more cases per day than the entire European Union, with a population of more than 446 million. Florida, Texas, and a slew of other states are also seeing exponential growth in the number of new infections.
As the country veers into a public health calamity—and as more and more hospitals are forced to activate their surge capacities to deal with new patients—Trump just keeps speaking gibberish. On Wednesday, he mused again that the coronavirus would somehow just “disappear.” While GOP senators and governors are belatedly urging Americans to mask up and stay out of crowded settings, Trump is gearing up for an early Independence Day party and fireworks display at Mount Rushmore. This will include an audience of 7,500, and absolutely no social distancing or mask-wearing will be enforced.
This is sheer madness. The country is facing a loss of life utterly unprecedented in modern times, especially in such a wealthy country. And all we get from the White House is Noise and vainglorious cultist gatherings, organized for no greater purpose than to scratch Trump’s praise-craving itch.
There is a radical disconnect between what is happening in reality, and what is happening inside Trump’s head—and among his inner circle.
In reality, even conservative states such as Texas are now racing to shut down businesses that they insisted on reopening in May. In Trumpland, his courtiers are debating whether Trump should ignore the pandemic and focus instead on talking about the economy. They don’t seem to realize, or care, that the economy will never be able to heal unless the pandemic is reined in.
In reality, the country is facing a second wave of mass layoffs as the “recovery” falters in the face of the virus’s rampage. But in Trump’s head (and on his Twitter feed), the conversation is all about the perils of Black Lives Matter—a phrase he has now labeled a “symbol of hate”—as well as the imperative of preserving monuments to and military bases named after slaveholders and secessionist traitors.
There is a vast puniness on display here, a simply remarkable abdication of responsibility. The more Trump blusters, the smaller he gets. And the rest of the world knows it. The EU has now barred travelers coming from the United States, a scenario that would have been inconceivable just a few short months ago. The Chinese government has enacted a brutal national security law that marks the death knell of Hong Kong’s autonomy—something China is unlikely to have done if it faced a credible US leader able to muster an international effort to counter such a move. And, as we now know, much of the intelligence community believes that Russia offered bounties to those willing to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump, instead of talking with allies and strategizing a response, has claimed the whole story is a hoax.
There are still four months to the election. If current trends continue, by Election Day, millions more Americans will test positive for Covid-19. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, more will die. As I write that apocalyptic sentence, I realize that what has often been described as a disaster is even worse than that.
The word “disaster” could imply something like an earthquake, or a hurricane—things that are not preventable, for which there is no one to blame. But this is different. The spread of coronavirus infection in the United States is the result of deliberate, shambolic policy choices. It is the consequence of Trump’s rabid rejection of science, his peddling of conspiracy theories, his embrace of irrationalism. It is the end result of a cult of selfishness and hyper-individualism.
This American tsunami of disease and death and economic devastation isn’t just a disaster. It’s a crime.