Covid Politics

The Politics Of The Covid-19 Response: Trump Grows Stronger, So Does The Virus


Leonard Zwelling

         For all you anti-Trumpers (like me) out there, this op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on March 26 should be sobering. It should also be a wake-up call while you shake your heads (but not hands) in amazement as about half of the American people think that President Trump has handled the coronavirus crisis well. Walter Russell Mead makes it clear why. In essence, compared to the alternative, if you add up the pro-Bernies and the pro-Trumpers, you get to more than half of America. Populism is winning the day because the establishment is losing it and has been for years.

         Here’s what Mr. Mead thinks:

         A large segment of the population wants federal leadership that takes a chain saw to the government as we know it. Why? They view that government as inept and corrupt. How can you argue with that?

         The federal government (FDA and CDC) clearly bungled the issue of coronavirus testing. Had it done a better job, we would know who has the disease, who is infectious, and who contracted it and recovered. That information would be vital to controlling its spread.

Congress took over a week to pass a recovery bill when one was vitally needed and many members of the Senate, from both sides of the aisle, sought to cash in by selling their stocks upon hearing of a likely Wall Street meltdown before the rest of us did. Of course, America wants to fire the bums. It should.

         Congress is generally viewed as incompetent with terrible leadership and an inability to do the country’s business. Infrastructure is rotting and Congress does nothing. We fight on in Afghanistan. Why? We have troops all over the world for what? China has emerged as a major opponent and we are dependent on China for goods, supplies and capital. How smart is that? And Trump is battling all of it. Of course, he’s popular even if inept. He’s less inept than Congress and he’s vocal about calling Congress inept. People hear him, too.

         Mr. Trump has no answers for our awful health care system except that he calls it awful and the Democrats want to expand the government’s role in it. Many see this as a terrible idea. Of course, Trump is popular because of this, too. The same appears to be true of an elitist education system that either keeps many people out or prices them out of the market. If they manage to get in, they are saddled with debt for a lifetime at the precise time when jobs are vanishing and what college prepares them for is not what employers want.

         Then there is what Mr. Mead calls social promotion and participation trophies. Most Americans find these offensive. They dumb down true accomplishment and eliminate true excellence. How smart is that?

         How is this manifested in the coronavirus crisis?

         Mr. Trump has refused to give in to the mass hysteria that has captured the news media in the country. Rather than take a distanced view of the overall damage being done by the virus vs. the economic shutdown and trying to find a middle ground that keeps the economy moving while protecting Americans, most (but not all) media medical experts are urging the most extreme of mitigation strategies to ward off the dire consequences of a full-blown pandemic. Apparently, Brazil, Mexico and Sweden are not joining in to the same extent that the United States is currently. The non-mitigation control arm of the experiment is being done in those countries.

         All this is also reflected locally, where mayors, governors and the leaders of local businesses are taking it upon themselves to abruptly shut-down all normal activities and send everyone home without considering the consequences of that shut-down. This was pointed out by this blog when MD Anderson shuttered all research without any contingencies for the importance of that research and without adequate consultation with those most affected by the decision that, as far as I can tell, came directly from the top of the food chain.

         There is a medical side of the coronavirus outbreak. In some places, especially New York, it’s awful and must be dealt with through acute infusions of resources—hospital beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment. This may well get worse as the disease sweeps over the country. But the outbreak in Texas is still small and perhaps a little thought to the research enterprise at Anderson by the leadership of Anderson might have been a wiser response than the knee jerk shutdown of everything including the mass killing of animals.

         In times like this, leadership needs to be considered, sober and wise. I am not sure that has been the case everywhere. The American people are giving Trump props for his leadership even if he was very slow in recognizing the threat of the virus. Now he is weighing the cost-benefit of the mitigation strategy and has extended it until April 30. Most Americans think he’s doing a good job even if you may not because what they see in the manic media does not represent what they see in their own communities. Yet. Trump does reflect reality for most Americans.

         Personally, I think anything short of full mitigation (social distancing, hand washing, crowd avoidance) is foolish. If we had widespread testing, this might not be necessary (see South Korea), but we don’t. We don’t know who has the virus, who is mildly ill, what percent get very sick, and what portion of the infected die. We also don’t know the determinants of who gets very sick. Is there a genetic component to susceptibility? No one knows. In a “no one knows situation,” most of the defensive weapons are blunt objects like mitigation.

         As this blog has written before, this was all predicted by some very smart people despite what Mr. Trump says. He just didn’t listen. Now we all suffer, but not him. He can spin it to make himself look like a hero. It’s reality TV on steroids and Trump is the star again. My bet is that he comes out of this stronger than he was going in. Biden better have a good story as he sits in his basement talking to Chuck Todd and waving out the window to his grandchildren.

         And if you want to see what is driving the latest White House response and the protraction of national social distancing until April 30, check out the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation web site:

         You can see the projections from actual data that IHME at the University of Washington analyzed (over 80,000 deaths nationwide by August 4). This can be analyzed state-by-state. Worth a look especially among the doubters.

         For now, the country is cranked up to 11. The economy is down to 3 and I still have to be colored confused in knowing what will happen, but not in knowing what to do. Shelter in place.

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