We Asked Americans To Sacrifice “For Weeks” And Then Changed The Rules, So They Quit The Game
The one thing that I have noticed in the ongoing “we need to keep social distancing and mask wearing” narrative is that everyone involved can separated into two groups:
Those who think this is now a permanent way of life or will be for years.
Those who think it will be over by early next year with a vaccine or drug.
Almost exclusively, the former group is more likely to say “it’s time to get our lives back to normal and live with the virus,” and it’s the latter who thinks we need to keep stringent measures in place long term or perhaps go back into a hard lockdown. After all, it’s only for a little while longer.
And as we see social distancing break down across the country, including now in New York City itself – a place praised for its dedication to COVID-19 mitigation – we’re left to wonder, what is the timeline and what are the metrics for reclaiming normal life?
The truth is, we don’t know how long we might have to do this, and that is what is draining people. As I mentioned in my piece yesterday about my ferry ride, we are mentally- and emotionally-trained to think of life as short and that we should seize every moment, so the idea that we need to put it on hold – not for a war, but for a virus that 99 percent of people survive – seems counterintuitive. What if this lasts so long, we don’t make it to the other side? There are going to be people who won’t see relatives again or won’t see another summer or holiday, because they’ll be dead of non-pandemic issues before the pandemic is over. There are going to be events that bring joy to people that they’re being told “don’t worry you’ll get to do it when this is over,” and they will never get to do it. There will be weddings that will never be had and birthdays that will never be celebrated. There are people who will never see their parents again.
The story of the Canadian woman separated from her fiancee in the UK since March, having to postpone their wedding and then getting a cancer diagnosis keeps circling in my head. This situation is cruel and pretending its just a matter of discipline is ignoring the very real social, mental and emotional damage all this is all causing to people. I had someone who spent 18 months in prison tell me that this felt like being in prison all over again. In some ways it would be easier if it were a war, because there would be a actual battles and we’d know what specific metrics we would need to meet in order to end it (i.e. the defeat of the enemy), but instead we’re fighting an enemy who may never truly be “defeated.”
In an article early in the pandemic, journalist Helen Branswell interviewed experts who warned people that we were deluding everyone by saying it would just be weeks, it will be longer, and some aspects of “normal life” might have to wait until a vaccine – or longer. But nevertheless, we had a lot of people still holding on to the idea that it would be “weeks,” or at worst, “months.” We kept sharing models that showed the pandemic would be over by June, with just a few cases.
I don’t know what happens next year if we have treatments and a vaccine and are still being told we can’t go back to normal. I don’t know what those who think we should keep everything closed until then will say then. I really think it would erode trust in science even further. A hypothetical President Biden is going to have a real hard time with that and Democrats are going to be heavily pushed to begin a return to normalcy.
Progressives think simply paying people to stay home will keep them home. I think paying people a salary during lockdown was an important thing to do and it was a mistake that we didn’t do it, but that’s for economic reasons. It wouldn’t have guarantee people stay home. Missing from this discussion was how the countries that paid people to stay home also instituted authoritarian responses in order to force them home – martial law and tough restrictions. I guarantee everyone on Steinway Street Thursday night were getting paid. They weren’t out partying because they have no income. They were out partying because they did have money to spend and because they wanted to go out. I can’t imagine the “abolish police” crowd feel good about instituting the type of police state China, Italy, France, Spain, Peru or Vietnam instituted to crush the curve. You thought George Floyd was bad, wait until you see how the police enforce tough lockdown measures in communities of color.
The assumption is that if you pay people to stay home, restaurants and bars will close, but the same people arguing for this also claim restaurants will stay open for delivery and takeout, and believe nannies and other services should still be open.
So basically everyone but essential workers stay home, which is exactly what we had in the Spring, which didn’t help bring cases down anywhere except the hard-hit areas like New York City.
The problem is no one has given us a metric in which normalcy can return – a number of cases to shoot for, for example. Oh there’s been some; we’re told 5 percent positive test rates is good, but New York has been there for two months. City Councilman Mark Levine of Manhattan, chairman of the body’s Health Committee, said the city could handle contact tracing at under 500 new cases a day. It’s been there since mid-June. We were quick to make a point during lockdown that it “wasn’t until a vaccine,” so now since we can’t give them metrics to shoot for, everyone has decided to make that determination for themselves. People are social animals, and we kept New Yorkers home for months and asked them to sacrifice and they did. Now they’re told they have to keep doing it indefinitely. It feels like a bait and switch. People have moved on.
And across the rest of the country, they gave you their 2-4 weeks. They’re done.
The Pandemic Is Made Worse By Americans’ Dismissive Attitude Toward Major Cities Like New York
California and Florida will likely pass New York in terms of number of infections next week, and now would be a good time to talk about how part of the national fuckup was dismissing #COVID as a “New York disease” by blaming density for the Spring epidemic.
Certainly New York’s dense population didn’t help the situation – and by the way, the same experts we trust now originally blamed “density” for New York’s outbreak, but here’s the thing; the experts were wrong to primarily blame density or in failing to recognize the same density issue exist across the country. It wasn’t *just* the subways or crowded office spaces that led to the spread – in fact, it might not have been that primarily at all – it was also crowded households, where large families live amongst each other without a way to isolate, and this a common problem across the America, and across the world.
New York’s hardest hit county, per capita (cases by 1,000 people) was Rockland – a suburban/exurban county. Density wasn’t the issue there. In fact, of the top five counties with the highest infection rate per capita, three were suburban (Rockland, Westchester, Nassau), a fourth was Staten Island, the lease dense of the five boroughs that make up New York City.
Only The Bronx was among the top 5 hardest hit counties per capita. The most densely populated county in the ENTIRE country – Manhattan – was 11th behind…Sullivan County in the Catskills, with a population density 1/5000th that of Manhattan.
The issue isn’t density so much as living conditions. Rockland is home to large population of Hasidic Jewish (which could also explain some of the issues in Israel, currently gripped by a second wave) and Hispanic residents, who live in big multi-generational households. This caused tremendous amounts of family spread. Similar problems ocurred in The Bronx and Nassau County.
There is nothing wrong with living in multigenerational households – both my parents grew up in one – and they’re especially common in Rockland and Westchester and Nassau, where houses tend to be large. Thanks to them though, thousands upon thousands got sick simply by staying home. The Bronx and Northern Queens, both hard hit areas with ~50% seropositive rates (percentage who had antibodies), are populated with families, especially immigrant families, who live in crowded living conditions due to the cost of living in New York State. It is impossible to self-isolate in these conditions.
In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Rockland County has the largest average household size in the state after rural and sparsely populated Hamilton County in the Adirondacks (population only 5,000 people). With an average household size of 3.14 people, more people on average live under the same roof that all of New York City’s five boroughs.
New York Counties with highest infection rates
Cases per 1,000
Average Size of Household
Pop Density (per sq mi)
Richmond (Staten Island)
New York (Manhattan)
Rockland County, New York, despite being a suburban county with a dramatically lower population density than New York City and other suburban counties, had the largest COVID19 case load per capita, proving “density” wasn’t the issue with New York’s epidemic and leading the rest of the country into a false sense of security. Stats from U.S. Census Bureau 2019 estimates
But those conditions don’t just exist in New York State. They exist in communities all across the country, especially low-income and immigrant communities where depressed wages force families to live together in conditions that are impossible for effective quarantine. They exist among meat-packing plant workers and agricultural workers in South Dakota, Iowa, South Texas and California. It exists in South and Central Florida, which has some of the most densely-populated communities outside of the Northeast. It exists in rural communities in Mormon Utah and Native American tribes. In fact, one reason Manhattan and San Francisco hasn’t been hit so hard is there despite being densely-populated, there are many small households, single people or couples who live in studios or one bedrooms, making household isolation of the sick workable.
Average Household Size
Pop Density (per sq mi)
Average Household Size
Pop Density (per sq mi)
Hildago, TX (McAllen)
Maricopa, AZ (Phoenix)
The average size of households in the five boroughs of New York City, left, compared with the average household size for current COVID19 hotspots, right. These counties, thought far less densely populated, have larger household sizes on average than any of New York City’s five boroughs and many suburbs. Stats from U.S. Census Bureau 2019 estimates
Average Household Size
Pop Density (per sq mi)
Ada, ID (Boise)
Lee, FL (Fort Myers)
Hot Springs, AR
Some more rural “conservative” counties that are now currently COVID19 hotspots have household sizes on par with New York City – and larger than Manhattan – despite much lower density.
Americans have always treated New York like it was another country, culturally disconnected from the whole of America. Its problems were unique. Terrorism was a “New York problem” because of its status as a global financial and political center. Crime was a “New York problem” because there’s poverty and immigrants and minorities and “bleeding-heart liberals.” Poverty was a “New York problem” because of the cost of living. Disease was a “New York problems” because of squalor in subways and apartments. Cultural depictions of New York as dirty, grimy, rat-infested and crowded place allowed America to dismiss COVID-19 as a problem that could only inflict that city and nowhere else.
My take is that it comes from the fact that so much of America is populated by people who once lived in New York, and when they left thought they had left whatever cultural and sociological attributes they assigned to New York City life behind. They rationalize their leaving New York by creating this caricature as a dystopian hellhole that has turned into a delusion, and it left them naive about how big a risk a virus like COVID-19 was to every community, including theirs. New York City was not the only place hit hard in the Spring; New Orleans; Detroit; suburban Boston; Albany, Georgia and Vail, Colorado were all non-dense places that had big outbreaks in March and April.
In August, 2015, I was vacationing in Key West, Florida where I met a family with the surname Sutphin who were from Alabama. The patriarch of the family, upon hearing I was from Queens, New York, noted that his family originally came from there and there was a street named for their ancestors – Sutphin Boulevard – which is a major street in Jamaica, Queens and the main subway station connecting to JFK Airport. He added that his family had long left New York and that now it what “like going to a foreign country” to go New York City.
“The rest of the country doesn’t live like you guys,” he said to me. I was mildly offended, but I smiled and walked away.
Yet this is the attitude many Americans had about COVID-19 while it raged in New York. A dirty, filthy, rat-infested city of immigrants and minorities; of course this virus thrives there. It won’t thrive here, we’re not New York. Indeed that was the sentiment a friend of mine, a nurse at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, who went to Alabama and Arizona in June to help fight COVID-19 there, heard often. “This won’t happen here, it won’t get worse, this is not New York.”
Racism played a role here too. A significant number of Americans believe that disease ran rampant among “foreigners,” a view even the man who holds the presidency adheres to, Early in the pandemic, Asian-Americans, especially Chinese-Americans, faced a large amount of hate from other Americans because of fears that they were trafficking the virus, and that continued even though neighborhoods in NYC with a large Chinese-American population like Chinatown in Manhattan; Flushing in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn saw lower infection rates than the city average. Americans outside New York definitely felt their lack of contact with foreigners and their perception of living in a more sanitized, rigid and culturally homogenous environment would protect them from COVID-19.
Now the chickens have come home to roost for the rest of America. Maybe if this pandemic had hit Florida or Texas first, we’d be in a far different position as a nation. We always learn the hard way, and it always feels like New Yorkers are the ones who stand by, shake their heads and say “we told you so.”
Notes After My First Leisurely Day Trip During The COVID19 Pandemic
When the COVID-19 Pandemic began raging in New York City, I hunkered down. For 53 days (March 22-May 14), I did not venture more than 100 feet from home and mostly stayed inside. It was mentally and emotionally draining, but I found ways to cope; one of which is thinking about the fun things I’d get to do in the summer when this was over.
Every summer, I have sort of a New York City To-Do List; some of my favorite things to do in the city during the summer months. Most involve being on a boat; a tour cruise around Manhattan Island, a dinner cruise, ferry hopping. It’s nice to be outside in the summer, its even better to be on the water.
Last summer, my mother and I were waiting for a ferry to Rockaway, Queens from Wall Street and across the dock, we saw a Seastreak ferry boarding for New Jersey. The Seastreak ferries are much larger, more luxurious commuter ferries that take commuters from the suburban towns along Raritan Bay near Sandy Hook to Manhattan. They also run summer weekend ferries to Martha’s Vineyard from Midtown Manhattan.
My mother wanted to take the ferry to wherever it lands in New Jersey and do some exploring, so we did. Mom and I went on the first cool, cloudy day in late August to Highland, New Jersey and got off, with no plans on where to go. We walked around, found a nice little restaurant called the Inlet Cafe, had lunch and some drinks, walked back to the ferry and went home, vowing to do it again next summer on a nicer day.
Then a pandemic happened.
While under lockdown, Mom and I kept telling ourselves that when summer came and it was over, we’d do our ferry rides and our day trips on my days off. But as lockdown dragged into May and early June, it became clear that maybe, we might not get to do our fun summer day trips after all. It was disappointing, but not earth-shattering for her, but for me, it left me extremely depressed.
Some people labeled it entitlement, selfishness, weakness; that I wouldn’t be able to sacrifice some of my fun summer adventures with my mother to protect lives and help stop a virus. Obviously not taking a ferry trip to New Jersey is a minor inconvenience, but it left me sad and angry nevertheless.
In my life, I’ve seen how fast parents can be taken from people. Friends who have lost their moms and dads in a matter of months to a late-stage cancer diagnosis or illness. I just lost one of my favorite teachers that way. So sometimes I think to myself – is the last year I have with my mom or dad or cousin or aunt? And if it is, how would I feel if I didn’t get to enjoy it with them; if I didn’t get to everything I can with them. We can’t take it for granted that our lives will just stay on hold until after the pandemic; many of us may not make it to the other side of this. The desire to socialize and do things like go to a restaurant or take a trip are not about selfishness or weakness, its about the human recognition that life is short and we need to cherish every moment and “indefinitely” is a long time.
We can’t take it for granted that our lives will just stay on hold until after the pandemic.
In any event, Inlet Cafe opened for outdoor dining and the ferries were sailing, so on Thursday we masked up and took the trip. There was a little anxiety to it. It was the first time I’ve been around large groups of strangers since March, and while I was able to keep a distance most of the time, and spent almost every moment of the trip outdoors, you were still left to wonder – who has it?
I felt a tinge of guilt – that the ferry workers, the wait staff and others were at work instead of somewhere safe just to satisfy my needs, but the reality is, they’d be working anyway. They are essential services. And living is essential as well, we just have to find a way to do it safely and securely. Certainly EVERYTHING can’t happened right now – concerts are off, nightclubs are out, cruise trip are indefinitely delayed – but some stuff can happen safely. This is why I don’t understand the opposition to wearing masks – it is a low effort way toward gaining our lives back and enjoy life. It was perfectly acceptable to me that in order to enjoy a day trip with my mom doing one of our favorite things, I’d have to just put on a damn mask.
I’m certain I did not contract COVID-19 from my outing Thursday, the infection rate in the New York area being as low as it is, but my concern is always there. It’ll be several weeks before I take my next leisurely outing, conditions pending, but it felt good to at least get some of my life back.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the first thing I wanted to do when I got there was find some Nazi Museum. I’m a history buff and I’m especially keen on European history, but I didn’t want to see anything related to the Holy Roman Empire or Charlemagne or Martin Luther or anything else in German history. For me, German history = Nazis.
I know its probably unfair to the good people of Germany, but there it is.
However, in December 2014, when I arrived in Cologne – Germany’s fourth largest city and the only place in Germany that never supported the Nazi Party (a fact that they are quite proud of) – I found no statues of Hitler erected during the Third Reich or no Nazi regalia on medieval gates. Nothing that the Nazis might have put up during their twelve years in power to instigate or intimidate the opposition in Cologne, that the people of Germany kept in place after they fell from power as a reminder of what was.
Oh they existed. During the Third Reich, the Nazis built statues and monuments and littered Cologne with them, as a reminder to the people who was in charge. But when Hitler fell, the citizens of Cologne tour down the statues and burned Nazi flags and propaganda in the streets. (Cut to 6:13 and 8:30 in the video below to see it happen)
Why did they hate their history so much? Obviously, because the citizens of Cologne did this no one remembers the Nazis now. Right? Because that’s what we’re told will happen if we keep tearing down Confederate statues.
They do remember, and they don’t need status to do it. Because statues and monuments are not how we *remember* history, it is how we *CELEBRATE* it. The statues of Confederate leaders and generals did not go up in town squares in the South so that Southerns can look at them and lament about how wrong they were. They were not put off as a reminder that the values the Confederacy fought for were inhumane and wrong. They put the up as a reminder to others, especially blacks, that even though they technically lost the war, they still believed in the cause and would, when the time is right, take up the fight again. They are a reminder to blacks that they could be enslaved again, and a reminder to Northerners – this isn’t over.
Taking down the statues now, and removing their names from honorable places, would be America finally saying…it’s over. It’s the last battle of the Civil War, fought more than 150 years too late.
So with the statues down, how do we remember our history? We get rid of the monuments and the statues and the honors and regulate the history to museums, and we tell the truth about who or what they are or were. Why don’t we just put a plaque in front of the state explaining it? Well that was a compromise people were open to decades ago, but the time for compromise has passed. Imagine generations from now, someone walking up to a statue of General Robert E. Lee and a plaque that says “General Lee fought on the side of slavers to defend the institution.” Those future generations are going to ask themselves – if he did such a terrible thing, why is there a statue of him here? And they’d be right.
But the other question to this…how far do we go with this? Confederate generals and leaders are easy, but does it include Columbus, Washington, Jefferson? Are all our Founding Fathers tainted?
Well, yes, and that’s the problem. Our country was founded on principals it never successfully followed through on. Human beings are, by nature, flawed. It is possible to celebrate someone who did good (Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence) but you have to be honest about the bad (slavery). This isn’t what we did when we built monuments and statues – we built them to celebrate these men, without any recognition of the things they did that weren’t so good, and often did so in arrogant ways. Take Mount Rushmore, build on the Six Grandfathers, a sacred mountain to the Lakota tribe. We stole the land from them and then built a monument to our leaders (after reneging on a promise to build a monument to theirs.) I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore, but I’m told its beautiful and majestic and honors some flawed men who laid the foundations for great things. But it was built out of arrogance. How else can you describe a situation where land was literally stolen and a monument to the thieves heroes is built on it?
It’s the last battle of the Civil War, fought more than 150 years too late.
But, yes, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton; they are our founders. There has to be a way to recognize our past, but also be honest about it. We should also focus on more contemporary leaders, who aren’t tainted by sins of the past that were considered normal at the time (i.e. slavery).
This is also what makes Christopher Columbus complicated. He really has no tangible connection to the United States and his entire reason for being celebrated is that he pioneered the root cause of white supremacy in America; colonialism. Was his exploring “good?” Was anything he did truly “good?” He never really “discovered America.” You can make an argument that he helped develop modern navigation and trade, but he’s hardly the only one, or even the best one. Columbus enriched European monarchs and a corrupt Church at the expense of not only the Taino and Caribe and other Native people in the Western Hemisphere and the Muslims and Jews who were expelled from Spain; but also the poor Europeans whose living conditions never changed simply because they were born poor. Some of them are the same Europeans who are the ancestors to the Americans who are idolizing Columbus today. Being the first European to explore the Americas (he wasn’t even that) isn’t really much to celebrate when you think of what happened for centuries later.
Back to Germany. How does the country that forced upon the world the greatest atrocities in the past several centuries remember the Nazis? By remembering the Germans who suffered under them. On the sidewalks of Cologne, you will find little gold squares in front of buildings. These gold squares each bear the name of a Jewish person who died in the Holocaust and are placed on the sidewalk in front of where they lived.
While walking through Cologne with my cousins, my younger cousin stopped in her tracks and gasped. Looking down she spotted 12 gold squares – an entire family lost in the genocide. We also visited the former Nazi jail, kept almost intact with prisoner graffiti in the cells. All around were photos and even some pieces of monuments and Nazi insigne that was once in public places around Cologne.
We could honor the Civil War with memorials and monuments to Union leaders and freed slaves. We should honor Southern culture with some of the great artists and thinkers who cam from the region – Helen Keller, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, MLK
Times change, people change, what society considers acceptable changes. Taking down monuments and statues and renaming bases is not erasing history, it is recognizing it as something to remember, but not honor.
And now the tea: The problem is, for many people, the argument “we can’t erase history” is pure gaslighting. They want to statues to say up because WANT to honor it. They are proud of it. They support it. This entire conversation avoids that reality. Those who protect Confederate monuments and honors do so because they actually support the cause and believe in and perhaps hope the statues and monuments will inspire a future generation to reclaim that back, and, to paraphase a bad campaign slogan, make the country great again.
Remembering The 1977 Blackout And How It Relates To Another Tough Summer In New York City
Forty-three years ago today, on a hot July 14 in 1977, New York City faced one of its darkest days – literally and figuratively. Shortly after 9:30 p.m. the night before, lightning struck two substations in Westchester County and within an hour, the entire city (minus the Rockaways) and northern suburbs were plunged into darkness.
The Mets were in the middle of a game at Shea Stadium. My 11th grade teacher was there with friends. At first everyone thought it was a stadium problem, but she noticed something was awry when the 7 train over Roosevelt Avenue didn’t move for several minutes. My mother stayed with a friend in Co-Op City in the Bronx. Mayoral candidate and future governor Mario Cuomo was giving a speech when the lights went out.
The blackout only lasted about 12-18 hours, but the scars it left can still be seen in the city to this day. The “Blackout of 1977” entered city folklore and citywide power outages became sort of an endemic symbol of NYC. (In 1994, NBC’s Thursday night lineup shows – Mad About You, Friends, Seinfield – all featured a story arc dealing with a New York City blackout).
In the midst of a financial crisis, white flight, crime concerns circling around the infamous Son of Sam, a sweltering heat wave and civil unrest, the city was at a breaking point in 1977. When the lights went out, the city raged. Looters struck shuttered storefronts in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick in Brooklyn. The latter neighborhood was especially hit hard.
In fact, the tough year of 1977 is referenced in the Bee Gee’s song “Stayin’ Alive,” released at the end of the year as the theme from the movie: Saturday Night Fever, which took place in New York City that year.
Feel the city breakin’/And everybody shakin’/stayin’ alive/stayin’ alive
If this all sounds awfully familiar, its because 1977 was a time similar to now – when New York City was enduring one seemingly unending crisis after another. It was, as my mom, described “the year the city almost broke”
That same year, the city was engulfed in the throes of a mayoral election. Embattled incumbent Abe Beame was fighting for his political life against a wide array of candidates; Besides Beame and Cuomo, then the state Secretary of State, other Democrats included Congressman Ed Koch of Manhattan, former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and Congressman Herman Badillo of The Bronx.
The early polls had Beame and Abzug favored to go to a runoff that Beame would likely win. Republicans ran State Senator Roy Goodman, a moderate from Manhattan, excited as the prospect of facing either the unpopular Beame or polarizing Abzug, who was sort of the AOC of her day. (Conservative firebrand, talk show host and Abzug adversary Barry Farber nearly threw a wrench in Goodman’s campaign by running a losing competitive GOP primary race). The blackout, riots and their aftermath changed the nexus of city politics. Cuomo was already running to the right, on law and order issues and Koch refocused his campaign on those issues as well, but with a slight progressive tinge. He went so far as to blame the POLICE themselves for not adequately doing their jobs. Journalist, writer and fellow Native New York Ross Barkan has a whole piece discussing Koch’s 1977 campaign here and his focus on fighting the police union.
In the end Koch and Cuomo advanced to the primary, but all the major candidates finished within a few points of each other. (About 5 points separated Koch, in first, and Sutton in fifth). Koch later defeated Cuomo and began a 12-year stint as mayor at the end of the year.
The city did recover from 1977. If you drive or walk up Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick today between Gates and Myrtle avenues, you will notice the difference in the architecture on the north side of the street versus the south side. The south side is where the brunt of the fires took place on July 14, 1977, leaving a huge scar in the neighborhood that went for as many as 12 blocks south to the intersection of Evergreen Avenue and Palmetto Street and west to Central Avenue and Himrod Street. Today, garden apartments, green space, the 83rd Precinct, a firehouse, a school and some new developments cover the scars of 1977.
It’s still too early to know what scars New York will face during this crisis – if any – but Bushwick tells a cautionary tale of how long and how tough coming back from a crisis can be. Bushwick still looked like Beirut for years afterwards, well into the 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that investment came back into the community, in the form of new residential buildings and parks were developed on the site of the burned-out rubble.
We don’t have burned-out neighborhoods and with luck, we never will, but the city is reeling from a crisis that seems to be never ending. Hopefully that is where the similarities to 1977 end.
It’ll End Sooner Than We Think, But With Dire Sociopolitical Consequences.
It’s January 20, 2021 and Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has just taken office as the 46th President of the United States after winning over 400 electoral votes. In his Inauguration Speech, he speaks eloquently, if not with the occasional gaffe, of a new reborn America, a vision of innovation and equality in the 21st Century, emerging from its greatest national challenge in more than seven decades.
It is the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A few months earlier, the FDA approved emergency use of two vaccines, one tested by Oxford University and manufactured through AstraZeneca and another by Moderna that both showed 50%-70% efficacy in Phase III trials toward protecting from COVID-19. Both have been rolled out to the military and healthcare and frontline workers in hot spots during the Fall wave of the pandemic and Biden announces a plan to vaccinate 200 million Americans by April and 300 million by June 30. The vaccine should provide enough immunity that if enough people get it, it will be contained.
The FDA also approved several treatment options, including a monoclonal antibody drug that shows great promise to reducing severe illness and death. Though still a nasty illness, experts agree these medical interventions will make COVID-19 a manageable disease. Plans are made to lift all remaining restrictions. Our long national nightmare is over.
In his first speech as president, Biden charts a course for vaccinating America, ending the pandemic and bolstering the economic recovery. He praises science, for their hard work during the worst days of the pandemic and for their ingenuity in bringing vaccines and treatments to market quickly and efficiently. He promises to rejoin the WHO and help stamp out COVID-19 or at least help turn it into a minor annoyance rather than a terrifying plague. America is on the upswing! Our darkest days are behind us!
With that, life begins to return back to normal. Sports returns, first with limited fans and then with full arenas. Major League Baseball returns with great fanfare. Parades and festivals go on as scheduled. New York City holds its promised ticket-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes for healthcare workers and essential workers. Liberals, who once preached the need to to stay home, indefinitely, and shut up and like it, now preach coming out of our homes and rejoining society, going on trips and to restaurants and living again! Leftists still hold out hope the virus will trigger the long-awaited toppling of the Capitalist system, so they still argue for staying at home and lament liberals now supporting “killing grandma for the Dow.” It’s Dems in Disarray.
Because even as the pandemic quietly dissipates from the headlines, and the recovery and political infighting becomes the ongoing story, the virus is still infecting people, sickening people and, yes, killing people. Only now, it’s not out of control, overwhelming hospitals, and drugs and vaccines are the method of response, not mask mandates and distancing. 100,000 will die of the virus in 2021, 80,000 in 2022, and 50,000 in 2023, but compared to the 250,000 we lost in 2020, this all seems like tolerable improvements. Progress!
The economy struggles because people still feel skittish about going out in crowds. Masks are still the norm, at least for the rest of the winter and people aren’t quick to go back to bars and other crowded venues. Acquiescing to the demands of progressives in Congress, President Biden signs a robust economic recovery package that helps bolster the economy and invested in infrastructure, small business and states/city aid. Leftists hate it.
And Trumpers seethe.
See, the timing of the vaccines/treatments is suspicious. It is all proof that they were right all along – the pandemic was overblown in a successful attempt to derail a strong economy and defeat Donald Trump. After all, it came right after impeachment failed, and miraculously vaccines came just as he was losing the election. Fox News goes all out on the conspiracies. The vaccine existed a year ago, but scientists waited until it couldn’t help Trump to release it; or it doesn’t work because the virus never truly existed in the first place. By the millions, they refuse to get vaccinated, or seek medical treatment until it’s too late. This seeds outbreaks all across the country, stressing hospitals and leading to questions about whether or not we need to institute restrictions back.
Now people are mad.
Liberals: “We may have to cancel baseball because right wingers won’t get vaccinated!”
Right Wingers: “You see, they never had any intention of normal life coming back, this is about controlling you. You can’t live until you take their vaccine!”
Bill Gates, 5G, yada yada yada. Governors realize they can’t reimpose restrictions after promising a vaccine would be the end to them – and with medicine able to respond with, well, medicine, they don’t have to. But the case loads still go up and people still die and that scares enough people out of taking trips or eating out or going to movies that the economy is not able to recovery at the same speed as other countries.
Republicans, sensing a repeat of 2009 when a slow economy recovery paid dividends to them politically, spin the narrative that liberals are hypocrites; the virus meant having to stay home and not go to work when Trump was president, but now, even as people are still dying, “medicine” that coincidentally appeared just as they won an election, means its safe to go outside.
Every post-vaccine COVID-19 death is breaking news on Fox, proof the Democrats are hypocrites. They find someone who dies even AFTER getting the vaccine, proving it doesn’t work and Democrats never cared and it was all about beating Trump. And even though social distancing and mask-wearing is no longer mandated, the country remains as hopelessly divided as ever.
I’ve always wanted to be a part of history, and fate intervened to give me what I wanted, good and hard.
When I was a child, I would watch and read the news and see all the historical events happening around the world and wish I was there. In fact, I got my start as a writer by doing just that; opening up a Composition notebook and writing stories about being in the middle of some of these events; wars, natural disasters, celebrations.
On April 9, at the height of New York’s COVID-19 Epidemic, when ambulance sirens blared outside my window, I wrote a letter to my 11-year-old self, warning him that his wish to be in the middle of historical, life-changing events will soon be granted – multiple times – and boy, it would suck. Here’s the letter:
I see you.
Sitting there in your room in 1994. writing in a black and white Composition notebook; an alternate history you wish was happening now. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, World War III; and you, the common thread, surviving and witnessing them all.
I know it seems to you like historical, once-in-a-lifetime events are happening far from you; that earthquake in Los Angeles, Hurricane Andrew, the war in Yugoslavia. A wall came down in Berlin and you weren’t there; SCUD missiles darted across the skies over Israel and Kuwait – and you weren’t there. There was a volcano eruption in the Philippines, a tsunami in Papua New Guinea, and a tornado wiped a Kansas town off the map – and you weren’t there. I know it seems to you that all the life changing historical moments are in the past. Your grandparents tell you stories about the Depression and World War II. Your mom remembers when Kennedy was assassinated. And your young life has been filled with, what? Some pitiful snowstorms and couple of Giants Super Bowl wins? Hmph.
Well, I’ve come from a quarter century in the future to tell you; You will be front and center to major historical events, and you’ll wish you weren’t.
Go upstairs to the attic and look out the front window. That’s your favorite place in the house. You know why; because you can see the World Trade Center, the “twin towers.” Go look at it now, they’ll only be there for a few more years.
On your second full day of college, you won’t ever make it to class. You will watch those buildings implode, full of people, in front of your eyes after terrorists hijack passenger planes and fly them, loaded with people and fuel, into each building. Thousands will die. You will know what anxiety and fear really feels like. Your mother was supposed to be shopping in the mall under the towers that day and your father works less than a mile away.
Don’t worry, they’ll be fine, but in the days and weeks after, you’ll be too afraid to go to school, lest you never make it back home, too afraid to go to restaurants or ride the subway or do anything that attracts a crowd of people. Christmas will be bleak that year. Your first semester GPA will be below 2.0, because you’ll be too unfocused and anxious about when the next attack was coming. “9/11,” as it will be called because it will happen on September 11th, 2001, will become everyone’s obsession and you will be unable to escape it. It will come to define the city and the experience will be the first thing anyone asks about when you say you’re from New York. You will take a class in college, called Sociology of Terrorism, only because the professor will tell you the best times to take public transit or be in crowded spaces. You’ll find out terrorists don’t attack public transit on Thursday and Fridays, because it does more social and economic damage to do it earlier in the week. That’s something you’d never think of considering before. This is how you live now.
Remember those stories your mom told you about the blackout in 1977 that made you lock yourself in your bedroom late at night, shut all the lights and imagine you were in one? You’ll get the chance. A blackout will trap you at work all night. You will wonder how you will ever get home or when the lights will come back on. You won’t be able to reach your family, the phones are out. You will have to drive all the way home in the pitch dark, unable to see except for your headlights and hint of dawn. It will happen in August, it will be hot out. You’ll swelter in the heat in your bedroom with no A/C.
The lights will come back on though, but you’ll be left with some rational and irrational fears about it. You’ll walk around with multiple cellular phone chargers, and panic whenever you cell phone battery goes below 50 percent. You will feel anxiety when your laptop isn’t plugged into a power source. You will never again let your gas tank go below half full.
Remember when your grandmother told you about then bread lines and encampments in Central Park during the Great Depression? What it must to have been like to live through an economic crisis like that? You’ll experience it…perhaps twice as of this writing. You’ll lost your job, along with 750,000 others in the United States, in January 2009. It will eat up your savings and you will lie awake at night wondering if you will ever get a job. You will, but you will work for a decade for low pay and few benefits and no retirement account.
It will happen again, out of nowhere, eleven years later. More on that later.
You’ll never get the nerve to be a storm chaser like you see on TV, but you will see a tornado. It will scare the living crap out of you. You will be in your car, on the Long Island Expressway, and you will see the funnel stretch from the sky. It will look like it’s coming for you but it will pass to your left. The wind and rain will then hide the tornado and you will not know where it is or if its about to hit you. With traffic stopped, you will close your eyes and bargain with God to get you out of this safely. The ensuing chaos will force you to abandon your car and walk miles home, avoiding fallen trees and light poles and shattered glass from apartment windows. For years after, you will be afraid to leave the house when severe weather is in the forecast.
You will live through four of the five worst blizzards in New York history. One of them will trap you at home for weeks, with roads unplowed. Supply lines will get cut and you’ll wonder if supermarkets will remain stocked and food will go into short supply. You will have a job, but you will have to climb over 20-foot snow drifts to get to it. Thankfully snow does melt though…eventually.
Oh there will be hurricanes too. Hurricane Irene will keep you up all night, as the winds batter your bedroom and you wonder if that tree behind your house will come crashing into your window. You will do the stupid thing of going outside in the eye and get caught walking over a mile into the backside of the storm. You will catch a bad cold from it. The next year will be even more crazy. Hurricane Sandy will do the things you wondered if hurricanes would do if they hit New York – it will flood coastal areas, destroy your beloved boardwalk in Rockaway, and knock power out for many of your friends and family for weeks. There will be gas lines. You will sit on one for over an hour one day. There will be massive power outages that will leave New Yorkers searching the garbage for food. Subway and road tunnels will be flooded, and will take the better part of the next decade to fully repair. The anxiety that came during the blackout nine years earlier will come roaring back and you will become obsessed with making sure your phone, your computer, even your remote control is charged and batteries are plentiful. You will buy them by the dozens, you will hoard candles, twenty or thirty, stocked away in the basement…just in case.
There will even be an earthquake. It won’t be bad, but it will be scarier than you think. You will run out of your office screaming because you’ll remember you’re in New York and nothing is built to be earthquake proof. You won’t want to be in another one.
That story there about another Spanish flu-type outbreak, you know the one you stopped writing because you considered it too out of this world to be true? I almost hate to tell you this, but I’m writing this letter to you in quarantine. Don’t worry, it’s not a deadly illness like in the movies, but it will cause economic and social disruption you can’t even consider right now. You will be told to stay home, and not go anywhere. Restaurants and bars will be closed, stores will be closed, you will be trapped in your home. It will actually be ILLEGAL to see your family and friends. The worst part is you will find a partner, someone you are madly in love with, and you will not be able to see him for perhaps months. You will be forced to face your worst fear – isolation and loneliness – and it will be harder than anything else you’ve ever done. As the crisis develops, the anxiety will be so bad, your middle and index fingers on your left hand will go numb at the tips. You will have nightmares, crazy ones that will make you afraid to go to sleep.
Millions will lose their jobs and your job will grind to a halt. Again, your savings will get eaten up. The prospect for your financial future is grim.
I can’t tell you yet how it ends, maybe that’s another letter. But I want to let you know, you will utter these words in partial jest:
“I am tired of living through historical events”
I don’t want to leave you hopeless. There will be good times too. A lot of them.
You will live to see the millennium, a New Year’s Eve that will be so celebratory, you’ll have no use for any more in the future. A newspaper article will start “the world has seen itself as its best.” The Eiffel Tower will erupt in celebratory fireworks in a way you’ll remember always. You’ll still be searching for videos of it 20 years later just to make you smile.
You know that list you made of places you want to see before you die? You will see many of them before you’re 40. You will see a volcano erupt – sort of – in the form of rivers of lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean on the island of Hawaii. You will visit Pompeii and stare at the majestic Mount Vesuvius and you will go to Martinique and see the ruins of Saint Pierre and the mountain that destroyed it – Mount Pelee. You will look down into the waters of Pearl Harbor and see the rusted remains of the U.S.S. Arizona. It will still be leaking oil sixty years later.
You will ride a gondola in Venice and you will touch a column in the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens. You will stand on the spot in the Tower of London where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and you will transit the entire Panama Canal – in a small boat too, which will make the effect of the locks even more awesome. That war in Yugoslavia you’re watching, you will see the damage firsthand in the buildings of Dubrovnik, Croatia. You will return to Croatia years later and stay on an old-world island with a friend.
You will stand on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and the British House of Commons, and you will see in the inside of the Supreme Court where no cameras are allowed, and you will not only ride a boat into Niagara Falls, you will get the see the wonder from a cave behind it. You will travel to countries you can’t even fathom you’d visit like Colombia, Turkey and Trinidad and Tobago. You remember that weird looking atom-shaped structure in Brussels that you’re curious about what it looks like inside? It is a gallery space for art installations and you’ll get to go inside.
You will stroll through Amsterdam’s Red Light District; drive across the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys – in a thunderstorm even; play slot machines in Las Vegas, nap on a beach in Barbados and do it again in Aruba and you will walk through the Colosseum in Rome, and you will do it twice.
So my advice to you, from 25 years in the future, is to put down that notebook and enjoy your boring life. It won’t be boring for long. I can’t tell you when the next forty years from where I am will look like, hopefully more like the latter part of this letter and not the former part. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to create historical events in a fantasy world for you to live though, you will, as they say, live in interesting times.
That was one of the last things I remember Miss Ferraro (Even into my thirties, I wouldn’t dare call her Camille) said to me the last time I saw her more than a year ago, and I held her ear for one of my many rants.
I was never *officially* a student of Miss Ferraro’s second grade class at St. Mary Gate of Heaven, but at my elementary school, every teacher was our teacher, and she was one of the VIPs. She taught for over 40 years and retired this year, working right up until the school’s closure.
Miss Ferraro passed away today, June 11, at the age of 66.
I started this blog to share my thoughts, opinions and my writing. Miss Ferraro encouraged me, but she is also a big reason why I am who I am, so I’m taking this moment to celebrate her.
It’s impossible to tally how many people have had their young lives molded in some way by Miss Ferraro; that number is definitely thousands, maybe tens of thousands. In some cases, she taught two generations of the same family. So many of us carry a piece of her influence and guidance every day. I’m lucky to count myself among them.
What I will miss most about Miss Ferraro is perhaps how much fun she was, not only in school, but also in social settings. She was such a community staple that we just kind of always assume she’d always be there. Miss Ferraro often got an invite to her students’ and former students’ Communions, or Confirmations, graduations and even weddings, and she made a point to go to as many as possible and when she arrived, EVERYBODY was excited to see her. She even came to our class reunions. It was kind of awkward to be doing shots of Blackhaus with your former teacher standing right next to you, but (although she didn’t drink) she enjoyed watching us have fun and celebrating.
She was funny, warm, witty and smart. She was always interested in what her former students were up and was quick to give advice and support. I never once saw her not smile. Her voice, which I can hear clearly right now with her deep New Yawk accent, was a source of comfort and familiarity.
Miss Ferraro, you will be missed. And at our 25th *gulp* class reunion in 2022, the Class fo 1997 will take the opportunity to honor you!
And everyone out there who has a special teacher they’re thinking about today. Find them and thank them. They are priceless.
Journalist Joe Nocera has a problem. In his Bloomberg editorial this weekend (WARNING: paywalled), he wants to know why California, which is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, isn’t getting the type of criticism that Florida, Texas and Arizona are getting. In the Golden State, cases are surging, positive test ratings are surging and hospitals in Los Angeles, like those in Phoenix, Houston and Miami, are approaching critical capacity.
Nocera, a conservative, blames politics. California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is a Democrat. He had been praised in the Spring for his COVID-19 response by experts and liberals who sought to compare and contrast his response to Republican governors and Donald Trump. The other three states have Republican governors who reopened their states against medical expert advice and declared victory when there were no spikes in cases after 2-4 weeks.
In fact, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went so far as the demand an apology from the media in late May for being “wrong” about predicting a surge in cases. The National Review’s Rich Lowrey even joined him in demanding people apologize to DeSantis for predicting a surge. In the face of the type of smugness and arrogance Republicans delivered during the reopening in May and June, versus Newsom, who had a more muted and methodological response to reopening, it is not surprising people are being harder on them than Newsom, party label aside. Newsom kept his state closed for far longer than the other governors, and didn’t spike the football when it appeared the worst had passed.
California tried, the other states didn’t, but California’s experience complicates the narrative of whether or not its possible to actually crush the curve without a big outbreak or more harsh mitigation measures. New York’s success may not be its speed and timing of reopening, but because it got hit hard in the first place.
Cases At Lockdown
Cases at Reopening
Cases as of July 10
1,006 (March 19)
64,561 (May 7)
20,875 (March 22)
348,232 (May 15)
California locked down several days earlier than New York with fewer cases, and better controlled the spread during the shutdown, but since opening, New York has only seem a 15 percent increase in cases, while California has seen a nearly 500 percent increase. California’s shutdown was only four days shorter than New York’s.
Did California reopen too early? Maybe. The state did not meet the protocols the CDC set out, specifically 14-day declines in cases, but California began reopening on May 8, when the daily case count was around 2,100 a day. New York began reopening on May 15 when the daily case count was around 2,500. So how did California screw up while New York didn’t despite the latter having more new cases?
Some have pointed to the fact that New York had a regional approach to reopening where areas like the North Country and Finger Lakes that weren’t hit very hard began reopening May 15, while New York City, where a majority of the cases were, didn’t start the reopening process until June. However, California did something similar – allowing rural counties to begin reopening earlier than Los Angeles and the Bay Area. California definitely did have more internal opposition to shutdowns and in populated areas, with conservative areas like Orange County, the Inland Empire and Central Valley opposing shutdowns in larger numbers than New York’s more rural conservative areas. California’s mask mandate came in June, while New York’s came in April, and California was doing less testing per capita than New York, so it is possible there were far more cases in California than New York at reopening that were missed. But there might be another reason for California’s inability to curb a second rise in cases.
When California reopened, though it had less daily cases than New York, the trend was very different. New York had over a month of declining cases, while California had plateaued at around 2,000-2,500 cases a day, seeing no declines. The situation basically forced Newsom’s hand. With no decline in sight, how long could California remian closed?
In May, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer made waves when she suggests the county’s “stay-at-home” order would have been in place until August. San Diego County extended its order indefinitely. The news led to some anger and frustration as to why California, which had been compared positively to New York in terms of controlling the virus by shutting down earlier, would need to stay in lockdown longer than New York. Republicans even sued Newsom, seeking to roll back his shutdown, buoyed by a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that effectively ended Democratic Gov. Tony Ever’s stay-at-home order and business closures in that state.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been told to learn the lessons of the 1918 Spanish Flu. One of the most common comparisons that is made is to the responses from the cities of Philadelphia and St. Louis in 1918. At the start of the second wave of the pandemic, Philadelphia waited too long to implement mitigation measures, and instead held a parade to raise money for soldiers fighting World War I. St. Louis, on the other hand, instituted strict mitigation measures and did so early. As a result, Philadelphia had a much high mortality rate as compared to St. Louis and hospitals in Philadelphia were overwhelmed.
But as I mention in more earlier Fact vs. Fiction piece, that doesn’t tell the full story of what happened after. As the chart below shows, Philadelphia’s peak was way higher than St. Louis’, but the outbreak was over by November 16, 1918, while St. Louis struggled to bring the cases down, eventually reaching its peak in December, long after the outbreak was over in Philadelphia.
And what about mitigation measures? (I’m hesitant to call them lockdowns because in most places, there wasn’t a total economic shutdown, just mandating masks, banning mass gatherings and some business closures). Philadelphia lifted theirs after four weeks. St. Louis, under great public pressure, lifted them after six weeks, only to reinstate them a couple of weeks later for another month and a half. (see charts below from National Geographic). Much like California vs. New York today, St. Louis was still battling the pandemic, while Philadelphia appeared to have beaten it.
So what happened? How did Philadelphia manage to quell its much worse outbreak with only four weeks of mitigation while St. Louis struggled for three months? Well, when you flatten the curve, the timeline takes longer. Messaging early in the pandemic led many to believe that the flatter the curve, the quicker we would come out on the other side. But that’s only true if you crush the curve, which California did not do. Such a thing would likely require a Wuhan-style lockdown, which was never possible (and assumes the data we got from Wuhan is reliable).
Now, this isn’t an argument FOR herd immunity, because we don’t know how COVID-19 immunity works, but its worth exploring whether or not New York has been able to reopen effectively not only because its reopening was slower, but also because a significant portion of the state and city got hit the first place and has, at least, temporary immunity that is slowing transmission. This is also not to say the pandemic is over in New York. Certainly a second wave is possible, if not likely, but New York has brought down the daily case load to levels that contact tracing and isolation can work.
Basically, California may have delayed the inevitable. Perhaps that was the goal. Even with its new outbreak, projection models don’t have California reaching New York’s death toll before November. We’ve learned more about the virus and how to treat it. Remdisivir wasn’t approved as an emergency treatment when New York was in the middle of its epidemic; many more drugs are coming in the pipeline and a vaccine may be here as early as January. In delaying the inevitable epidemic, California may have given science time to prepare and learn.
But early messaging definitely did not prepare anyone, let alone Californians, for month and months of lockdown, especially when it works. Imagine telling someone in March – “If we do this right, you’ll be home for a year, but if we don’t, it’ll be over in a few months”
She would’ve responded competently, but Federalism and partisanship in an election year would have doomed us all
Imagine it is late January, 2020; just a week or so before the Iowa Caucuses, and the GOP campaign to nominate a challenger to an unpopular incumbent President Hillary Clinton is well underway. Candidates are getting big crowds at rallies, excitement is through the roof, polls are showing the leading candidates competitive or beating the incumbent.
Then President Clinton gets the 3 a.m. phone call. The virus that is infecting thousands in Wuhan, China has arrived in the United States. A man in Washington State who was recently in Wuhan tested positive for COVID-19. President Clinton activates the Pandemic Response Team and tests are sent to Seattle and other entry points around the country.
Hospitals begin testing patients who arrive at the ER with flu-like symptoms, and positive cases pop up in California, New York, Chicago and Boston. Within days, it is clear there are already thousands of cases in the United States. The CDC and White House huddle together and decide to begin to suggest restrictions on mass gatherings, contact tracing and other mitigation efforts, and perhaps, if it came to it, lockdowns.
With just days until the first GOP caucuses and primaries, President Clinton goes on national television and announces new CDC guidelines that ban mass gatherings and social distancing measures.
What are the odds these measures would have been met with cooperation from her opponents? A (likely embattled) Democratic president running for reelection is curtailing the right to assemble just days and weeks before key primary elections. Hell, let’s face it, its entirely plausible that she would’ve faced a left-wing primary challenger, so not only would she be curtailing some freedoms right before GOP primaries, but Democratic ones too.
Unquestionably the Glenn Greenwalds and Cenk Uygers of the world, along with right wing pundits and her potential opponents, some of whom would be governors of states in the line of fire from COVID-19, would say it is politics: She’s afraid of how many people are showing up at rallies. She’s trying to quell uprisings against her. She’s colluding with China on a bioweapon engineered to get herself reelected.
Under a Hillary Clinton presidency, it is almost certain the 2018 Midterm Elections would have gone differently. Republicans would still hold Congress and would hold many governorships of states that were hard hid and had Democratic governors that responded with tough measures; states such as Louisiana, Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut and perhaps Illinois, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These Republican governors who would likely been politically pressured to oppose the guidelines and recommendations from an unpopular Democratic president up for reelection. Further, they would have seen a pandemic, with widespread death and economic destruction, just before a Democratic presidents’ reelection as manna from heaven. After 12 years of Democratic rule, they are given the key to winning the 2020 election on a silver platter, and they finally have an opportunity to do the thing they’ve been trying to do for three decades – end Hillary Clinton’s career in disgrace.
Since the start of the pandemic, progressives and Democrats, and pretty much anyone with a brain, have blamed Donald Trump for his sheer incompetence and lack of response to the pandemic. Certainly his pathetic excuse for a response, and successive screwups, are probably the greatest domestic blunder by a president since James Buchanan allowed Kansas to enter the union as a slave state, which helped trigger the Civil War.
The justified and rational desire among progressives and Democrats to lay the blame for America’s failure to curb the COVID-19 pandemic entirely at the feet of Donald Trump should not get in the way of recognizing and acknowledging how the very structure of the United States doomed it anyway. There was never going to be any nationwide consensus and cooperation on a strategy to suppress the virus and eradicate it, and there never will be.
This week, DailyKos, a well-known liberal blog, featured a front page article by writer Mark Sumner, who engaged in a bit of Harry Turtledove-esque historical fiction. In the post, he outlines what a potential response under Hillary Clinton would have looked like. In this parallel universe, the pandemic ended with just about 100,000 people infected and around 12,000 dead (verses the 3 million+ and 130,000 respectively and growing we are at now). By July, Hillary’s America is COVID-free and the economy is roaring back and she’s on a path to reelection. You can read his piece here.
But because that’s how it COULD have been is exactly why it WOULD NOT have been.
Summer’s storyline suggests that President Clinton would have tasked the Internal Revenue Service with contact tracing back in January. Does anyone really believe the conspiracy theory-ladened American public, both left and right, would cooperate with contact tracers from the IRS authorized by Hillary Clinton? A significant portion of this country believed she ran a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizzeria!
Sumner suggests that she would have “worked with Congress” to stockpile PPE and testing equipment. On what planet does anyone think a Republican Congress would cooperate with her on anything? Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and Republican leaders have all to gain for tying her hands and letting it all go to crap. Sumner also suggests that Clinton would have called for a nationwide shutdown. Sure, but as we learned already, that’s the call of the governors. Does anyone really believe Republican governors would willing follow her call to shutdown? Further, why would Republican governors in Michigan and Louisiana (both early hotspots) follow her orders when they benefit politically from letting people in Detroit and New Orleans die? What’s a few thousand less Democratic voters? Especially in competitive Michigan.
As we saw in the early 2010s, there is no length Republicans won’t go to hurt people, even their own voters, to gain and retain power.
Put all that up against the reality that a defeated Donald Trump would not have gone away. He’d be just as much the media magnet as he had been in office. His hysterics and Tweets would still make headlines. His new television and internet network would run 24/7 with conspiracy theories and crackpot arguments that would rile 30 to 40 percent of the population against the president’s measures. You think the protests against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were bad, wait until you see nationwide protests against President Hillary Clinton with no masks and no social distancing. Could Hillary respond with brute force?
And therein lies our next problem. Lockdowns in other parts of the world were strict. In Italy and France, people couldn’t leave the house without permission. In China, apartment doors were welded shut. Peru, the Philippines and Panama had armed soldiers roaming the street threatening to shoot anyone violating curfew. Most notably, several nations, including Italy, Canada, Australia and China, cut off travel into and out of hotspots, or in some cases, completely. Canada’s provincial borders are still closed.
American courts have ruled several times going back to 1823 that Americans have a Constitutional right to travel, meaning there was no way for the federal government to close state borders and limit domestic travel. This precedent was set by the Supreme Court as far back as 1869. They could shut down the airspace, but not land borders. We also couldn’t require people stay in their homes and enforce it legally – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as much in March. Martial law, as defined by the Posse Comitatus Act, is limited to only when law enforcement is unable to function and lawlessness and anarchy are at risk; such as when a natural disaster, riot or act of war has destroyed police precincts and jails. But martial law comes at a price – namely the suspension of habeas corpus and basic civil rights. In this situation, the virus was not preventing police from doing their jobs and any use of martial law would have had to be approved by Congress and authorized by the federal government. Would Mitch McConnell be willing to make Hillary Clinton a temporary dictator? Not a chance
As it is, Democratic Governors Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Andy Beshear of Kentucky have seen courts roll back some of their strictest mitigation regulations already, signaling that it is likely any stricter lockdown would meet judicial opposition.
And even if we could do a European- or Chinese-style lockdown here, would we really want to considering the state of law enforcement in this country? Imagine our police and military with the free range to stop and brutalize anyone they wish? Especially during a pandemic that is hitting black and brown communities the hardest. It would have been a green light for excessive force and police brutality. Look how badly police abused the curfews during the post-George Floyd protests and unrest in early June. Imagine that, but nationally and for months. Imagine how many black men and women would be arrested – or worse – just for going to the store or pharmacy and crossing a power-hungry cop in an election year? How many would contract and die of COVID-19 anyway in holding cells?
It’s worth noting that few countries anywhere in the world have handled this “well.” South Korea, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and New Zealand get kudos, but all are playing whack-a-mole with small outbreaks. Australia has gone so far as to reinstitute local lockdown measures – including putting poor immigrants in public housing under a two-week house arrest. Iceland and Taiwan have so far avoided any resurgence, but both are islands with few points of entry and both have had to shut down their borders for a long period of time.
We are not Iceland or Taiwan. We aren’t any of the other countries either. Our confusing patchwork of federal, state and local governments, and incoherent rules over who controls what, isn’t set up to handle something like a pandemic. That requires a steady, focus, centralized response and willingness to give up individual rights and privileges that are safeguarded in our Constitution. That, melded with our inability to come to a national consensus, even on basic facts, and because the pandemic would be occurring in a presidential election year where Republicans would be trying to break their longest losing streak in 75 years, makes it impossible for me to fathom we’d summon the will, or even the sheer ability, to tackle the virus; even if Hillary Clinton, or another individual who actually did the job, was president.
Now none of this means Donald Trump is exonerated. No way. In fact, Trump would have been in a better position than Hillary to forge a national consensus because the Democrats were more interested in proactive action than Republicans, and the latter would have to do whatever he says out of party loyalty. Trump would not have faced any serious opposition to contact tracing or a national shutdown. He did neither, or really anything else at all.
There are many things about America that are great. One of them is the extent of our freedoms and the Constitution that puts it all into writing – when it is correctly and equally applied of course – but there are drawbacks to that. Among them is our ability to control a disease easily transmittable by, well, humans being free.