Within the heart of the problem is this ventricle: Donald Trump defines “sacrifice” as “what other people do to make me happy.” Trump enjoys having his picture taken with evangelical ministers laying hands on him like he’s the very Rock of Ages, but in truth, the man wouldn’t know genuine sacrifice if it walked up and stuffed a live bat down his pants.
This is going to become a problem for Trump soon, because millions of Americans are making actual, often painful sacrifices every day to help him bring the COVID-19 pandemic to heel, and he doesn’t seem to have done very much of a single damn thing with that dearly gifted time beyond promote himself and yell at reporters.
A great many of these sacrifices are not voluntary. Service industry and gig-economy workers didn’t sign up to be martyrs for the cause of slaying the coronavirus dragon, but there they are at home, listening to Trump brag about robust testing in a country with no national testing plan to speak of. Health workers did not expect to run toward the pandemic with garbage bags as their armor, but there they are, every damn day.
Trump says he wants people to go back to work but is doing less than nothing to see that such a transition happens safely and without risking another flare-up. Meanwhile, parents balance work and homeschooling their kids in a world with harshly shortened horizons and few places to go beyond the four walls of home.
It puts me in mind of “The Waiting Place” in Dr. Seuss’s classic Oh, The Places You’ll Go!: “Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No, or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.”
Indeed. Most people will keep waiting, too, despite the rampant jackassery of the president, because they are taking this thing seriously and want to protect their families, their communities and themselves. A recent Quinnipiac poll has a nearly 70 percent of Republicans and 95 percent of Democrats — gotta have that Red/Blue thing — all supporting the idea of a federal stay-at-home order. That is an astonishing plurality.
Here’s the conundrum: The only way this country gets past the COVID-19 pandemic is testing, testing, testing. We can’t even begin to fix it if we don’t know how sick we are. The only way to know how sick we are is through the kind of mass-testing program perfected by countries like South Korea, which tests tens of thousands of its citizens daily, and with the data collected, has managed to wrestle the virus to the mat.
Trump wants no part of mass testing, because he doesn’t want the country to know how sick it actually is. If the country knew how far this pandemic had reached, people would (gasp) refuse to work for fear of dying, and (gasp) the industrialists reaping wealth from that labor would lose money. Worse, they might (gasp, gasp) not vote for him in November because of how lethally he botched this crisis from the first day.
And then there are the larger concerns about how COVID-19 may change the country in a way that capitalism would find distasteful.
“If the electoral danger for the Republican Party is that voters will blame the president for high unemployment and mass death — a reasonable fear, given how Trump loudly denied the threat in the face of warnings from inside and outside his administration — then the ideological danger is that it undermines the ideological project that captured the state with President Ronald Reagan and is on the path to victory under Donald Trump,” writes Jamelle Bouie for The New York Times.
In other words, the coronavirus pandemic has put the right-wing, trickle-down Reagan Revolution in deep peril just as its adherents stand on the cusp of accomplishing their long-sought goals. This cannot be allowed, and so the bannermen of conservatism are marshaling their forces in an effort to herd us back to work, back to feeding the machine, well before the nation is anywhere near ready for anything of the sort.
As has been his way with every other scandal and mess he has gotten us into, Trump has chosen to face the current dilemma with his usual double-barreled shotgun approach. First barrel: Lie at every opportunity, take credit for other people’s work and point out nonexistent progress. Second barrel: Pander to his far-right, gun-waving base.
Like King Arthur freeing Excalibur from the stone, Trump pulled out a testing swab with a flourish during the Sunday “briefing,” glibly claiming, “Swabs are so easy to get.” This was so brazen a lie that an avalanche of governors — Ralph Northam of Virginia, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and even Larry Hogan of Maryland (a Republican) — called Trump out with such velocity and volume that the administration promised (again) to deploy the Defense Production Act to make more swabs as soon as possible.
Simultaneously, Trump has been egging on various anti-quarantine protests around the country. As stated in the Quinnipiac poll, some 70 percent of Republicans agree with the idea of stay-at-home orders. Thanks to the organizational skills of a few gun-rights activists who think the NRA is too soft, a “movement” to defy the stay-at-home orders has been fomented online.
“A trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs is behind some of the largest Facebook groups calling for anti-quarantine protests around the country, offering the latest illustration that some seemingly organic demonstrations are being engineered by a network of conservative activists,” reports The Washington Post. “The online activity … helps cement the impression that opposition to the restrictions is more widespread than polling suggests.”
Of course, the mainstream news media pounced on the story, making it seem like this small cohort of far-right citizens who appear bound and determined to catch COVID are actually some massive groundswell. Ten years ago, this was exactly how the Tea Party got started: A few corporate-backed “protesters” got themselves on TV, and we were off to the races.
Meanwhile, the rest of us sit here in The Waiting Place, marking time and hoping for some sort of coherent action from the federal government to organize a response that will end the siege. Practicing patience and kindness, maybe tending gardens or children or both, maybe staring at the walls worrying about dwindling funds, and maybe dying alone in a crowded hospital filled with nurses wearing used masks soaked in Lysol.
All patience wears out, and Trump’s non-action to address this crisis appears more deliberate by the day. A fearful reckoning is coming to a head.
This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the referenced Quinnipiac poll.