Other countries whose governments addressed the crisis forthrightly have managed to wrestle down the curve, and now they are carefully, safely reopening.
After months of restrictions, people in Europe and other countries where the virus hit during the spring are starting a measured return to something resembling normalcy. Europeans are starting to open their borders to other countries — but America is one of the countries not on that list.
In the US, the curve is trending up, not down, even if Vice President Mike Pence deceptively declared in an op-ed this week, “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” unctuously declaring that the good news is “a testament to the leadership of President Trump.”
The article was thoroughly filleted on Twitter by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who showed how claim after claim by the vice president is contradicted by the facts. In many states, the number of cases is not declining, the testing remains insufficient and Trump’s leadership has been characterized by disregard for the advice of his own experts.
Why has the curve showing new infections headed steeply lower in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and other hard-hit countries, when the United States has been barely able to lower the infection rate?
In large part, that’s because instead of a responsible approach smartly balancing the need for economic activity and the imperatives of public health, Trump, aided by Pence, has opted for a different strategy. It’s a familiar one, a combination of head-in-the-sand and gaslighting, turbocharged by a mind-boggling plan that would actually increase the number of infections, rather than slow the contagion.
This weekend, Trump will take the stage at what’s shaping up to be a superspreading event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in a confined venue, exchanging infected droplets.
The President likely knows some will get sick. That’s why when you register to attend you have to sign a waiver assuming the risks of Covid-19 infection and agreeing, “not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.” liable. The city is all but begging him to stay away, but Trump wants to revive his campaign never mind that cases there are increasing.
Despite Trump delighting in calling Covid-19 a “foreign virus,” he at times seems to be trying to help it become a permanent resident here. He doesn’t just ignore the advice of his own experts, he publicly flouts it and encourages others to do so, sending a none-too-subtle message that wearing a mask — which has been proven to help slow the spread — is a sign of unmanliness or cowardice. In fact, not wearing one is a sign of selfishness.
Months after the coronavirus overwhelmed hospitals in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the country, the situation has stabilized in the worst-hit states. But most states are not showing declines, and the country is barreling ahead toward reopening, ignoring the benchmarks for reopening set out by Trump’s own task force, as the President pushes the fantasy that the crisis is vanishing.
Taunting the virus might seem like a wrongheaded, foolish plan. And it is. But it’s not without logic. It’s an effort aimed at achieving one goal, and one goal only: helping Trump win re-election.
Unlike the Covid-19 charts, Trump’s approval ratings are trending decidedly down. As a result, the impetus for pretending the crisis is over has become increasingly urgent.
Trump and Pence have launched a two-man gaslighting act, trying to tell the American people that everything is OK: It’s just journalists pretending there’s a problem. That sounds a lot like his February case-count forecast when, responding to whether or not Americans should make summer plans, he said, “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
On Monday, during a roundtable discussion on senior citizens, Trump said “If you don’t test, you don’t have any cases,” a belief reminiscent of a baby thinking you disappear if he covers his eyes. To state the obvious, if we stopped testing, people would continue to become infected and die. The latest forecast from the University of Washington predicts the US will hit a total of 200,000 deaths in the United States by the beginning of October.
But Trump and Pence are not just misleading. They are lying. (Yes, the very pious vice president is lying.)
In a White House roundtable, Pence promoted the falsehood that the increase in cases is the result of more testing. He even claimed that in Oklahoma, “the number of cases has declined precipitously”; a lie.
As Gupta explained, “if you’re doing enough testing, cases should start to go down because you are finding people early before they spread it.” Look at the examples Gupta gave: In New York, more testing and fewer cases; in Florida steady testing and spiking cases; in Oklahoma, less testing, more cases.
By now, Americans have gained a familiarity with the coronavirus. We are smarter about it. So are scientists, even if we’re still seeing roughly 20,000 new cases every day.
We know how to keep the spread down: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands. And governments need to organize more testing, prevent large gatherings and arrange for contact tracing.
Trump is doing few of the right things and many of the wrong ones. To the extent that the country is doing better, it is largely in spite of Trump, not because of him. As a result, Americans wishing to travel, to return to normalcy, can look toward Europe longingly, with more than a little envy.