A senior Trump administration official told a Washington Post reporter that Americans will get used to the threat of coronavirus and numb to its mounting death toll. Acceptance of this reality, his advisers believe, will give President Donald Trump a path to a second term.
“They’re of the belief that people will get over it,” said a former administration official, “or if we stop highlighting it, the base will move on and the public will learn to accept 50,000 to 100,000 new cases a day.”
A guy needs a steroidal implant to raise that much cynicism. If this is a campaign strategy — ignore the pandemic, or treat it as the no-big-deal the president does — it sounds more like placating the candidate than a plan for victory in November.
It won’t work. The virus is not magically going away, as Trump keeps saying. And American voters are not going to magically forget how the president mishandled the crisis from the start, making a bad situation worse than it had to be.
Of course, at this point, you might be tempted to believe, or thinking wishfully, that we’re “getting over it.”
If you have stayed at home or close to it since March, if you are healthy, if you have managed to keep your job or keep your business running, if none you love succumbed to COVID-19, and unless you work in a hospital or nursing home, you probably feel safely separated from the nation’s catastrophe.
That’s not to say you’re immune from the pandemic’s effects. It has turned life upside down. It has thrown millions out of work. It has exposed the horrible failings of a politically polarized country and a weak president.
Across the nation, more than 132,000 people have died from the virus in less than six months and, as staggering as that sounds, if none you love is among the dead, you’re still emotionally disconnected from the pandemic. Charts, images from television, newspaper stories, anecdotes in social media — all of that might be powerful, but it still constitutes a secondhand experience of trauma.
This takes me back, for a moment, to the height of the Iraq War, the one the Bush administration and a complicit Congress (including then-Sen. Joe Biden) launched in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The military draft had ended 30 years earlier. So, with an all-volunteer force, only a small percentage of Americans personally knew someone who served in that war. Even fewer knew someone who was wounded or killed over there.
We might have grieved for our dead and honored Iraq veterans, but few Americans actually made, or were asked to make, wartime sacrifices.
The coronavirus, on the other hand, has affected all of us, but obviously some more directly than others.
I don’t wish the real thing on anyone. I only offer this as a personal reflection of where many, and probably most, Americans are today. Most of us are still spectators to this national horror.
And, given recent downward trends in cases and deaths in Maryland, you might even start to think the worst is behind us — that the crisis has been managed relatively well by Gov. Larry Hogan and local officials, and what remains is just a logistical challenge: Restarting the economy, getting kids back in school.
If we keep wearing face masks in public, if we keep a safe distance from others at the supermarket, if we patronize restaurants outdoors, we might survive the worst public health crisis any of us have ever seen.
But, even with all that, one look at the trends in other states should leave most Marylanders circumspect and wondering: Are we really safe? Has the plan for reducing transmissions and the pressure on hospitals been wisely managed? Did Hogan make the right calls? Did he wait long enough to reach the downward trends and bench marks he set for phased-in reopenings of businesses?
Can our fellow Marylanders be trusted to continue wearing masks and avoid large gatherings that could set off a spike? Can we really send kids to school this fall when health experts are warning about more infections during the coming flu season?
We might be better off right now in Maryland than in a lot of other states, but will that hold?
We are not talking about a foreign war involving a relatively small number of Americans 6,000 miles away. This is a virus that has spread among us and throughout the country. The nation leads the world in infections and deaths.
According to an aggregation of recent national polls, about 65% of us remain “somewhat” or “very” concerned about infection. Less than 40% approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis, and his rating is only that high because of 81% approval among Republicans — evidence of stunning indifference to facts or cultlike partisanship.
Those who continue to support Trump might be inclined to do as he asks: Get used to the virus. Accept millions of infections more and perhaps 100,000 or more deaths. Soon there will be a vaccine, and the economy will come roaring back.
The rest of the electorate will not buy that. More informed, more respectful of science and more empathetic, we will grieve the deaths of others and mourn those that might have been avoided with presidential decisiveness instead of denial. We will not get over that.