Looking Months Ahead with Dread

The bad news about coronavirus keeps piling up. Yesterday was the deadliest day of the pandemic in America, far surpassing the records that had been set the prior day and the day before that, and in the past month more than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs to push the unemployment rate to the highest since the Great Depression.
Given a scandalous lack of testing to identify infected persons and high risk areas and quarantine them, America has wound up quarantining pretty much everyone except for the mostly low wage workers deemed “essential.” This is the cause of economic calamity that is under way, and it’s also an onerous burden for everyone who’s putting up with. We freely admit that it’s driving us quite stir crazy, and the weird-even-by-Kansas standards weather we’ve be having lately is making it downright intolerable.
No surprise, then, that resistance to the stay-at-home orders prevailing in most of the country is increasing. There was a huge protest rally in Lansing, Michigan, and another one in Columbus, Ohio, this week to protest that state’s very strict orders, as well as smaller ones in capitals of Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Although President Donald Trump has lately followed the experts’ advice to go along with the shutdowns for now, he’s been conspicuously reluctant about it and is clearly eager to get back to normal sooner rather than later, and the protests all have the feel of a Trump campaign rally. Lots of Trump-Pence and Make America Again signs, American and Confederate flags, along with chants of “lock her up!”
This is also unsurprising, given the anti-government instincts of the current Republican party. Trump’s upset victory in the Electoral College was largely a result of the white inland working class resentments to the dictates of those pointy-headed intellectuals Back East and those know-it-all Hollywood hippies and high-tech socialists on the West Coast. The worst of the coronavirus problem is predictably happening in the densely populated cities that deprived Trump of a popular vote victory, and to a lot of people in the vast but sparsely populated areas that delivered Trump’s Electoral College win it doesn’t seem fair that they’re stuck at home watching “Tiger King” and sports re-runs.
Those elite coastal liberals are indeed an insufferably condescending bunch, and given the current Democratic Party’s enthusiasm for bossy government there’s something to be said for the Republicans’ principled libertarianism. Even in this strange times, as a general rule we still agree with Walt Whitman’s sage advice to “Resist much, obey little.” They seem to have an especially strong case in Michigan, where hundreds have died in the state’s mostly densely populated city and the hospitals are struggling to care for the sick, but the shutdown order has such arbitrary and counterproductive measures as banning sale of garden seeds, which might be need for the “Victory Gardens” that got America through World War II, as well as such items as paint and carpet being sold in stores still allowed to be open.
Even so, we’ll be mostly staying at home and trying to somehow remain sane for the duration, and hope that most of the Americans who can do so will as well. This is partly because the state and county authorities have left us with nowhere to go except the grocery and liquor stories, but as free citizens we’re voluntarily not dropping in on any of our much-missed friends for more selfless reasons. We’ve always been fatalistic about death, and after so many weeks of our own company now seems as good a time as any, but we’d hate to we don’t want to bring any harm to any other human we might come within six feet from.
There’s been a recent outbreak in one of South Dakota’s bigger cities, with most of the victims working at the same packing plant that provides a big chunk of America’s pork, and the Red States of Georgia and Louisiana and Indiana and the swing state of Florida are also hot spots. There are at least a few infections even in the most remote regions, and given the exponential way the virus spreads and the paltry health care resources in those locations that’s nothing to sneeze at, if you’ll forgive the morbid joke. Given the healthy suspicion of authority that beats on both the right and left sides of the American heart, we expect that most Americans won’t necessarily come out of the house go back to work when Trump tells them. Most will await the all-clear from the doctors with more expertise in epidemiology Trump or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or some YouTube conspiracy theorist.
Not so very long ago the Republican Party used to win presidential elections with a coalition of pissed off white working guys, more educated and affluent white suburbanites both male and female, and the big corporations that provided employment and health care and retirement plans to a big chunk of them. The white working guys are still pissed off and waving Trump signs, convinced that Trump has done everything right and bears no responsibility for the current catastrophe, but there are only so many of them. Those snooty suburban Republicans-in-Name-Only were abandoning the GOP in droves in special and mid-term elections even before the United States was the most coronavirus-infected country in the world, and with their stock portfolios are down by a lot, and they have a tendency to consume a variety of news sources, many of which make a convincing case Trump didn’t do everything right, so we can imagine many of them voting for a damned Democrat.
As for corporate America, Trump doesn’t seem to have it on board for an early resumption of business. Trump announced a roster of big time executives who had joined his economic recovery team, many of whom hadn’t yet been asked to join, and during a day of conference calls with them he heard some flattery but mostly warnings that they wouldn’t be able to get back to business until the coronavirus had been contained by far more testing and a vaccine and a cure. This is unlikely to happen in the next four weeks or so, but corporate America seems willing to wait it out rather than risk the lives of its employees and customers and all the lawsuits that would surely entail if getting back to business spiked rather than slowed the rate of infection and death.
No matter the economic or public health benefits of quick return to economic normalcy — we’re no experts on either matter — Trump’s apparent political strategy seems flaws. To whatever extent Trump tries to hasten the great reopening of America’s big and beautiful economy, he’s taking a calculated risk. If the death tolls climbs further into the tens of thousands the public might well conclude that a few upticks in the stock markets and downticks in the unemployment rate weren’t worth it. If he does the economy will continue to sink, and everyone is still stuck at home through the summer and into Election Day that’s also bad for Trump.
With nothing but sarcasm intended, we’re consoled that Trump will act in the best interests of the people rather than his own self-interest. When it comes down to those risky calculations presidents must make, we’ll try to forget that he went bankrupt six times in the casino business, and trust his word that we’ll soon be tired of winning.

— Bud Norman

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