When the Coronavirus is Personal

By happenstance we ran into an old friend Monday who told us from behind a face mask six feet away that he had recently recovered from COVID-19, and been given clearance by his doctor to start running into people again. He further informed us his wife, also a friend of ours, who already had plenty of serious health problems, was still recovering in a nearby hospital but had at least been taken off the ventilator.
We have other friends who stubbornly insist that the seriousness if not the existence of coronavirus is a hoax promulgated by an alarmist fake news media as another witch hunt against President Donald Trump, and they like to ask if we even know anyone who’s gotten sick. The aforementioned friends are the second and third people we know who have been among the nearly two and a half million COVID-19 cases, and although we don’t yet know anyone among the more than 120,000 Americans who have died from the disease we’re inclined to regard the coronavirus as a truly serious problem.
Politics and other weaknesses of human nature have proved ineradicable throughout history, though, and those instincts overwhelm a dispassionate assessment of the data. The coronavirus is indeed a pressing political problem for President Donald Trump, and his most ardent admirers feel obliged to somehow explain why it’s all fake news. Some still cling to the theory that all the federal health authorities and and the state and local health authorities and all the doctors and nurses on duty in America’s hospitals are in on a “deep state” plot to make Trump look bad, but most attempt more reasonable arguments. The coronavirus does indeed exist and has infected a couple of million or so and killed more 120,000 or so, they acknowledge, but they argue that in the grand scheme of things that’s not so bad, and no reason to continue any anti-coronavirus measures.
After all, this is in a country of more than 330 million people, with some 47 or 50 million of them unemployed and eager to get back to work, and pretty much everyone is itching to get back to going to concerts and sporting events and campaign rallies and social justice protests and running into people within six feet and without face masks. Federal and state and local restrictions on personal behavior for public health reasons are predictably widely unpopular, and it’s understandable why Trump has seemingly staked his reelection on flouting those rules and encouraging others to do so as well.
For now, though, it seems a losing argument. All the polls show most Americans are taking the coronavirus quite seriously, Trump’s handling of the problem has majority disapproval, and a mere 6,200 of his most ardent admirers signed a form waiving the Trump campaign’s liability for any sickness or death to attend an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Trump is hugely popular but coronavirus cases have lately been doubling every day, The fans in attendance loved it when Trump drank from a glass of water with one and not spilling a drop on his silk tie, but his rally speech in a time of coronavirus didn’t do him much good with any potential new voters.
Trump had plenty of people to blame for the current sorry state of affairs, but at his first coronavirus rally he didn’t outline any specific plan to resume economic activity while keeping the coronavirus in check. To be fair, none of the damned Democrats have done so. Which leaves us worried, and wondering what might come on Election Day, if that happens. In the meantime, we’ll be praying for all of our friends, and everyone else.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, There’s Still a Coronavirus

The good news is that the rate of coronavirus infections has lately slowed across America, but the bad news is that’s not true everywhere. The populous states of Texas and Florida have seen alarming increases in the infection rate since loosening restrictions on businesses and public gatherings, and it’s happening here in Sedgwick County, Kansas, too.
Which is not surprising. All those restrictions were the apparent reason the rate of infections had slowed, and numerous experts had warned against loosening them too soon. The restrictions were bad for business and onerous for everyone, though, and after weeks of being cooped up the temptation to get back to normal proved too tempting to resist.
Our fervent hope is that the recent spikes prove temporary, and that hot weather and the remaining restrictions and everybody’s newfound habit of staying several feet away from one another keeps the numbers down, but we’re not betting on it. The coronavirus has largely disappeared from the news because of the attention being paid to all the peaceful protesting and violent rioting about racism and police brutality, and the many instances of videotaped police brutality that have ensued, but that doesn’t mean it has disappeared. It’s still out there, spreading more rapidly in many places, and isn’t likely to go away in time for Election Day.
Even if there’s a second wave worse than the first, those restrictions are so bad for business and so onerous for everyone that the temptation to get back to normal will still be irresistible. Fear of the coronavirus doesn’t seem to have stopped all those peaceful protesters and violent rioters from the taking to the streets in large public gatherings, and President Donald Trump has decided that if they can do it he should be able to resume holding his crowded and raucous campaign rallies this month. He might be risking his supporters’ health, but he’s been in the casino business and presumably knows how to play the odds.
Public health officials around the country are urging anyone who’s been involved a demonstration or riot to be tested, on the other hand, and they’ve been mingling with others outdoors and by what we can tell from the news coverage seem far more likely to be wearing a face mask than the typical Trump supporter. The typical Trump supporter feels as passionate about their president as those demonstrators feel about racism and police brutality, however, so we expect large public gatherings to continue through the summer and into the autumn even if the major sports leagues don’t start up again.
More than 109,000 Americans have already died of COVID-19, which more than have died in every American war since Vietnam, and the final death toll will depend on what Americans do over the coming months. As Trump likes to say, we’ll see.

— Bud Norman

Yeah, Right, Like He Was Being Sarcastic

Even President Donald Trump’s most staunch apologists, who are an extraordinarily staunch lot, occasionally have to admit he can say or “tweet” some pretty damned stupid stuff. When there’s no plausible defense for it they either flatly deny that Trump said what all the video evidence clearly shows he said or raw saved screenshots screenshots show what he wrote in a hastily deleted “tweet,” or they fall back on the explanation that he was obviously joking and his stupidly humorless critics just didn’t get it.
Late last week Trump invited a considerable amount of ridicule by asking the government’s scientists to investigate that COVID-19 could be cured by somehow exposing a patient’s innards to “ultra violet or some other powerful light” or perhaps injecting the sort of disinfectants that have been proved kill the coronavirus on surfaces. No, he didn’t say that people should drink bleach or shoot up Lysol, as many internet wags giddily ¬†paraphrased it, but enough people took the idea seriously enough that the poison control center hotlines in four states saw a spike in calls about it and disinfectant manufacturers felt compelled to issue public warnings agains ingesting their products, and asking the government’s scientists to waste precious time and resources on such an obviously absurd and unscientific spur-of-the-moment idea was an indefensibly stupid thing to say. Which initially led to White House spokespeople denying he’d said what all the evidence even on Fox News clearly shows he said, or that at least it had been taken out of context, even in reports that showed the whole thing from beginning to end, and they rightly noted that some internet wags on the fringes of the internet were falsely implying Trump had urged people to drink bleach.
Trump was nonetheless clearly losing the news cycle and all the late night comedy shows still airing, what with all the damning videotape from all of the networks including Fox News were obligated to run, so by Sunday he had switched to saying that yeah he’d said what they said he’d said but was just kidding. He explained that “I was asking a sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen. I was asking a sarcastic and a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it and would kill it on the hands, and it would make things much better.” Alas, none of this utter nonsense is likely to save the news cycle for Trump.
Trump told one of the assembled reporters he was looking at him as he made his joke, but the reporter replied with the provable fact he hadn’t been at the news conference and that Trump was looking at a government scientist in apparaent earnestness, and the all the videotape even from Fox shows that Trump was looking at his coronavirus coordinator when he touted ingestion of disinfectants as a possible cure. As avid students of the cynical art of humor who appreciate a subtle wit we can also say that if Trump was only kidding he is by far the most deadpan comedian we have ever encountered. As empathetic human beings, we will also venture to opine that right now isn’t an appropriate moment for presidential sarcasm even if that s the official explanation..
Somehow Trump found time over the weekend to “tweet” that all the reporters who’d won “nobles” for reporting on Trump’s contacts with Russians during his presidential campaign should return them, and the that the “nobles committee” should instead confer the honor on the reporters who reported the story more in line with Trump’s version of events. As avid students of the cynical art of humor we were able to deduct that Trump meant the Nobel Prizes, which honor scientific and diplomatic and literary achievement but not American journalism, and that by “Nobel Prizes” he meant the Pulitzer Prizes, which do. After deleting the “tweets” he “tweeted” that deliberately meant to disrespect the Nobel Prizes he’s never won and never will win by ironically calling them the “noble prizes,” which is not bad if he’s really that subtle, but he was still mixed up about the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and seemed to be losing yet another news cycle.
Trump’s astoundingly staunch apologists always wind up saying to forget anything Trump stupidly says or “tweets,” and to watch what he does, We’ll do exactly that, and hope for the best as America gropes its way through the worst public health and economic crisis of our lifetimes, making difficult decisions about how to balance both problems based on incomplete data, but we’d feel slightly better about it if the President of the United States refrained from saying stupid things even if he was just being sarcastic.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Good News

The weather was quite nice in Wichita on Wednesday, with sunny skies and highs in the 70s, and on a brief walk around our picturesque Riverside neighborhood we noticed that flowers are blooming and the trees are coming back to life. Somehow the beauty of nature seemed slightly eerie, given that all the news is about nature trying to wipe out humankind, but we found it heartening nonetheless.
We returned home to read that the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion spending bill in response to the economic effects of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which is expected to be quickly passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, and we hope that turns out to be good news. The smart money on Wall Street seems to think so, as all the stock markets went up for a day, but no one expects it will stave off a severe recession and markets will likely go down with the next employment numbers. Despite the hopefully bipartisan agreement the bargaining it took get it seems to have exacerbated the the country’s political polarization, with everyone accusing the other side of exploiting a crisis for ideological reasons, which will make it harder for our democracy to make the hard decisions that are sure to come.
Sorry to sound so gloomy and doomy, but the news lately has little to offer but gloom and doom. A few days ago 100 Americans died of COVID-19 and now it’s more than 200 a day dying, and although the rate of increase in infections might be slowing — there’s no way of knowing given the limited testing that’s been done — there’s no sign of a decrease. Hospitals in such densely populated cities as New York and San Francisco and New Orleans and Detroit are running out of beds and
essential medical equipment, even the sparsely populated and mostly rural states have lost lives, and no one but Trump seems hopeful that it will take weeks rather than months before things will start getting better.
There’s still good news in the world that’s not in the news, though, and we urge you to look around and find it. The West Douglas Church of Christ is closed for the duration, but one of our fellow congregants called us today to say they’ll have carry-out communion bread and sealed communion cups, and to inquire if we needed anything the church might provide. We were happy to say that we’re getting, and volunteered for any errands that need to be run, and we much appreciated the call.
Some people have been selling stocks on inside information and hoarding toilet paper and otherwise acting with no regard for others, but we happily note that most people are being more considerate. We have to venture out of the house occasionally to obtain necessary supplies, and when we do the people we encounter maintain a polite distance but are friendly. Our Facebook friends keep posting hopeful messages and gallows humor, and people seem to be keeping in touch one way or another.
The flowers and the trees and greening grass and blue skies are good news, too, and if you’ve got that going on in your neighborhood we think it safe to advise you go out for a walk and take a look. We don’t expect to be able to celebrate Easter with our church and family and friends, but even in the spring of a plague year we believe in the miracle of resurrection.

— Bud Norman