It’s over. America has lost its half-hearted struggle with coronavirus.
The virus showed up to the fight. But, as a country, we never really did.
The federal government never took the kinds of steps other countries were prepared to take. President Trump rarely talks about the virus, in fact, other than to essentially declare victory despite a laundry list of evidence to the contrary.
“Things are coming back, and they’re coming back very rapidly — a lot sooner than people thought,” Trump said during a press conference that quickly morphed into a campaign event Tuesday evening in the Rose Garden. “People are feeling good about our country. People are feeling good about therapeutics and possible vaccines.”
He has never talked about contact tracing, which the leaders of other Western countries used to help pare their confirmed Covid-19 cases. He has vowed the United States will not shut down again, even though that’s up to governors and not him.
His always-loyal vice president, Mike Pence, was sure to rhetorically bathe him in the kind of praise he so craves on Wednesday during a coronavirus-themed visit to hard-hit Louisiana.
“This is a serious time with rising cases across Louisiana and all across the Sun Belt. But as all of you know, because of your efforts, because of the unprecedented national response marshalled by our president, because of the seamless partnership with your governor, and because of the extraordinary support that we've received from members of Congress, we have more resources today to deal with this pandemic than ever before,” Pence said at Louisiana State University.
But the ever-in-line VP is not suggesting states or cities should re-institute stay-at-home orders or mandate that bars or gyms shut down as coronavirus cases surge in some states. He’s out there parroting Trump that schools should reopen in a few weeks and America has done a stellar job battling the virus, despite the fact that Covid-19 has infected at least 3.5 million in the United States and killed at least 137,000 people.
While Trump prefers to mostly press for steps that might fuel a partial economic recovery before Election Day, Pence has the unenviable chore of leading a counter-virus task force that his boss has never been that into. But when Pence speaks, he reveals where the administration is – and, by extension, where we as a country are headed.
“PPE has been made available in the hundreds of millions of supplies,” he said on Wednesday. “Therapeutics, like remdesivir, continue to be distributed to states, including Louisiana. And I'm proud to report that we're moving forward aggressively, at warp speed, on the development of a vaccine.”
Make no mistake, within those handful of sentences is a clear signal that America’s only hope is getting that vaccine. Until it is deployed to high school gymnasiums, superstore parking lots and doctors’ offices, expect nothing more than the same mediocre – or worse – response at just about every level of government.
California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona and 16 other states have rolled back measures intended to get their staggered economy rolling again amid skyrocketing cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus. But folks are bored and cooped up, while others feel masks represent tyranny, so there’s just too much public pressure from all sides of any governor’s electorate to completely shut down again.
Over 30 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic forced Trump and governors to, in the president’s words, “close it down.” The economy, predictably, showed signs of bouncing back after states opened, with the unemployment rate shrinking from nearly 15 percent to around 11 percent.
But as states shutter at least some of their businesses, workers again will be let go. Trump has focused on the economy since the virus started to spread from sea to shining sea, but he continues to fail to ignore the fact that it always was going to be the things that just about every other developed country did early in their outbreaks that was going to produce an economic recovery ASAP.
Now, without a roaring economy as the backbone of his floundering re-election campaign, polls of his job performance and handling of the pandemic suggest he will be SOL come Election Day. The rest of us likely are, too, until someone in a HAZMAT suit can inject us with a vaccine.
So enjoy sporting events in empty stadiums – until players and coaches get sick in numbers too large to field teams – and enjoy the strangest presidential election, probably ever. Don’t get too attached to your favorite restaurant or bar. And don’t book too many personal training sessions if you have to pre-pay. It’s all probably closing down again.
After all, our chief executive seems to have no idea how people actually get sick from the virus or much empathy for those who do – and any empathy he displays for those who die from it is directed at his own bleak political plight. “We test more than anybody, by far. And when you test, you create cases. So we’ve created cases,” he said this week, his latest logic-free statement about Covid-19.
There is no white knight about to walk through any door that will flatten the curve of US cases. Not until someone walks through it with the first shipment of a vaccine, anyway.
And don’t look to federal officials like Anthony Fauci to put this surreal and disappointing moment of American failure behind us. He’s too busy posing by his pool for magazine interviews in his shades, and waging an utterly sickening and unproductive war of words with the White House.
The Brooklyn-born Fauci is willing to throw rhetorical bombs at others, including the president and his team. To be sure, some of his criticisms are spot-on. But he has been wrong plenty of times, as well. Yet, somehow he has become such a national darling that not even Trump allies like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham will offer anything but glowing reviews.
Asked by an interviewer for that InStyle magazine piece – the same interviewer who let us know she’s been pals with Fauci and his wife for years, the kind of inside-the-Beltway chumminess most Americans loathe – what he and other officials did wrong, the top US infectious disease official didn’t dare criticize himself.
“You know, that’s almost an unanswerable question. There are so many possibilities. I don’t like to phrase it in the context of what we’ve done wrong, as opposed to let’s take a look at what happened and maybe we can have lessons learned,” he said, in a rambling answer that absolved himself of any responsibility. “I can’t say we did anything wrong, you know, but certainly we’ve got to do better.”
Spoiler alert: We won’t do better. Not until we all have a get-out-of-jail-free card coursing through our veins. The VP promises that at “warp speed,” which no doubt gives little solace to the 855 people who died here from coronavirus on Wednesday.