What if the president gave a party and no one came? Those sending their regrets for Trump’s Florida prom include seven senators and too many House members to count. Come August, it seems likely that only Trump friends and family and those of service pet Mike Pence will be celebrating the re-coronation in Jacksonville.
That’s not to say Republicans are suddenly worried about the country’s health; just their own. Since Trump bombed in Tulsa, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, Don Junior’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, and thousands of Oklahomans have tested positive for the coronavirus. Some Republicans are realizing that supporting Trump is risky enough without getting in the same room with him.
Still, elected Republicans—Mitt Romney and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan excepted—won’t risk seeing their careers go the way of Jeff Sessions’. They nod in agreement when Trump says he’s done a great job handling the pandemic and the virus will disappear. They just aren’t willing to die for him.
What’s happening with the convention and with the president’s equal obsession that schools open is a product of Trump’s need to convey that everything is awesome. The reason he ripped his convention away from North Carolina’s “Democrat” Gov. Roy Cooper is that his safety restrictions would have created the impression there’s a virus raging out of control. Trump up and took his coronation to Florida’s more submissive GOP Governor Ron DeSantis, not realizing that DeSantis’ submission to Trump’s reckless disregard for the virus means he’ll be giving his big acceptance speech in a hellscape.
For Trump, stagecraft has subsumed any semblance of statecraft with a daily schedule that would make a slacker blush: acres of “executive time” watching his shows, occasional lunches with super-enablers, Pence or Secretary Mike Pompeo, trolling the insubordinate Dr. Anthony Fauci, finding CEOs like Goya’s who will come to the White House to declare how blessed he is to have Trump as our president, and planning his time before a camera.
In an hour-and-16 minute so-called press conference Tuesday evening, Trump attacked Joe Biden and his son with a lot more energy than he attacked the scourge killing the country. It does nothing to assuage parents’ fears about school reopening, or anyone else’s, when he brushes off a virus running rampant in 40 states with his usual, and wrong, “If we did half the testing, we’d have half the cases,” and the spurious claim that he’d saved three million people by taking the actions he did.
Trump’s strategy for reopening is to make “the need to live,” as we did in a time long, long ago, take priority over doing so safely. He’s intent upon business as usual. The rambling Rose Garden diatribe was a desperate attempt to compensate for the unusual cancelling of his weekend rally in an airport hangar in New Hampshire after a concerned Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, said he wouldn’t attend. Trump conjured a tropical storm as a weak excuse. The weather in New Hampshire turned out as forecast: sunny with a chance of Tulsa.
Trump’s insistence on an in-person rather than virtual convention will expose willing adults. His insistence that parents send their children back to school without even weak CDC guidelines in place draws innocents into his virus-what-virus charade. In his push to get naysayers out of his way, Trump is ending CDC’s long role as keeper of the country’s health statistics. Another agency—HHS, under White House control—will be taking over. Once the data is thus hidden from public view, sit back and watch as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths inexplicably and dramatically go down.
Trump cites schools in Germany, Denmark, and Norway in support of opening, failing to acknowledge, as former FDA chief Scott Gottleib hastened to, that those countries did so only after bringing the level of daily infection down to a manageable level. That’s not close to happening here. In fact, CDC chief Robert Redfield, who lately is taking the risk, like Fauci, of being honest, told a medical journal that the worst is yet to come with the fall and winter “one of the most difficult times that we've experienced in American public health.”
That’s a health expert’s scientific conclusion. Mine is that schools are more like bars, proven super-spreaders, than offices, with adults primed to following written instructions. Elementary school children are frequently punch drunk as if someone spiked their juice boxes. They’re hard-wired to ignore social boundaries and have to be trained to do something as simple as raising their hands and forming a single line to go out and play. And play—one reason to return—is not on the menu. Nor is lunch in the cafeteria or being close to a teacher shrouded in PPE and behind Plexiglas. Of three teachers who shared a classroom at summer school in Arizona, two are infected and one has died.
It’s not that parents don’t dearly want children back in school. They’ve spent months solving new math problems with old math techniques and defined good parenting down by hooking up Wii to the internet. They not only have to get back to work, they have to get back to sanity.
But they recognize something Trump doesn't: that while kids don’t die anywhere close to the rate of adults, they do die. We don’t have data to know the risk once they’re out of captivity. Back in May, after kids were locked down, a study in the medical journal JAMA found a 4.2 percent mortality rate among those admitted to pediatric wards compared to 62 percent for adults. Another in the British journal Lancet published in June found a death rate of 0.7 percent.
It will be another failure if schools open politically: Los Angeles isn’t opening, while Republican Orange County and Dallas, at the red hot center of the virus but following the president’s order to reopen, are. If Dallas, with 190,000 students, were to factor Lancet’s estimate into its calculations, 130 children could die. Each of the 138,000 people who have perished is a tragedy beyond anything we imagined six months ago. But there’s an unimaginable horror to come if children start dying.
We’re back where we were in March. Fortunately for children, Trump will have more sway holding his convention than opening schools. His die-hard followers will come to Jacksonville like the man who told The New York Times, citing the oft-misused statistic, that he’s more likely to get run over by a truck than felled by the coronavirus. Wrong. An average of 36,000 people die per year in auto accidents; 137,000 have died in six months from COVID-19.
The president may be facing a tiny bit of reality as he floats the idea of holding the convention in the great, safer, outdoors. In August, the average temperature in Jacksonville is in the 90s and, of course, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. That’s in the mid-90’s too, yielding a misery index the president will be tempted to take a black Sharpie to, moving the needle from “oppressive” to the merely “miserable.” There goes the dew point in Jacksonville trying to make Trump look bad again.
To prove there’s nothing to see here, Trump will party at the epicenter of the virus and insist that school bells ring. But he can’t force children to cram into public schools, despite his claim that Article I of the Constitution gives him absolute power to do as he pleases. The question is whether he still has the hold over cowardly Republican governors to do it for him.
I’m listening to Fauci, who finally told Trump to “stop the nonsense.” And I’ll send the children I love back to school when the doctor tells me to.