When I went to bed Thursday night, we had 11,000-something cases in the United States. Friday morning, the TV said there were 14,400 or so. I read Thursday night that “if the number of cases were to continue to double every three days, there would be about a hundred million cases in the United States by May.”
I am terrified in a way I’ve never been of anything in my life. One out of three Americans, if we don’t arrest this spread? That’s someone I know. That’s plenty of someones I know. Maybe me. The peak is 45 days away, they say, though that will vary from place to place. Doctors are reusing masks. We still don’t know where these millions of test kits are. This is going to be a nightmare like this country and the world have never seen.
So you’re damn right I’m terrified, and Donald Trump is a big part of the reason I’m terrified. I say this not with hatred, but just as observed fact. He is constitutionally incapable of rising to this occasion. He didn’t make this crisis, but he’s shown no signs that he’s able to handle this.
This is how he’s skated by all his life. He says what will get him through the next 10 minutes. So he stands up there at these press conferences and says over and over that he’s handling this great and his administration is doing this and it’s doing that, but then we learn later in the day that these things actually didn’t happen. He uses language that a responsible coach of a Little League team wouldn’t use (“you know the expression, ‘what the hell do you have to lose?’”), and then, every day, usually more than once a day, he picks a fight with a reporter and blames everything on fake news.
Friday morning, Peter Alexander of NBC asked him a question that was really a chance for the president to offer the public a reassurance; what does he have to say to Americans who are scared? Trump replied, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter.” He then went on to call NBC partner Comcast “Con-cast.” Then, with Mike Pompeo next to him—and by the way: next to him? What the fuck are these people doing still standing up there together? What message is that sending?Anyway, with Pompeo up there, he mentions the State Department and then “jokes”: “Or as they call it, the Deep State Department.”
This is who he is. He can’t change, he can’t grow. I’m sure there is a part of his brain that understands the gravity of this crisis. But that’s a small little corner. Most of Trump’s brain is an inferno of ego, self-aggrandizement, secret inferiority, and grudges. When he’s sitting in the private residency at night, what’s he thinking about? Is he thinking about how to speed the manufacture and delivery of ventilators? Is he wondering how to show better leadership tomorrow? Or is he stewing about Yamiche Alcindor?
We know the answer, because we know him. If he were capable of change, he’d have done so in January, when health professionals were waving a red flag in front of his face. But we lost those crucial weeks. And people will die because of it. Specifically because of his denialism. He now denies his denialism. But we all saw it clearly.
And not just his denialism. The denialism of his Republican Party, and its propaganda network. (except I guess we have to single out Tucker Carlson for praise now; God help us that the fate of the country may depend on Tucker’s conscience).
In fact, this disaster is more the Republican Party’s fault than Trump’s. Republicans’ entire mission for 40 years now has been tearing down public confidence in government, science, expertise, and bureaucrats. But now, we need government, science, expertise, and bureaucrats. They’re the only things that will save us.
Will one Republican admit this? Will one step forward and say, “You know, maybe we went a little far?” They do know better. We know that. If they (or some of them) are smart enough to sell stock based on knowledge of the science here, then they’re smart enough to know that the rhetorical poison they’ve been pumping into the atmosphere for four decades is a lie. Will one Republican say it? How many Americans are going to need to die before a majority of congressional Republican admits that yes, government, science, expertise, and bureaucrats can be good? This virus is going to kill Republicans as much as Democrats, after all.
Yes, governments around the world are struggling to respond to this. But they’re taking steps we’re not taking, whether on the health front or the economic front. And everybody knows by now how South Korea has kicked our pants. But granted, all right, it’s scary wherever you live (in any of “140 countries,” as Trump keeps repeating, which is his way of saying this is not just happening here and it isn’t his fault).
But Trump in particular makes it scarier, by promising tests that don’t exist, by making doctors bend to his “feelings” about things, as he did with Anthony Fauci on Friday, and by insisting on showing us his immaturity on a daily basis. He is as perfectly ill-matched to this crisis as a person can possibly be.
It’s as if this whole thing is a John Milton poem, with Satan sitting there thinking “now let’s see, what plague can I visit upon this nation that will exploit the precise tragic flaws of its leaders and the weakness and irresolution of its people? I know! Something grounded in science. Because science is immutable. It cannot be spun or mocked or blamed on people with the wrong skin color. It’s perfect. Let’s see how they handle this one!” And God protested for a bit and tried to talk him out of it, but finally said, “What the hell, it’s probably what they deserve.”
It’s going to get so much worse. And Trump is not going to get better. In fact, it’s almost a certainty that he’ll get worse. He’ll snap. He’s lied his way out of everything in his life, but he can’t lie his way out of this.
If you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention.