The U.S. coronavirus death count quickly shot past that of the 2009 swine flu epidemic, which caused about 12,400 deaths in a year’s time. As of April 20, more than 40,000 Americans had died from the present pandemic in little more than three months.
Nevertheless, by working together, we are getting through this crisis, despite the present administration’s muddle of announcements, contradictions, finger-pointing and general abrogation of responsibility.
But what will be our collective reflections in six months or a year? Surely, we already perceive one enduring conclusion — we were woefully underprepared. Other insights will arise, some of them quite surprising. The influence of sports, for one. It was the shutdown of the NBA, the NCAA, Major League Baseball and spring high school sports that caused the effects of the disease to be delivered wholesale — a roiling tsunami that exposed our weaknesses in the face of a virus for which there is no vaccine.
In the aftermath, we will, I pray, better understand how it is that we are all part of a whole, each of us dependent on the other. Political leaders, farmers, food service and medical personnel, the clerk, hairdresser, soldier and mechanic, the insurance agent, tradesperson and CEO — those who are union and non-union — the medical worker, clergyperson, hotel maid and maintenance worker, the teacher and the taught; each of us a part of a larger picture. As poet John Donne put it, “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
In the days “after,” we will better understand the word exponential. Science and research will have gained ground on guesses, hunches and nonscience that provided pronouncements of alleged palliatives and cures.
The essential role of the federal government in dealing with an evil that knows no state boundary will be better appreciated, particularly by the Grover Norquists among us. The late libertarian believed government should be shrunk until it could be drowned in a bathtub. That is an awful philosophy anytime, especially so in the face of a pandemic.
Elsewhere, some of us will better understand that another virus, known as authoritarian personality disorder, is capable of wringing humanity itself from the human corpus.
In the days ahead, perhaps a goodhearted man or woman will reflect on our president’s fecklessness and, thus, will donate a red hat to the museum of great ideas that did not work. On March 16, Mr. Trump was asked how he would rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, his performance in dealing with the pandemic. Without hesitation, he answered, “a 10.”
Another likely alteration in the nation’s consciousness will be a reexamination of the president’s legacy. Many, I among them, believed he would be remembered for icy images of children in cages. Instead, it now seems more likely he forever will be recalled as the president who concluded too late that a virus is immune to pathological lies. On Feb. 26, the president said, “When you have 15 people [infected], and in a couple of days it’s going to be down to zero ... .” It then took just seven weeks for more than a quarter-million Americans to be diagnosed with the virus, by far the largest number of any nation.
In a mid-March press conference, President Trump said his administration’s ability to fight the virus was hampered because he had “inherited an obsolete system,” which was an odd way of describing his own dismantling of the Obama White House’s office of pandemic preparedness.