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“There is nothing either good or bad,” Hamlet tells his old childhood buddies in Shakespeare’s play, “but thinking makes it so.” President Donald Trump borrowed that principle this week as he strove in vain to turn bad news about the coronavirus into some kind of positive, casting the fast-growing number of cases as a good thing – evidence of success in expanding testing.
“We’re doing so well after the plague,” he told thousands of students at a rally in Arizona, where Covid-19 cases are spiraling up. “It’s going away.”
In reality, the number of new Covid-19 cases was increasing over the prior week’s levels in more than 30 states by Friday. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a Congressional committee that Covid-19 has “brought this nation to its knees.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave this advice: “Plan A: Don’t go in a crowd. Plan B: If you do, make sure you wear a mask.”
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As Dr. Kent Sepkowitz wrote, “The Covid-19 infection rate in the US is increasing at warp speed, alarming almost everyone outside the White House.” Some states are following the CDC’s guidance for a careful, phased reopening dependent on data. Others opened too soon, “wasting the weeks of tedious quarantine.” They resembled “an athlete, after months of grueling rehab from an injury, returning too soon and ending up back at square one after re-injuring the same bone or joint,” Sepkowitz wrote.
Jill Filipovic called the US “an outlier among nations, with more cases and more deaths than any nation in the world.” Its people “make up just over 4% of the world’s population, but about a quarter of global coronavirus deaths,” she noted. “And yet we haven’t reckoned with this massive, unmitigated public health failure.”
Trump and the White House gave wildly inconsistent messages on testing. First, the President said he told his team to slow it down, then he pushed back when his aides said he was just kidding about that (“I don’t kid”), and finally settled on: he was being sarcastic. In fact, the administration said it was going to stop funding 13 community-based testing sites. “Instead of pulling back on testing, the nation needs to double down on it,” wrote the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times. “This is how we beat the ‘invisible enemy,’ of which the president speaks. Not by covering our eyes and pretending it isn’t there.”
There is no harm in testing, wrote Frida Ghitis; the harm, Trump seems to believe, rests in how the results could affect his reelection chances. “What Trump is trying to do is convince the public that the continuing disaster that is his handling of the crisis is not really happening. Don’t look at the growing number of cases and deaths, he’s telling us; it’s a mirage. Everything’s okay.”
US travelers could be banned
The US could even suffer the indignity of seeing its citizens barred from traveling to Europe, where strict lockdowns have kept the virus mostly under control, wrote David Andelman. “If the US fails to meet the criteria being considered by the European Commission, member states could treat Americans as they might people from Russia and Brazil, driving the US even deeper into pariah status. Travelers from China, the nation where the pandemic began, would likely not be banned.”
In Croatia, a charity tennis tournament had to be canceled and the world’s number one male player, Novak Djokovic announced he and his wife both tested positive for coronavirus. “As surging cases across the US and in countries around the world are demonstrating every day,” Holly Thomas pointed out, “a preemptive assumption that business can continue as usual can have devastating consequences.”
Cecilia Muñoz, who led the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama administration, argued that we should be honest about who’s most at risk as states reopen. “Some governors, with the support of our President, have been careening forward in willful disregard of the evidence, which now unequivocally tells us that these decisions will have a disproportionate impact on Black and brown lives,” she wrote, citing inequities in health and in the economy.
Another worrying factor is that the age profile of Covid-19 victims has shifted significantly, with more than 60% of infections in the US now under 50.
“The 20- to 40-year-olds appear to be spreading the infection unperceived,” wrote biologist Erin Bromage. “They are just as easily infected as the elderly, but much more likely to show no or mild symptoms. People in these age groups are the ones who have allowed the virus to smolder through our communities and erupt into flames when they make contact with a susceptible population.”
At a time of huge uncertainty, Rebecca Bodenheimer is among the many parents who have been wrestling with the question of whether to send children to summer camp. “After more than three months of shelter-in-place and social isolation, my son and his peers have major quarantine fatigue,” she wrote. “They’re frustrated and upset about not being able to see their friends, engage in any sports or go to any kid-friendly venues. While I understand well the risks of spreading Covid-19 that summer camps entail, I’m much more worried about the social-emotional toll the pandemic has taken on my son. That’s why I’m sending him to camp.”
Joe Biden’s advantage
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many presidential candidates chose to conduct their campaigns from home rather than travel the country, begging for votes. “In those long-ago ‘front porch’ campaigns,” wrote historian Thomas Balcerski, “the approach both accentuated candidates’ likability through a folksy veneer and limited their liabilities by controlling the environment in which they appeared.”
When the pandemic began, Trump and his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden, were confined to the equivalent of their front porches, though not by choice.
A week ago, the President ventured out for his first mass rally, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sections of the arena were empty and the predicted overflow crowd didn’t materialize. In contrast, “Biden seems content to address much smaller gatherings and mostly remain virtual,” Balcerski noted. “In our new work-from-home era, Biden’s approach may prove more attractive to those voters who appreciate his respect for public health and safety.”
Dean Obeidallah observed: “Donald Trump loves packed campaign rallies, positive media coverage and not being the butt of jokes. Based on those metrics, Trump’s campaign rally Saturday in Tulsa – his first since the Covid-19 outbreak – was a big fat failure on all counts.”
At that rally, Trump said something that analyst David Axelrod, who was the strategist for Barack Obama’s two winning presidential campaigns, found “unintentionally revealing.” Trump conceded that Biden is “not radical left” – although he charged that the left does control him.
“Donald Trump is a cultural warrior,” Axelrod wrote. “His politics depends on mining the fear and resentment of white, working class voters who feel they are on the losing end of economic and demographic change. Joe Biden is culturally inconvenient for Trump’s re-election project. An older, white, Irish Catholic from a working class Pennsylvania family, Biden is just not frightening enough to the voters Trump needs to scare.”
More than four months before the election, national and state polls show a sharp shift in Biden’s favor. Trump is underperforming among non-college white and evangelical voters, while suburban voters and people over 65 “give Biden the edge, and you can see the President’s challenge,” Axelrod wrote.
Pushing the buttons
“Trump is responding by pushing all the buttons that worked for him as an outsider candidate in 2016,” wrote Michael D’Antonio. “He indulges in stream-of-consciousness rants, like the one explaining his recent physical struggles at West Point. He pastes ugly nicknames on his opponents. And he continues to rail against immigration.”
“The trouble with Trump’s rerun approach is that he’s not an outsider anymore. He’s the President – which means he bears responsibility for the state our country is currently in. Things are so bad that he’s even lost his chance to brag about the economy, which was once at the center of his claim to success.”
Trump’s recent performance was roasted in a leading conservative venue, the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. “Something shifted this month,” wrote columnist Peggy Noonan. “He hasn’t been equal to the multiple crises. Good news or bad, he rarely makes any situation better. And everyone kind of knows.”
The Journal’s editorial board rendered this brutal verdict: “As of now Mr. Trump has no second-term agenda, or even a message beyond four more years of himself. His recent events in Tulsa and Arizona were dominated by personal grievances.”
In Biden’s camp, the big question is who he will choose as his running mate. He’s pledged that he will pick a woman, a promise that resonated with Donna Zaccaro, a documentary filmmaker whose mother, Geraldine Ferraro, was chosen in 1984 as Walter Mondale’s running mate – the first woman to run on a major party ticket for VP.
“Biden’s campaign has reignited our hope to one day see a woman in the White House,” she wrote. “Critics have complained that he has unnecessarily ‘limited the pool’ of potential candidates. As Geraldine Ferraro’s daughter, I say that choosing a woman should not be seen as limiting the field. Rather, it levels it.”
Donald Trump can’t say he wasn’t warned about what would happen when he hired John Bolton as his national security adviser.
In a 2018 CNN Opinion column, Peter Bergen wrote, “Bolton takes very good notes about what his counterparts say in meetings and what he says to them, so we should expect another Bolton memoir at some point – this one about his time in the Trump administration.”
Last week, that prediction was fulfilled. Bolton’s devastating takedown of Trump was published, bearing a title adapted from the hit musical Hamilton: “The Room Where It Happened.” Bergen’s review of the book noted that, “Bolton’s personal contempt for Trump oozes from almost every page. In the 500-plus page memoir it’s hard to find any moment where Trump is portrayed in any kind of positive light.”
For more on the book:
Samantha Vinograd: The right title for Bolton’s book
Charlie Dent: Congress should call Bolton to testify
The weight of history
Some people have tried to “delegitimize” the Black Lives Matter movement with the saying, “All Lives Matter,” wrote Paxton K. Baker, one of the owners of the Washington Nationals. “If you’ve thought or said this out loud during this time, you are missing the bigger picture. Studies show that Black people, and primarily Black men, are killed by a rate of about 3 to 1 compared to whites by police officers annually.”
History is instructive. “We were the only race of people brought to the US as slaves,” Baker wrote. “We were bought and sold like a commodity, not valued for being human but for the work we produced. The Constitution of the United States defined us as three-fifths of a person. Not only were we enslaved, but educating a slave was against the law. We could not own land and we could not vote. Even after segregation ended, we were still only allowed to buy land in designated redlined areas. Banks would not provide us loans and we were again segregated – our neighborhoods, our families, our schools, our children. The cycle continues today.”
Rev. Joanna Adams, a retired pastor in the Presbyterian Church, grew up in Mississippi in the 1950s, knowing no Black people other than the school janitor and the family’s maid, Omera. Joanna’s mother chastised her after she gave Omera a goodbye hug. She recalled the big event in her town, the springtime Calf Scramble Parade, which was brought to a halt one year when a float from the Black grammar school came by and spectators hurled the “n-word” and spat at one of the girls on it.
“Did I speak up? I was nauseated, but I was also frightened,” Adams wrote. “I was also a child, a child of the south. I was afraid, my tongue frozen in my mouth.” She can longer remain silent. “White southerners, we must speak up now – Black lives matter. Our souls are at stake, as is American society.”
The fate of statues
Ever since 1940, “the iconic equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt, his horse flanked by two muscular, semi-naked men, one African, one American Indian” has stood outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, wrote anthropologist Hugh Raffles. He called it a “source of shame to the city and an insult to Black and Native New Yorkers.” Now the museum and city have said it will be removed.
“Today, the statue is a blunt reminder that the founding of this country 400 years ago is the intertwined story of African slavery and the dispossession and genocide of Native America…Museums now have the chance to face their history and refuse the temptation to excuse outdated displays and collections of dubious provenance as the products of an earlier era,” Raffles wrote.
Other statues are causing controversy. Getting rid of tributes to Confederate generals makes perfect sense, wrote John Avlon, noting that many were erected in the years after the Supreme Court ordered school desegregation in 1954, but other decisions are more complicated.
“In the end, they all were statues honoring people who committed armed treason against the United States to perpetuate slavery. Today we are in the midst of an overdue reckoning, but as it advances there is always the question of how far to go,” Avlon wrote. “We are all imperfect people struggling to form a more perfect union but surely we can agree that there is a difference between statues of Jefferson Davis and Thomas Jefferson — let alone Abraham Lincoln…”
Arthur Berger and Harry D. Wall: The Portuguese diplomat who saved thousands of people and lost everything except his good name.
Elie Honig: A clear sign of William Barr’s scandalous abuse of power.
Ryan Petty: The call for officers to be removed from schools is a mistake.
Elliot Williams: Bubba Wallace didn’t suffer a hate crime. NASCAR still has a problem
Andrea Mammone: Let’s not allow Steve Bannon and ‘conservatives’ to legitimize extremism in Europe.
David A. Andelman: As America reopens, I fear I’ll be isolating for years
Ushma S. Neill: The hidden health cost of Trump’s visa freeze
Dina Mired: Covid-19 unmasks what cancer patients have long known
Henrietta Fore: It’s time to reopen schools
Catie O’Reilly, a new graduate of Vanderbilt University, was looking forward to starting a job at a health care consultancy in San Francisco and beginning to pay off her student loans.
Saima Rahimi, a recent medical school graduate, was planning a wedding reception with a guest list of nearly 300.
Then the pandemic hit – and their plans got put on hold.
They’re members of a generation hit by three soul-crushing crises: Covid-19, the steep recession and the national movement for racial justice. Every generation has faced deep disruption in the past four months, but it’s been a particularly wrenching time for those whose careers and relationships were poised for change.
“With classes going virtual, graduations postponed to spring of next year and millions of job opportunities lost, young people are being forced to contend with some of the greatest challenges of adulthood right now,” wrote Yaffa Fredrick, introducing a CNN series she and Laura Juncadella edited on “Generation Resilient.”
There is some good news, she added: “The generation that is feeling a particularly heavy blow from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – and now a month of protests against centuries of racial injustice – is largely taking it in stride.” Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett says people aged 18-25 are in “emerging adulthood” and vulnerable. Still, in “25 years of studying this age group, Arnett says he has noticed a phenomenon. Young people are often confident that whatever struggle they are facing now is temporary and will soon pass. Even young people who have little going for them seem to believe that they will eventually get what they want out of life.”
The med school graduate, Rahimi, has rescheduled her wedding ceremony for May 2021 but unless there’s a widely available vaccine, that date may have to change too. The champagne flutes she ordered for her bridesmaids were labeled with her original date, but she was able to peel those stickers off.
“These past months have revealed that we have very little true control in the face of nature – and I’m learning that this is OK,” Rahimi wrote. “No major life event pans out exactly as planned and, at the end of the day, I’m incredibly lucky to still be with my partner, who has provided immense patience and strength throughout the difficult weeks of quarantine.”