When the flight attendant took the microphone and cleared his throat at 1 a.m., our departure had already been delayed for almost four hours. Prefacing his remarks with “you can’t make this stuff up” inspired little confidence, his flailing attempt at humor eliciting little beyond groans from the increasingly hostile passengers, slowly festering in a marinade of grim resignation. The crew’s wheeling out — minutes earlier — several carts overflowing with what passes for food and drink on a jetliner should have been a tipoff, but the seven hours between leaving home and getting almost nowhere had taken their toll on our capacity for anything beyond simple.

Senses dulled, eyes gazed, we zombie-ambled toward the multi-colored boxes as the blaring message explained we would be awaiting the arrival of a replacement pilot because the one we had — the one who came within minutes of taking off twice — was, for some reason, inadequate to fly the plane, which was also a replacement after a hydraulic problem shelved our original ride. Between those two issues, after we’d boarded a second time, we learned our new plane had been overseas and consequently needed re-inspection before it and we could safely depart.

Boarding a third time, I reasoned the positive thing about all this was, in retrospect, Jet Blue’s seeming ineptitude temporarily distracted us enough to stop assuming anyone daring to clear their throat was negligently risking all our lives. At this point, COVID-19 was nowhere and everywhere, but that distinction was about to change so massively, in so short a time, that life on planet Earth would experience an unprecedented transformation.

A couple of days later, our tai chi instructor looked positively beatific, perched adroitly on one leg, palms joined reverentially, silhouetted against the blazing sunrise over Tampa Bay as St. Petersburg came alive this early morning, the shoreline path inhabited with a spandexed assortment of people tending to their favorite aerobic jump starts. Although the uneven lawn under my bare feet made emulating the teacher’s posture difficult enough, trying to clear my mind and focus, as directed, only on what we were doing, was near impossible.

I realized we’re all infected now, even if we’re not. While COVID-19 may not have entered our bloodstreams, it most certainly has intruded into our collective psyche, compromising even routine activities. Supermarkets and department stores have been scoured of essentials by frightened people who remain confused even after a series of presidential press conferences failed utterly to clearly explain what we’re facing; how long it might last; and even the number of tests administered thus far or available in the near future.

Over the past three years, we have become so inured to presidential ineptitude that many of us have simply placed any expectations of executive office competence on the back burner until November, assuming we’ll be aware enough not to make the same mistake twice, unaware that our 2016 national blunder might still cost thousands of lives; millions of jobs; trillions of dollars; and quite possibly, some of those we know and love. What we did not know — in this case, especially — has most assuredly hurt us.

Our initial ignorance of the coronavirus and its implications was vast and as usual, based entirely on Donald J. Trump’s myopic focus on nothing beyond his own self interest. Faced with clear indications this was not a routine flu, the president of the United States chose to ignore the recommendations of the World Health Organization and his own CDC — which he had decimated with massive budget and personnel cuts — and instead, downplayed the seriousness of what was coming via his usual canards: “Fake news” ... ”Democrat hoax” ... ”We have it contained” ... ”gone by spring” ... ”testing for all who need it” ... and “Our response was a 10 out of 10.”

The simple fact of the matter is the president didn’t want Americans to know how many of us had been infected because he thought it would reflect poorly on him and impact his reelection campaign. Clearly, the leader of the nation was unwilling to so much as consider the impact of his behavior on the health and welfare of the country. His lack of a timely and appropriate response is sickening and killing Americans as you read this.

And while we’re at it, we should also remember, post-Mueller report and post-impeachment, the Republican Party is complicit in every self-serving action this pathetic excuse of a man has taken: every lie, every whine, every stupid tweet, every brain-dead press conference, every shirk of responsibility — all of it. The GOP — with the unlikely exception of Mitt Romney — has either defended his malfeasance or spinelessly genuflected to his lunacy, fearful of presidential pique. Their cowardice has now become criminal.

Our trip aborted, we’re cruising under Boston during what normally would be a late weekday rush hour, our Uber is the only car in sight. It’s more than eerie. I feel like I’m in the science fiction movie I’ve been warning people about. Although it’s only been a week since we thought we could travel for a month, that decision seems completely idiotic from this vantage point. What were we thinking? As we get to the car and aim it homeward, we’re looking at at least 14 days of self-quarantine which, considering where we live, won’t be so difficult. What will be difficult is holding off fear while — like so many others — we wait it out in our isolation.

Walt Amses lives in North Calais.

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