If you’re reading this on Saturday, I’m most likely on a southbound plane, theoretically escaping Vermont’s winter but also trading temporarily icy fingers for a few weeks of what promises to be 24/7 uncertainty, anxiety and no small worry about the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
Are we putting ourselves at risk for some sunny days and a warm swim? Maybe. Should we go where lots of people are or should we shelter cozily on our isolated back road? At this point, no one really knows, despite assurances to the contrary from the Washington brain trust.
Although we’ve been lucky enough to travel far and wide these last couple of years, landing in a variety of places that come with State Department warning labels, we’ve pretty much remained undaunted, figuring we could negotiate whatever came our way. Problem solving just became another part of the equation for us, like buying travel insurance. But we’ve never really thought about disinfecting our seats and armrests before, either.
Our worst experience by far was the overwhelming disbelief and sense of dread we felt while at an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand upon learning Donald Trump had been elected president. Ironically, three years later, his narcissism, coupled with his total lack of credibility, plays a prominent role in our current dilemma, as well, the danger of which he has identified as just another “hoax” perpetuated by his enemies.
Usually when the White House stable of loyal humanoids is dispatched to spin a carefully constructed, consistent narrative about anything, there are several points about which we can remain certain. First and most essential is, it has been designed to protect Trump at all costs from any criticism or accountability; next comes the assertion he’s completely knowledgeable about the topic — better informed than anyone — and he has boldly taken action to solve the issue; and finally, the situation either wasn’t nearly as bad as reported in the “fake news” or was someone else’s fault — the “Democrat” Party is an always reliable scapegoat.
One other thing we can be sure of is that much of what they’re saying is not true. What makes the controversy around the coronavirus different is that as it worsens, it will be far more difficult for the president and his cronies to gaslight the nation as they’ve done during the Mueller investigation and the impeachment inquiry and subsequent Senate trial. It’s already apparent that, foremost of Trump’s concern is laser-focused on how a pandemic would affect the economy and hence, his reelection. Another of his hostage-reading-a-script-at-gunpoint news conferences did little to ease the nation’s worry.
With his usual disdain for anyone who knows anything, Trump assured us a vaccine would be available sooner rather than later: “I’ve heard it’s a matter of months ... a year on the outside;” and the virus would only be around until April: “It will be gone ... like a miracle with warmer weather.” Each of these assertions needed to be corrected several times by scientists and doctors who transcended politics, reporting this was the “tip of the iceberg,” and it was a matter of “when, not if” that COVID-19, as the virus in discussion is known to the scientific community, would spread exponentially through the country.
Through the week, the number of infections continued to rise, the mortality rate jumped to an astounding 3.5% and the stock market cratered with its worst week in memory, and it became ever clearer the mechanisms of government are once again being retooled to make it appear the president’s false statements are true. But this time, it’s different. Unlike the Russia probe and impeachment debacle, COVID-19 is immune to spin, and Trump’s toadies will be hard-pressed to control the narrative.
What happens these next few weeks and months will not be designed to massage the president’s fragile ego, but rather present a clear contrast between Trump’s illusions of competence and reality. Undoubtedly, more people will become sick and certainly a percentage of those will die, although at the moment we cannot predict how all of our lives will change in this new, uncharted territory. One chilling prediction was that between 40% and 70% of the world’s population might become infected, which — if the 3.5% mortality rate is accurate — would mean this pandemic might kill tens of millions.
This was sobering news as I grimly took a luggage inventory midweek, wondering how much antibacterial hand sanitizer would fit in my suitcase — that is, if there was any left at the pharmacy. The evening news showed empty grocery shelves on the West Coast as people prepared for the possibility of being quarantined; parents scrambled for child care in the event school closures became necessary; and 38% of Americans according to one poll would not “under any circumstances” be drinking any Corona beer. Huh?
At the point I’m writing this, I fully expect to be on that plane, unless something Earth-shattering comes up. But I’m not departing without a healthy measure of trepidation, which strikes me as a strange anticipation embarking on what’s supposed to be a pleasure trip. But I must admit, the observer part of me is kind of interested experiencing how others are coping with the science-fiction movie that has replaced their daily lives.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.