COVID-19 and the Post-Facts Presidency

I planned on taking a victory lap for calling Joe Biden’s “remarkable” comeback before his “stunning” victory on Super Tuesday last week (score one for team demographics are destiny), but the stock market tumble and the ongoing drama of whether or not COVID-19 is or is not a pandemic have overwhelmed all other stories for the moment. Alas, my crowing will have to wait.

COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus, continues to dominate the news cycle. The market continues to tumble and panic is starting to set in. And because we live in the dumbest timeline, this has become a partisan topic. Conservative news outlets maintain that the MSM and liberals are stoking panic in an effort to sink the market, and thus President Trump’s re-election hopes. The dumbest timeline.

Let me be clear: every major pandemic scare in the century since the Spanish Flu killed somewhere close to 20 million people from 1918-1920* has been covered like this. All of them. Cable news was awash with H1N1 coverage in 2009. Was the mainstream media trying to destroy Obama? If you listened to Fox News or Rush Limbaugh in 2009, no. They were working with Obama to create a panic so people would get… vaccines. Or to sell Obamacare. I don’t know if any of these clowns had a fever dream tying it to LGBTQ rights, but that wouldn’t shock me either. As Nicholas Kristof shows in the linked article, there is at least some correlation between listening to such paranoid delusions and actually getting sick (and in some horrible cases, dying). Something Matt Gaetz would have been wise to have remembered before he improperly strapped on a gas mask to walk into the House to mock the Coronavirus just days before one of his own constituents died from it. You can’t make this shit up.

*Spanish flu death totals are hard to pin down, but most estimates place it somewhere between 15-50 million, with around 20 being the general consensus.

This brings us back around to our current health crisis. As with the swine flu, SARS, Zika, bird flu, Ebola and others before it, COVID-19 is all over the news. And repeating their greatest hits from 2009, Donald Trump and the right-wing infotainment complex is out to tell you that all of this fear-mongering is just liberal hysteria trying to sway public opinion. Rather than tricking you into getting a vaccine or winning your support for increased access to health insurance, they are now trying to… checks notes… tank the stock market. You see, liberals hate Trump so much they are willing to gleefully liquidate their own life savings to make sure he doesn’t get re-elected. Apparently, Michael Bloomberg’s campaign was more inspiring than we all realized!

This, of course, is insane. Liberals didn’t get airlines to shutdown flights and lose money. They didn’t show up at CPAC and send Ted Cruz and Paul Goser into self-imposed quarantines (I am thankful that both politicians took this seriously enough to follow medical advice). They didn’t brainwash Republican Gov. Mike DeWine into prodding the Arnold to effectively cancel itself. And they are not running around on TV or social media telling people to panic and sell off all their investment. Yet, to listen to Donald Trump and his surrogates, that is exactly what is happening.

There is a much more simple explanation for what is happening and we will get to it shortly.

But first, a word from the President of the United States:


Yes. Please do think about it.

Here you have the President of the United States telling you that this global pandemic fear is no more dangerous than the common cold and you should go about with the same abandon you would during any other normal flu season and implying something nefarious is causing businesses to shut down and the economy to crater.

This is bullshit even by the President’s absurdly low standards.

The market isn’t tanking because of the all-powerful liberal media. That is not how markets work– did every conservative wake up in 2016 and forget how capitalism works? Beyond the oil crisis– a foreign policy issue that Trump certainly had a hand in blundering– most of the instability in the market is being caused by President Trump’s own poor handling of the crisis. Put very simply, the market doesn’t have much faith that the Trump administration can handle the crisis or even tell the truth about what is happening. With good reason, it would seem.

From the start, President Trump has treated this the way he treats every issue since he has come to the office– think of the optics and promote the narrative that would be best for you regardless of what is actually happening. The President’s narrative goes like this. The Coronavirus is not a threat. Why is it not a threat? Because liberals say it might be. Because it is not a threat, we seem to be unprepared to adequately test people and contain the spread. Unlike a pretend migrant “invasion” that can simply disappear from the news cycle once it is no longer a central plank in your election strategy or accusations of wrongdoing that you can boil down to a straight line partisan vote, diseases don’t care about your narrative. They just keep spreading regardless of what story you tell.

When the narrative had to change to acknowledge something was happening, it became the muddled mess we have today. Ok, this is a problem globally but we have it totally under control in the US! What’s that? People have started to spread the disease in the US and deaths are beginning to be attributed to it? It is probably nothing. Basically only kills the elderly and immuno-compromised. Don’t worry, the President has a “hunch” that this is not going to get bad here in the US. Also, he appointed Mike Pence, famous healthcare bungler in Indiana, to run point on this non-crisis. Whew. I feel better already!

After all, what sort of leader would say something like this about the number of a particular infectious diseases spreading in their country if it were not true: “We’re going very substantially down, not up. . . . We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.”

No credible leader would just straight-up lie to his voters and the rest of the country he represents about something potentially that serious, right? I mean, he’s been so honest up until this point…

This was always one of the biggest threats of a Trump presidency. Sure, our “institutions” might insulate us from most of his half-baked ideas, like building a wall across the entire southern border of our country or pulling out of NATO, but our institutions can only do so much in a true emergency. The President has no experience or knowledge of how a leader or our institutions should respond when dealing with things like tremendously destructive acts of nature (like Katrina), acts of terror (like 9/11), an escalating foreign threat with a rival (like the Cuban Missile Crisis), or a pandemic (like the 1918 flu). This is what every single person who opposed candidate Trump in the primary and general election warned the public about. That this profoundly unserious, incurious, and uninformed man would be a danger to our nation if he were ever confronted with a true disaster. These situations call for level-heads, listening to expert opinions, careful consideration, and decisive action. Not one of which would appear in a word cloud of things the President’s most ardent followers might suggest are his strong suits.

Let me be clear, again: There is no reason for the leader of any nation to spend their time downplaying a potential health crisis. Only despots and idiots do that– like how Iran handled Aids (“there are no gays in Iran and therefore no Aids” turned out to be a wildly incorrect and very damaging to public health) or how China handled THE OUTBREAK OF THE CORONAVIRUS. There is no good reason to lie to the public about the likelihood of a vaccine being invented in a few months (directly in front of experts who just told you that wasn’t true and then had to clarify it again for the public). The public gains nothing by hearing the President of the United States tell them that even getting the diseases is minor and they could probably go to work with it and be fine. This disinformation does not help a single American, save Donald J. Trump.

Again, this is the market responding to the inevitable consequences of Trump and his post-truth, “fake news” ecosphere. Whether it is a natural disaster, act of war, or highly contagious diseases, the fact that a huge number of Americans cannot agree on basic facts puts us at tremendous risk. From the wildest Trump supporters telling CNN that coronavirus is a hoax to Senator Tom Cotton speculating that if it is real it might be a Chinese biological weapon to friends and family flooding social media with uninformed medical hot-takes about how unnecessary all this attention on the coronavirus is, we are creating an environment where people are inevitably going to make poor decisions with their own health (and likely that of their family and friends). Your conviction that the disease is a liberal hoax will not prevent you from contracting it or passing it on. Being flippant about this is outrageous for a normal American, let alone for people with large platforms or in positions of authority in government.

There is a reason that major events like The Arnold and SXSW have been cancelled. The organizers will lose millions of dollars and many of their supporters and smaller businesses that partner with them will be deeply impacted or in some cases outright ruined. None of these people are lighting money on fire for fun or to simply harm Trump. It is just not responsible to have major events with thousands of people travelling from all over the world under these conditions. Yet, you have the President resolutely refusing to cancel any of his rallies and assuring us that his supporters will not be deterred by the threat of the coronavirus. That sentence should scare the shit out of you.

COVID-19, according to an overwhelming consensus of medical professionals, is a very real threat. It might well peter out as the weather changes. It might not. It might be more lethal than the swine flu or the Spanish flu– similar lethality would kill roughly 65 million Americans. Sure, it might not. Maybe it is even likely that it will not. But at this moment, we have no reason to believe it cannot or will not be seriously lethal. How is caution not the default setting here?

What we do know is that it is spreading rapidly around the world (it does not discriminate by ethnic background) infecting all sorts of people. We know that the elderly, young, and immuno-compromised are at the highest risk. We know that the disease mimics the symptoms of the common cold and flu– meaning individuals need to be vigilant in knowing who they have been in contact with and the status of COVID-19’s spread in their community. We know that washing your hands, covering your cough or sneeze, and staying at home if you feel sick are the best defenses against this threat. The CDC has lots of good tips and answers to FAQs. Make yourself familiar with this information.

This story is not complicated. There is a disease outbreak that has the potential to be a global pandemic. It is a huge story. The media is not handling it with particular grace– how could they?– but it is not hysterical to think that this could be a grave threat to our communities. The market certainly thinks this is a problem, creating one of the first major corollary issues that will come out of the crisis. President Trump isn’t trying to stave off the negative effects of people over-preparing for COVID-19 due to how the Today Show talks about it. He isn’t trying to calm the anxious nerves of the nation or bringing nuance to the discussion because Jake Tapper has the world hyperventilating. President Trump simply doesn’t like how this crisis impacts him politically (he views the health of the stock market as essential to his re-election chances) and is responding the way he always does, creating his own alternative reality. And his alternative facts could have serious consequences.

Look, we might well dodge a bullet on all this. There are many variables, some of them still unknown, that could make expert projections end up being way off. Should you panic? Of course not. But there is no reason to be cavalier about this crisis. Be smart and stay safe. And please stop treating the coronavirus like a hoax or scam.

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