President Trump addresses the nation on March 11, 2020 regarding Coronavirus. CNBC screenshot from Youtube. Fair use.
I am–we all are–in uncharted territory. I received a terse text from my kids’ school this evening. “As of Monday, March 16, all Fulton County schools are closed until further notice. We will continue to share updates.”
What do you do with that? What does anyone do in a family where both parents work and the kids are not old enough to be left at home alone? What do you do when you have no paid leave and you have to decide which parent will not work, or which parent will risk their job?
What will, at some point, tens, even hundreds of millions of Americans do now?
We’ve lost basketball, soccer, baseball, meetings. Soon we’ll lose churches, movies, any gatherings. The local Walmart looks like a plague of locusts descended on it. The Costco was so jammed that the intersection leading to its parking lot experienced gridlock.
These are not normal signs of worry. They are evidence of mass panic.
My mind goes to dark places. What happens when the stores can no longer be stocked because the distribution centers are closed due to Coronavirus? What happens when the food factories that produce what we buy and eat go into reduced production mode because too many workers are out (because their kids are at home, or because they are themselves infected)?
What happens when the local fast food joint closes because they ran out of stock or because they lack enough employees?
What happens when people run out of money, then toilet paper, then food? Do we have violence coming?
As a Christian, do I feed my neighbor or do I shoot him in Jesus’ name when he comes looking for a handout–to have some of what I paid for. Do I hole up with the preppers who snicker at the rest of society for not taking things into their own hands? Or do I ignore the elderly as they perish, and continue on my merry way to work, grateful at the lack of the normal Atlanta rush hour traffic?
Do I count my blessings, or do I count my bills, and the losses on my stock portfolio?
I have never had to think this way, nor do I wish to pursue these thoughts. As President Trump said last night from the Oval Office, “As history has proven time and time again, Americans always rise to the challenge and overcome adversity.” This too, shall pass.
But everything the president said last night was either false, misspoken, or pie-in-the-sky. In our heart of hearts, we know we can’t trust what he said because just days before he was telling us that COVID-19 was no worse than the common cold.
The president was tone-deaf to what Americans needed to hear. He called for putting aside politics, stopping the partisanship, and unifying, but he does not follow his own advice. His speech was full of self-aggrandizing, while the CDC still is nowhere near the testing capacity necessary to get ahead of the virus.
Trump told us that we’d beat this virus, but he didn’t tell us how we’d beat it. Stopping travel from Europe will help a little, but it won’t tell me if my neighbor’s cough is just a cough or if he’s the equivalent of Typhoid Mary.
What America–oh hell, what I–needed to hear was that the government is going to order thus so-and-so number of tests, that we are going to track down every positive, that we are going to get ahead of this the way the director of the CDC said.
“It’s going to take rigorous, aggressive public health — what I like to say, block and tackle, block and tackle, block and tackle, block and tackle,” he said. “That means if you find a new case, you isolate it.”
We all know that we wash our hands, don’t touch our faces with dirty hands, keep surfaces clean, sneeze into our elbows; we learned these things in kindergarten. But phrases like “smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow” are mere platitudes. I don’t want to know that “testing capabilities are expanding rapidly.” I want facts.
I want to know how long we will have to live like this. I want to know how bad it will get before it gets better. I want to know if the fragile threads of civil society will fray to the point of tearing. I want to know if I’m going to have to decide whether to feed my neighbor or fend him off to feed my own family. (As a Christian, the answer is clear here. But the question is disorienting.)
This leads me to my headline: Did Trump cause this panic?
Did the president’s public remarks, pandering to his buddies Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, minimizing the seriousness of this virus, baiting the media into magnifying the problem, cause our mass panic?
Did Trump’s treatment of a worldwide problem as another opportunity to troll his enemies, give his conspiracy-loving followers enough confidence to think it was nothing but the common cold?
Did the president’s response focused on restricting travel fail to push the CDC to produce enough testing kits to handle a virus heading for our shores? Did the virus “crypto” spread in America during the month when we thought it was a problem for other nations, and the president ignored sound medical advice?
Some of the answers to these questions undoubtedly will cast a very negative pall on Trump’s leadership.
His tone deafness and inability to admit any missteps have entrenched everyone in a permanent state of mutual distrust. And now, the whole nation has been swept up in a mass panic, because we really don’t know what, or whom, to believe.
I don’t want to swallow the whole pill and blame this entire national debacle on Trump. That’s exactly what the Trump-hating liberal media, the Democrats lusting for his job, and the entire progressive #Resistance want everyone to conclude. They want us to run Trump out on a rail.
I want to believe that Trump meant for the best, but was simply unable to deliver the things he spoke of. But I do believe his inability has contributed to mass panic.
I do believe a truly calming voice, offering facts, plans, timelines, and goals, like a military commander would brief his troops, would portray the image of someone who knows what they are doing. When Trump should have been calmly telling America, “follow me!” to me he sounded like a very old, very unsure man pointing to the enemy and wishing them away.
This virus shall pass. But like the plague of locusts descending upon our store shelves, it will leave a huge empty space in its wake. I pray that some places in America don’t descend into total chaos. I fear that they might.
Mostly I pray that our president will finally find his footing. That he will stand like his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, though imperfect, found his footing on the unsteady mountain of wreckage at Ground Zero, and had his “follow me!” moment with a hard hat and a bullhorn.
I know God is sovereign. I know God has a purpose. Would it be so bad if I prayed that purpose might be to help Donald Trump become the man he needs to be “for such a time as this?” Because his enemies want him to fail, and in his failure, we will have the very carnage Trump condemned in his own inauguration speech.
Mr. President, tell us, what now? How do we win? My kids will be at home for the foreseeable future. I, like millions more, will be looking for answers. We need a real plan, and if the president doesn’t give us one, someone else will. Or nobody will, and we will have carnage.
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