It was just 10 months ago when President Trump last spoke to the nation from the Lincoln Memorial, on a weekend when the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels overflew Washington, D.C. It’s hard to remember that was July 4, 2019, in a very, very different America.
Sunday night, the president spoke to America in the form of a town hall, hosted by Fox News veterans Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. In this forum, versus the frequently antagonistic daily press briefings from the White House, President Trump took questions from Americans about coronavirus, the economy, and America’s response, and attempted to answer them.
For critics and cynics, there’s nothing new here. Trump claimed the Spanish Flu ended World War I; that’s false. The Spanish Flu killed more American soldiers coming home from the war than died in the war itself. Trump failed to adequately answer a question from a renter worried about eviction and the economy. He claimed (not for the first time) he was treated worse than Abe Lincoln; that brought lots of sharp remarks on assassination and the like.
The biggest claim from Sunday night is that we will have a vaccine by the end of the year. Of course, it’s impossible to know this. Trump’s medical advisors Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx are paid to be publicly cautious and, above all, to not be wrong. It’s bad enough there’s video of Dr. Fauci downplaying coronavirus back in February. For Fauci or Birx, or any of the leaders of our medical and scientific battle against this disease to come out publicly with such an optimistic claim, without solid evidence, is folly.
But that’s not true with Trump. He, as president, almost uniquely, gets to play the role of cheerleader. In that role, Trump is also uniquely qualified, and unqualified, depending on your political alignment. This is a terrible shame.
Regardless of whether you think Trump should have been impeached, never elected, removed by the 25th Amendment, or forced out of office by some other unseen hand, using this crisis to build leverage (or “Resistance”) against him is not useful. In fact, it’s harmful.
Of course, we need to be careful that Trump doesn’t say something that gets everyone killed. But to my knowledge, nobody died from hydrochloroquine treatment under a doctor’s care. (I am not counting the couple who took fish tank cleaner, as the woman is now being investigated for homicide.) The limited studies available show that it had no appreciable benefit, and in fact, where it was tried, the mortality rate was slightly higher, but not necessarily because of the drug–more likely it was some test bias.
My point here is that Trump did not kill millions by pushing the government to allow mass testing of hydrochloroquine. So now we know. Did we waste a lot of time on that? Not really, because we were already testing Gilead Sciences’ Remdesivir, which shows much more promise.
Similarly, Trump’s claim that we may have a vaccine by year’s end is optimistic, but unlikely to kill millions. It is also very possible that we will have one or more viable vaccine candidates by the end of the year.
In 2009, the FDA approved five vaccines for H1N1 Swine Flu within five months of the first cases in California. Yes, that was influenza, not coronavirus. Yes, it took longer to actually deploy these vaccines and narrow the list down to the most effective. Yes, people continued to die (especially the young) through 2010 and into 2011, with a second spike in 2010.
We are in a much, much worse pickle with coronavirus than we had in 2009 with H1N1. We didn’t shut down the entire economy in 2009. We have never done this before, nationwide. We can’t sustain it, because people will literally starve when the food supply chain breaks down and we resort to rationing and bread lines.
In this situation, what would you like to hear from the president? Would you like to hear that we need to lock everyone down through the end of summer, and you will likely be one of those people in a bread line? Would you like to hear that you will be chased from beaches, parks, and all public activity by drones and helicopters blaring warnings?
Would you like to see the power of government, at the end of a gun barrel, enforcing China-like restrictions, where they welded doors shut to keep people in? The Chinese government was lying about coronavirus from Day One, and by mid-March, their officially reported numbers could not be believed in any way. Yet sites like the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker continue to display the 83,964 “official” number. Do we want Trump to be like China?
There is a case to be made for optimism. We need to hear good news that there’s hope, and that there’s value in our lives. We need to participate in the value of work and a good day’s pay, earned. We are not serfs, or subjects of a totalitarian government, to be moved, pawned, and assigned to our daily tasks.
I remember reading a story in Quora (which I can’t find right now) of how a traveler to China wondered aloud how the roads are so straight and wide in China. His driver replied “you forget, we are a communist country.” There’s no private property in China, so if the road is being built and you live in the way, the problem gets solved, because you are the problem. If they need more workers somewhere, you may find yourself assigned there. If the government needs to weld your doors shut, you have no redress. If you gather in the streets to protest, prepare for tanks to run you over.
America can’t function that way. In a very practical sense, 350 million guns say so. The gun-toters who protested in Michigan might be obtuse and obnoxious in their tactical outfits and dumb in their display of long guns, but they demonstrate a very important point. When it comes down to our liberty, Americans will only be pushed so far, and that’s by constitutional design.
Here, it won’t be the government deciding what’s “for our own good.” The people have the final, and authoritative, say. This means in California, New York, Michigan, Georgia, Virginia and everywhere else.
If Gov. Brian Kemp says “you may open,” that doesn’t mean businesses do open. My family and I got out of the house Sunday and traveled to Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, in the Appalachian foothills. It was, by social distancing standards, crowded. Most people didn’t wear masks (my youngest son, who has a cough, did for the most part, but the rest of us removed ours). I don’t think anyone did anything risky outdoors in the Georgia sunshine there.
Then we went to Freddy’s for burgers and fries, which we were served in the drive-thru and ate in the car. Again, we were safe, despite the long line of cars. We took a drive through the North Georgia outlet mall in Dawsonville, and it was nearly 100% closed. By the governor’s order, it could open, but the businesses chose not to. Soon, one by, one, they’ll begin to open, carefully.
We need to hear optimism. We need to have some hope, more than we need to have answers. Because there are no answers.
We don’t know when there will be a vaccine. Should we stay locked down indefinitely until one is available? Until 2036? Forever?
Should we wait until every American is tested? But the tests measure one point in time. Should we be tested weekly? Daily? How many tests should be made? A billion, ten billion? Until then, do we stay locked down? Do we weld the doors shut?
People are going to continue to die. We cannot eliminate the virus now that it’s here and everywhere. We can only kill our economy to the point where we lose all liberty, and Americans are not going to do that, so we will end up with social unrest and civil disobedience, and mini-Waco assaults until police simply refuse to do it anymore.
Or we can hold on to hope. We can be compassionate toward those who are sick, provide care for those who need it, testing for people in essential/vital jobs (I am in an essential industry and I go into work every day, not work from home), and some way for individuals to earn their pay.
In his imperfect, bombastic, Senator Blutarsky way, President Trump is exuding hope. He speaks as if things that have not come to pass, or are not going well (like testing) are just peachy. He says we will have a vaccine, though nobody knows if we will. He tells the nation that Q1 2021 will be an unbelievable bounce-back. He doesn’t know, but you don’t know either.
We can only hope.
Some of us would rather hope that America turns to climate-change extreme measures, as if we would magically do that. Some others would rather hope that another president get elected so we can recover under a different political party in the White House. Some would rather spend their time attacking all the things Trump says, to discredit him, without offering their own hope.
But hope in itself is more than useful. It’s essential.
If anything, I’m grateful that we can hope. It is possible we will have a vaccine in 2021. It is possible that Remdesivir will be able to significantly lower the mortality rate of COVID-19. It is possible that we will be able to get back to work and find a way to dance through this crisis until we have a recovery. It is very possible that President Trump won’t kill millions of us (because he hasn’t), and that his administration will work with governors and local officials in the best interests of the country and its citizens.
If you can hope for the first two of the three possibilities above, but not the last one, you may want to re-evaluate your motivation.
I may not like Trump’s governing style, and a million other things about him, but I do appreciate that he understands the value of hope. If nothing else, don’t lose that hope, because without it, none of us are going to get through this.