It seems my seven dedicated fans are demanding new material. You have to do what you can to satisfy the masses. One of the general themes from the first night of the RNC convention was the fact that the administration did a terrific job handling the virus up to this point. If they hadn’t acted as early as they did it could have been much worse.
I spend my days (we have shut down school temporarily for the hurricane) helping support students in English classes. A bunch of what we do is help students figure out how to interpret and break down literature. So, the statement at the end of the first paragraph could be an example of irony. Maybe it is a paradox. I think most people would label it simple, old-fashioned mendacity. Either way, we will let that statement stand on its own merit for now.
The response to the virus does reveal the various differences between both parties and their governing philosophy. It would be easy to be snarky, but I will do the best I can to avoid snark and report on both sides’ beliefs as dispassionately as possible. The collective response reveals a lot on a number of different issues.
Trump declared a national emergency fairly early on. I’m not really certain he understood the full weight of what that means. When dealing with issues (really any issue) there are two planes on which we fight politically. There is the “what” and then there is the “who”. So, what should we do and who should be doing it?
If you break major American political debate down to two governing questions that would be it. The conservative point of view is that decisions should be as local as possible. For instance, you don’t want Washington deciding what kind of ketchup you should serve at the city picnic. Government students know this as federalism. For this storm the idea is that local governments can look at local data and make local decisions on how much they want to limit movement or restrict commerce.
The flip side of course is that if there had been a national call to shut down then outbreaks could have been limited. Some states and localities never really shut down to their detriment. Naturally, some will point out the mixed messaging coming from the White House, but that gets to our second point. We aren’t quite done with this one yet.
Folks around here know national disasters well. Hurricane Harvey was declared a national disaster. That aftermath is an example of how local, state, and national governments can work together. Local governments know what they need. State and national governments have the means and wherewithal to provide it. For the most part, those three levels of government worked well together.
In the case of the pandemic we had localities competing for resources. The national government still has not been interested in taking on thet reponsibility. Instead of ramping up testing on a national level, they have completely abdicated that responsibility to the states and local governments. A national emergency means you are in charge.
Conservative and progressive philosophies have also collided on all three levels. On the one side, you have the huge desire for normalcy. When people are allowed to go back to work, back to restaurants, back to stores, back to schools, and back to churches then the economy can go back to where it was before the pandemic.
Some conservatives have even voiced out loud that they are willing to live with a certain very low percentage of deaths in order to get the economy humming again. Texas’ very own Dan Patrick seemed to indicate that seniors would gladly sacrifice themselves at the altar of capitalism. Let’s provide a simple breakdown of how this would work.
Let’s say that ten percent of the population contract the virus. According to most models, between one and three percent of those people end up perishing from the virus. Ten percent of the population is 35 million people. Two percent (the midpoint) would be 700,000 deaths. That seems like a lot and not a lot at the same time. As a percentage of 350 million people it is small. In actuality, it is over 500,000 more dead than what we currently have.
So, the progressive viewpoint is better safe than sorry. When compared to the numbers above, there can be no doubt that social distancing and wearing masks has put a huge dent in that. You also can’t deny that stay at home orders and forced closures have impacted the economy. The unemployment rate is still over ten percent and once reached as high as 20. There’s also no sugarcoating how harmful that has been as well.
I think everyone believes there is one right way to go. Other countries have demonstrated that as well. Suggesting that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs is morally reprehensible when it comes to matters of life and death. So, the Trump administration vacillated between playing it safe and damning the torpedoes. Maybe they thought we had waited long enough and had flattened the curve. Maybe he thought it would magically go away or he had discovered a miracle cure. Maybe he just got caught in the middle of people that naturally were worried about their business or job and those worried about sick loved ones.
I can appreciate the predicament. Leadership is about making difficult choices. We could have shut down over multiple weeks or maybe even months and maybe killed the curve to almost zero. We could have gone the herd immunity route and shut down nothing and just accepted it a certain number of deaths. If there were only people that were scientific experts that could have advised him through something like this. If only he could have heeded their advice, followed their protocols, and their timelines. Instead he changed course as the winds blew.
All political issues are ink blot tests. You could look at the past eight months as a job well done or not. There obviously is no evidence of what would have happened if we had gone in a different direction. So, people will interpret the data how they want. If you think the president did a great job then vote for him. If you think he made mistakes then ask yourselves whether he seems to be the kind of person that is willing to admit mistakes and learn from them. Based on what I’ve seen, that seems rather doubtful.