On February 3, I embarked on the Norwegian Pearl for the Cayamo 2020 cruise. Although everyone was aware of “the coronavirus,” as it was known at the time, it seemed a distant threat. Even so, the cruise line had begun issuing protocols and screening for passengers who may have recently traveled to China. The crew, including my cabin steward, was predominately Filipino. I wonder how they’re doing now. On January 22, just over a week before setting sail, President Trump made this now-famous statement: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
The day I disembarked, on February 10, the president said at a campaign rally, “Looks like by April, you know, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true.” Upon my return to Nashville, I remember going to our office and joking with my neighbors about it, giving them hugs and saying, “I hope you don’t give me the ’rona.” The magnitude of the situation hadn’t quite set in, for us or, it would seem, for the occupant of the Oval Office. Complacency was encouraged by the president, as demonstrated by a Tweet February 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
Two days later came the first report of community transmission in California, which we now know was a milestone, a threshold that, when crossed, makes it very difficult to contain an outbreak of a highly infectious virus. History may very well mark this as the day the US began losing the war. Nevertheless, that same day during the coronavirus task force’s press briefing, Trump said, “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
That the Trump administration had wholly ignored a pandemic response manual meticulously crafted under the Obama administration in the wake of the Ebola outbreak had yet to be reported. In hindsight, it is clear that, as the novel coronavirus was invisibly advancing through the population, the White House considered the pandemic a public relations issue rather than a public health issue. Understanding that a thriving economy is key to his reelection, Trump was ignoring scientists’ dire warnings about the consequences of leaving the pandemic unchecked. Rather than putting the nation into lockdown, he waited. In his over-riding desire to keep the economic numbers high, he ignored his scientific advisors and based his administration’s complete response on reelection rather than mitigating the pandemic’s impact.
As if to emphasize this, on Friday, February 28, Trump went into full gaslighting mode at a campaign rally in North Charleston, S.C.:
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. … One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over. … And this is their new hoax.”
When the history books are written about the year 2020 in the United States of America — and they will be, the above statement will likely be pointed to as the day of division. It was the day Trump gave the true believers their marching orders as regards the pandemic. Cynically propagated through Fox News, disseminated though the far-right infotainment ecosystem, and underpinned by thousands of conspiracy theory based YouTube videos shared relentlessly across social media, the message was clear: This virus is a hoax foisted upon YOUR president by the radical-leftist Democrats to undermine MY reelection bid.
Folks in East Nashville didn’t have much time to think about the president’s deflections because four days later, during the wee hours of Tuesday, March 3, a tornado ripped through. A week of mourning, cleaning up, and benefit shows followed. The last time I ventured out to a club was for the Cafe Rooster show at Dee’s on March 5.
But by the following week, the reality of the pandemic returned when Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office on March 11. While tacitly acknowledging the threat, the president doubled-down on minimizing it. He touted travel restrictions to China, subsequently characterized as closing the gate after the horses have left the corral. He called it a “foreign virus” to signal “the other” as the real enemy. He called for payroll-tax relief — long the golden goose amongst the libertarian crowd in the GOP — while ignoring the evidence that an economic shut-down was likely and far greater measures would be required. And, perhaps most ironically, he called for unity.
What was glaringly missing was a plan, probably because there wasn’t one. Trump was never willing to take any responsibility for failures, and he wasn’t about to change his tune now. So, rather than demonstrating leadership, he pushed it off to the states.
Unfortunately, many of the states have Republican governors, including Tennessee, which meant Trump’s mendacious plan to shirk responsibility would have trickle-down effects and leave cities across the country to fend for themselves.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced a “Safer at Home” order, which closed non-essential businesses and warned residents not to leave their homes for any reason other than required errands or exercise.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee waited over a week to follow suit. Still, he even then said in a news briefing, “This is not a mandated ‘shelter in place’ order, because it remains deeply important to me to protect personal liberties.” In other words, through a wink-wink, nod-nod, he signaled to his base that their individual choice to do whatever they want supersedes their obligation as citizens to prioritize the health of the community.
So we began our isolation. As it progressed, the outlook became darker, more opaque. A new reality started taking shape. The more we learned about this particular virus and its spread, the more we realized large indoor gatherings were particularly suspect. The live music industry virtually ceased to exist and, with it, the livelihoods of those who depend upon it. The fall school year became a cipher. Daily outrage over the Trump administration’s grossly inept handling of the crisis became
The president launched millions of trolls by saying on March 23, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.” By the middle of April, he tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” (caps his), about Michigan and two other states with Democratic governors, seemingly offering support to protesters crowding capitals who are opposed to states’ restrictions and closures.
Unity be damned. The stage was now set for the next chapter of the history books: The murder of George Floyd.
For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held prostrate, handcuffed Floyd to the ground with a knee compressing Floyd’s neck as he cried, “I can’t breathe!” We watched in horror and disgust as the life left George Floyd right before
The ensuing protests against police brutality and systemic racism which swept the nation were on a scale not seen in our country since the ‘60s. But even as Mississippi, of all places, lowers its rebel flag for the last time, Trump insists on calling into question its legitimacy. Speaking from the White House lawn on July 4th, he said, “We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing. We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children.”
However, President Donald J. Trump can’t get rid of the one threat bothering him the most: the ongoing pandemic. In what may have been the interview of his career, Chris Wallace grilled Trump on his administration’s failures, laying bare his inability to address those failures with anything other than self-aggrandizing responses. After being shown a montage of videos in which he repeatedly claimed the virus was just going to “disappear,” Trump said, “I’ll be right eventually. It is going to disappear. I’ll say it again, it’s going to disappear and I’ll be right.” Wallace then asked if his previous statements in this regard discredited him, Trump replied, “I don’t think so, you know why? Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”
That was July 19. On Fox News Sunday. Of course, elsewhere on Fox News, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the ‘infotainment” gang continue spewing untruths and divisiveness, keeping their viewers addicted to outrage and fear and their Number One fan, Donald Trump, happy.
Perhaps the writers of those history books will be able to determine which chapter we’re in right now. As of today (July 20), the United States has suffered 143,032 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19. Among these are the mother and father of Randy Fox, our Managing Editor. You may have already read his essay about losing his parents, “White Doves Will Mourn in Sorrow,” on page 11. (If you haven’t, you should.)
In addition to having the world’s highest death toll, the US also leads in the number of confirmed cases, currently 3,895,803 out of 327.2 million. Brazil, population 209.5 million, is runner up with 2,118,646 cases.
No one knows, nor can anyone predict how this will all play out. Hotspots are growing worse nationwide as civil unrest continues. It appears reasonably certain a large swath of the citizenry lives in an alternate reality created by, as Steve Bannon so elegantly put it, flooding the zone with shit. Meanwhile, everyone else is attempting to navigate uncharted waters amid a hurricane hoping for some sign of safe harbor.