Littwin: If Trump’s war against the pandemic is ending soon, who will tell the virus?

For those keeping score at home, we are now officially ending the war-time presidency phase of the battle against the novel coronavirus pandemic and moving on to, well, I’m not sure what to call it, but it seems like it could be bad news for granny.

What’s clear is that Donald Trump has given up on being Churchill — he was never much for blood, toil, tears and sweat anyway — and is instead leaning heavily toward Chamberlain.

There are more than a few reasons, apparently, for the new appeasement approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

1. The stock market has been plummeting.

2. We’re probably already in the midst of a recession, bigly.

3. There’s an election coming up.

4. According to the polling, Trump’s base isn’t all that worried by the pandemic.

5. Science, good god y’all, what is it good for? (Absolutely nothin’.)

6. Did I mention the stock market?

And there may be one more: Even though Trump has hijacked the daily coronavirus briefings and turned them into little more than campaign rallies — which many (including me) are now saying shouldn’t be shown live because of all the misinformation Trump routinely spreads — he wants one more try at happy-talking his way out of this crisis.

If Trump has his way, and he often does, he will ignore what the experts are telling him, that you can’t have a full-throttle economy in the midst of a pandemic. He now says he wants the economy “opened up and just rarin’ to go” by Easter, the traditional up-and-rarin’-to-go time in America. It’s sort of like Opening Day, if, say, one or two percent of the people at the game would come down with a virus that could lead to death.

But if baseball can’t get back up by then — and it can’t — Trump says he would love to see the churches packed. No, he really did. And here’s the sad part: Some churches will be packed, despite all the warnings against large gatherings. I mean, this Easter plan comes almost immediately after Mayor Michael Hancock shut down Denver and after India became the latest country to go into shutdown mode.

I mean, we all agree that the pandemic is bad for the economy. But I think we can all agree that the economy has a far better chance of bouncing back than the people who would die — and here’s the strange part — because some non-expert randomly picked Easter out of a bonnet.

It’s easy enough to say, as Trump likes to, that America “wasn’t built to be shut down.” And though I’m not sure which country was built to be shut down — China, Italy, France, Spain? — it’s a nice thought. But where does the thought lead? The experts, with their fancy degrees, tell us that without adequate testing (where are the damn tests, by the way, not to mention the masks, the other PPEs, the ventilators?), we can’t control the virus. We’re told we need to know who tests positive and who has been in contact with them. And we’re told we need to continue serious physical distancing, which doesn’t happen in packed churches or packed workplaces or packed buses or packed universities or, well, you get the picture.

So, what Trump is saying, without quite saying it, is that we need to be willing to let a few hundred thousand people or more die — the theory being, with seniors the most likely to die from the virus, that granny must be expendable — in order to juice the economy.

If you think I’m being gratuitous, listen to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who’s 69, as he fills in the blanks, telling Fox News: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

He added that he was sure there were many seniors who agreed with him. My late grannies — gramma and nana — both lived happy and productive lives into their 90s, so I’m not sure how down they would have been with dying to help the stock market. As a grandfather of two, I can assure you I’m not even part of the way in. I have to think that most seniors, and most non-seniors, don’t see themselves as part of, to coin a phrase, the surplus population. I’m guessing most New Yorkers don’t either.

There are many dissenters from Trump’s plan, of course, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that Dr. Tony Fauci hasn’t been seen at the Trump press briefings in the last two days. Among the dissenters is Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, who although he hasn’t shut his state down, did say this a day after his lieutenant governor spoke: “The primary obligation we have is to public health and safety. The best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get Covid-19 behind us.” If that happens, he says, the economy will “come roaring back.”

So there’s dissension in the ranks in Texas. I mean, as Abbott puts it, does anyone think the American economy won’t survive this? Maybe the question is whether it comes roaring back by November.

Even Lindsey Graham, whose unctuous praise of Trump has sickened many, tweeted that he trusted the experts like Dr. Tony Fauci to get this thing right: “Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world.” Graham added, “There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.”

Rep. Liz Cheney and other politicians have basically agreed. Strangely, we haven’t heard from Cory Gardner on this topic, but I’m sure he’ll weigh in soon.

Bill Gates, who spends much of his time on his global health foundation, put it a little more starkly: “There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people, ’Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.’”

And you can guess what the experts are saying, even without televised word from Dr. Fauci. The Washington Post has a story about why Germany’s death rate has been so much lower than its neighbors. The experts — them again — say that Germany was prepared early to test, to track and to contain, none of which we’ve been able to do in America. Meanwhile, scientists at the World Health Organization are saying we might be the next epicenter of the pandemic.

And so there may be a few problems with Trump’s plan to open up the economy, particularly if the pandemic continues to grow out of control, in which he’d have to, yes, back down. Sure, Trump is a would-be authoritarian, but I don’t think he can simply overrule the restrictions put in place by governors and mayors across the country. But assuming Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Hancock (and why isn’t Jared Polis shutting down at least the entire Denver metro area?) and the rest keep the restrictions in place, which they would, what happens when the Trumpists decide to go along with Trump anyway?

The mixed messaging would probably be a disaster. And if you’re still keeping score, that would be on top of the real disaster, which, at this point, continues to grow worse and more deadly with each passing day.



  1. Science writer Mark Sumner did the math in a blog on Daily Kos:

    “The only way to confer herd immunity for COVID-19 at this point is to simply infect enough Americans to bring the transmission rate below 1. That’s what it means to “reopen” America—stop trying to slow transmission through isolation and count on immunity to do the job.
    “But the scope of that proposal is far bigger and far more awful than it seems, and it already seems plenty awful. Where the H1N1 flu had a transmission rate of about 1.4, with COVID-19 that value is more like 2.4. This means that a much higher percentage of the population will need to be immune to effectively contain the spread of the disease. Probably more like 60-70% rather than 35%. In other words, over 200 million Americans would need to be infected before the transmission chain could be broken in this way.
    “And where the hospitalization rate with H1N1 was about 0.5%, with COVID-19, that number is around 15%. Taking this approach would require 30 million hospital beds. That’s 29.1 million more than we have.”

    The lowest death ratio I’ve seen is 0.5%. That went along with estimates of 1% requiring ventilators and 5% in ICU. Infect 200 million, and we get 1 million dead from the disease itself. Those who could not be on ventilators due to the surge would mostly die, so perhaps just under another million dead. For a sense of scale — deaths in the US from ALL causes are running about 2.8 mlllion per year.

    I’ve not yet seen estimates of what such a load on the system would do for health insurance and life insurance corporations.

  2. Man..You sure make it hard for me to not wish that the virus make a visit on avenue H…always negative..HilLiary would do better?

  3. An exception to the restrictions on large crowds should be MAGA rallies. Keep them going; pack ’em in.

  4. @Denver-dad… What a sympathetic and sensitive response to this crisis. Your children must be so very proud of you.

  5. What a comfort to know that at the time of our nation’s greatest threat from a global pandemic, our starting team is made up of anti-science moonbeamers with an irrational fetish for bronze age myths.

    Fantastic timing.

    Don’t say the majority of us didn’t warn you back in 2016.

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