IMMEDIATE RELEASE 19 March 2020
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
“They’re going to need a bigger boat”
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – President Trump gives himself a 10 for his handling of the coronavirus global health crisis. Not everyone agrees. With access to testing still not widely available and health-care workers fashioning protective masks out of bandanas and scarves, a more accurate assessment of the administration’s performance is too little, too late. Jared Bernstein a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it succinctly, harking back to the film “Jaws”: “They’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Trump said this week he knew all along this was a pandemic. If so, he didn’t share that information. He initially blamed Democrats and the media for hyping a virus that was no different from the ordinary flu.
He called it a hoax, a term that Fox News hosts happily adopted, tailoring their coverage to play down any menacing news about the spread of Covid-19.
Then something changed. Exactly what, we don’t know. But Trump changed his tone, conceding this is a pandemic and surrounding himself at the podium with health officials who delivered sobering news instead of happy talk.
Fox News followed his lead, suddenly treating Covid-19 news with the seriousness it deserves. But just like the surgical masks and the promised ventilators, this was too little too late. Fox News viewers aren’t buying all the doomsday talk. A Pew Research poll found that 79 percent of Fox News viewers and 83 percent of Republicans overall believe the mainstream media has exaggerated the crisis.
A majority of Republicans don’t think the coronavirus is a big deal even though it has shut down whole countries in Europe and threatens our very way of life.
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, one of only eight Republicans to vote against a coronavirus emergency funding bill providing paid sick leave to workers and free testing, said in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that the virus may kill "3.4 percent, maybe less" of the population. “But we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about. We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu."
The coronavirus is at least 10 times more deadly than the flu, and the comparison to traffic deaths is nonsensical unless you think driverless cars might be stalking to run us over one day.
Trump keeps congratulating himself for taking strong measures, but he’s always a couple beats late. And he can’t resist hyping good news that doesn’t exist, or breakthroughs that haven’t yet happened. On Thursday he was talking up the potential for an anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, as a possible antidote to treat coronavirus.
He has also touted another drug, Remdesivir, on social media, prompting FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at Thursday’s press briefing to caution against raising false hope since neither drug has been approved by the FDA to treat coronavirus.
Health officials say a vaccine is at least a year away, and in the meantime, the tools to fight a global virus involve measures that restrict freedom of movement. And they are difficult to enforce in a free society. So far, these measures are voluntary, but if they don’t work well enough to slow the spread of the virus, more stringent lockdowns could be in the works.
The beaches in Florida are still packed with young people on spring break oblivious to their own vulnerability and not heeding warnings that they could spread the virus to their grandparents. Florida Governor DeSantis has left it up to local officials whether to close the beaches, and they want to wait at least through the weekend to declare an end to party time.
Trump is focused on fixing the economy, but this is not like the 2008 housing collapse, or the Great Depression. Those were financial crises, and they could be fixed by financial means. We’re in a health crisis. What we’re experiencing is more like the Spanish flu of 1918-19, and if Trump is the wartime president he proclaims himself, he must marshal 21st-century medicine to win this war.
Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
© 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
IMMEDIATE RELEASE 19 March 2020