“Hic incipit pestis.” *

*”Here begins the plague” is written in the register next to the entry for Oliver Gunne’s burial on June 11, 1564 one of the first victims of the plague that ravaged Europe back when the “treatment” for such illnesses was praying or trying to exorcise demons. We seem to be reverting to such fear based reactions to a natural, if troubling, evolutionary process of viral mutation.

As one of our greatest Presidents once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Before we hunt and burn witches once someone suggests they bear responsibility for this Corona Virus Panic, it may be time for a deep breath. (And dispense with the paper masks, one they get wet from your breath all they stop is bad breath, and not very well.)  

It is this panicked fear of a naturally reoccurring phenomenon which grips this country and the world that is the genuine danger and risk.  While any death from what will soon be (although not in 2 or 3 months as someone suggested) a treatable and preventable viral infection is tragic, yet it’s the way the world works.

We (meaning the world) have faced the Black Death, Spanish Flu, a host of childhood diseases, AIDS, MRSA, Ebola et. al., once almost always fatal, and have found treatments or preventative measures to mitigate them. We did it through scientifically valid research and development.

We have child-guard caps on medication because someone died. We have seals on bottles because some put poison in a pain killer and someone died. We have seat belts in cars because someone died.  We learn from experience and use science and reasoning to deal with these issues.  Panic accomplishes nothing but a proliferation of ignorance.

It is the fundamental lack of basic science which troubles me the most. The anti-vaxxers with their pseudo-science already proven not just wrong but dangerous making claims without the slightest bit of evidence.

And people listen.

It is people not having a fundamental understanding of how viral pathogens are transmitted running around stockpiling disinfectant hoping to stave off which for most will amount to two sick days.

Yet people panic.

Now this is not to minimize the risk to those with compromised immunity or breathing difficulties. But these same risk factors apply to the flu which mutates every year (responding to the vaccines and evolving as life always has) and returning in a new variation.

As reported by the CDC in their 2019-2020 Flu Season overview, 280,000 to 500,000 flu hospitalizations and 16,000 to 41,000 flu deaths this year to date.

The flu, which in most cases is preventable by well-established vaccines, is still expected to kill between 260,000 and 350,000 people worldwide with 36,000 deaths in the US.

And this happens EVERY YEAR.

Now in case there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, I am not a fan of the President.  But in his news conference he did say something that is accurate, we should leave politics out of this. Whether Mr. Trump and others will– Democrats bear responsibility here also–is doubtful, but it is necessary if for no other reason than to mitigate the panic all out of proportion to the risk.

The actual culprit here is the media. Driven by the simple-minded attention-deficit tweet-addicted society we live in, the media resorts to stark headlines and “Breaking” News teasers to capture the infrequent moments of lucidity among many of our fellow citizens.

It forces them to compete with such major news as what Bachelorette picked which idiotic contestant or which Naked and Alone competitor had the most ant bites on their ass. And don’t even get me started on “My 600-pound life.”

The media are the modern equivalent of the boy who cried wolf or Chicken Little and the sky is falling. Their credibility, damaged by the constant need for shock and awe, discounted when they try to report actual news requiring some thought and consideration so the public, enamored of the hype and nonsense, doesn’t miss it.

Sadly, most of the time they do.

Mr. Trump and his administration, when faced with a genuine opportunity to show calm and deliberate leadership, booted it. Their intentional closure of the office designated to plan and prepare for this exact situation, further evidence of their disdain for science and expert advice, is a stain on an already tarnished Presidency. And their inaction followed by irrational overreaction will cause irreparable economic harm all out of proportion to the risk.

And people will still get the virus.

The media is as guilty as the President.  In its usual fervor for ratings, they further exasperated the situation with their hyperbole and drowned out the few voices of reasons—the doctors and scientists of the CDC and WHO — as they cautioned a reasonable reaction to a predictable situation.

Just for a bit of enlightenment in an age of darkness, here as some interesting statistics on the ways to die.

Oportet memento mori (Remember you must die)

Latin saying
Lifetime odds of death for selected causes, United States, 2017
Cause of DeathOdds of Dying
Heart Disease1 in 6
Cancer1 in 7
Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease1 in 27
Suicide1 in 88
Opioid overdose1 in 96
Motor Vehicle Crash1 in 103
Fall1 in 114
Gun Assault1 in 285
Pedestrian Incident1 in 556
Motorcyclist1 in 858
Drowning1 in 1,117
Fire or Smoke1 in 1,474
Choking on Food1 in 2,696
Bicyclist1 in 4,047
Accidental Gun Discharge1 in 8,527
Sunstroke1 in 8,912
Electrocution, Radiation, Extreme Temperatures and Pressure1 in 15,638
Sharp objects1 in 28,000
Cataclysmic Storm1 in 31,394
Hot surfaces and substances1 in 46,045
Hornet, wasp and bee stings1 in 46,562
Dog attack1 in 115,111
Passenger on an airplane1 in 188,364
Lightning1 in 218,106
Railway passenger1 in 243,765

“Remember man that thou art dust…”

Author unknown

A Self-Inflicted Crisis (in a long line of self-inflicted crises)

In our country today we find ourselves in the situation writer Issac Asimov described in his seminal work, Foundation.

“…that frequent phenomenon in history: the republic whose ruler has every attribute of the absolute monarch but the name. It therefore enjoyed the usual despotism unrestrained even by those two moderating influences in the legitimate monarchies: regal “honor” and court etiquette.”

Isaac Asimov, Foundation

America faces a crisis, and it is not just the corona virus. It is a crisis of leadership when it is most needed. The total incompetence and fundamental lack of rational and reasoned efforts are on full display in Washington and throughout this administration.

In a line written about business, but applicable to the Trump administration since he touts his “business success,”

“Even a dysfunctional culture, once well established, is astonishingly efficient at reproducing itself.”

Megan McArdle, Atlantic Monthly (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/why-companies-fail/308887/)

And this is a dysfunctional President. The evidence is before our eyes, and before Congress, yet we and they have ignored it.  This didn’t begin with the corona virus, a phenomenon that occurs almost every few years as viruses mutate and change with evolutionary certainty.

It began with a President who has a fundamental disdain for the three co-equal branches of government and fails to remember he represents all Americans, not just those who voted for him.

The evidence of the incompetence of this administration covers the gambit from domestic to foreign policy to simple common decency and concern for humanity. Here’s one example that happened before the latest debacle.

If we will believe the President’s assertion that Mr. Putin denied Russian interference in the 2016 election–despite a rare consensus among our intelligence agencies to the contrary. If the President vouches for the honesty and integrity of the Russian President–despite overwhelming evidence of Russian efforts to destabilize out political process–then we would have no reason to doubt Mr. Putin’s contention that Mr. Trump told him we spend too much money on defense, and yet Mr. Trump increased the defense budget. (http://uawire.org/putin-says-trump-confessed-to-him-about-huge-military-spending)

Aside from wondering why any American president would say such a thing to one of our greatest challengers in the world, it gives one pause when we consider we have to take a moment to think about who we should believe. Unsure of who has more credibility, our President or the Russian one?

We are spending money on programs chosen more for their economic benefit to certain supportive Congressional districts (and some Democrats do not get a pass on this) or to garner contributions from defense industry funded PACS than intelligently derived analysis of 21st century defense needs.

We are buying weapons to fight a war based on large-scale operations rather than asymmetric insurgency type operations which are the nature of warfare since 1945.  While China, Russia, and other countries focus on weapons designed to mitigate our overwhelming force superiority with hypersonic long-range missiles or other effective weapons difficult to counteract, we prepare for the pitched battles of WWII which no one fights anymore.

One might argue, as many military experts do, that our reliance on overwhelming force against any hostile action, i.e. multiple five-hundred pound bomb strikes against a single sniper, and the unavoidable collateral damage, creates more hostility and resistance to our expressed purpose for being there.

In other words, the military weaponry we buy fails to serve the purpose. We protect American lives in the short run, yet doom them to remain on the ground in harm’s way because we create more enemies than we kill. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Doubt this? We’ve been fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for almost 20-years.

China has the additional foresight (another missing asset of this President) to invest in world-wide infrastructure to gain influence while we bog ourselves down in these endless sectarian wars at the cost of American lives and loss of respect for American policy.

 “In the twenty-first century, the military costs over $700 billion a year, and its budget is 3 to 4 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP). By way of comparison, the budget for the National Cancer Institute is only about $5 billion per year, when over 609,000 people in the United States die from cancer each year.”

Tim Bakker “The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military.”

And the deficit, the one that Mr. Trump claimed he would eliminate, grows exponentially with each passing moment. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/04/02/trumps-nonsensical-claim-he-can-eliminate-19-trillion-in-debt-in-eight-years/)

These things present complex and dangerous challenges to this country.

Mr. Trump, as he is wont to repeat ad nauseam, claims he is solely responsible for the economic “turnaround.” He claims the rise of the stock market is his accomplishment and his alone.

If so, Mr. Trump, then the fall of the market, nay the descent into oblivion of the market, is yours. While I have often argued the US economy is too complex for just one factor to have such influence, I must defer to your claims.

Not so fast, many of his supporters will shout. You cannot blame the President for the corona virus and its effect on the market.

True enough, but only so far. I can blame him for his ineptness and stumbling in the face of the crisis which contributes to the jitters on Wall Street.  The oft repeated mantra of “How’s your 401k?” doesn’t ring as sweet anymore, does it Mr. Trump?

You can’t tweet your way out of this one.

In just a few short decades we have gone from leaders who say and act with determination, compassion, and wisdom while calming and inspiring a nation in crisis…

“The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis.”

Thurgood Marshall

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

― President Franklin D. Roosevelt

…to this,

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

President George W. Bush

Mr. Bush, with his stumbling and bumbling words, led us into an unnecessary and deadly war absent the slightest bit of justification. Yet, I think he believed it necessary to protect American interests even if based on fraudulent advice.

Now, we have a President whose concerns are much easier to divine.

If it reflects well on him, he is solely responsible. If it reflects badly, everyone else has failed him.

The corona virus is not a crisis in the sense that millions across the planet will die from it. But that is little comfort to the victims of other debilitating conditions who will die if they contract the virus.

The corona virus is a crisis because of the American failure to respond in a timely, organized, and well thought out manner. It shows the dearth of preparedness, the willful ignorance of science, and the lack of proper health care available to all Americans.

This from a recent article in the New York Times.

“Who would have thought?” he (President Trump) asked during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nerve center for the government’s response to the outbreak. “Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?”

Actually, quite a few people would have thought, and did — including the officials in his own White House who were in charge of preparing for just such a pandemic only to have their office shut down in a reorganization in 2018. “The threat of pandemic flu is the No. 1 health security concern,” one of the officials said the day before that happened two years ago.

“Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no.” (https://a.msn.com/r/2/BB10V9en?m=en-us&referrerID=InAppShare)

How right he turned out to be.

This is a crisis of Mr. Trump’s creation based on arrogant disdain for the wisdom of others in areas for which Mr. Trump has no experience. In a time when a President should be in the forefront of leading the nation with a calm and reassuring voice, he focuses on the only thing that matters to him, his own self-aggrandizing super ego.

While leaving American citizens stranded on a ship waiting for someone, anyone, to bring them home and test them for the virus, Mr. Trump had this to say,

“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship”

President of the United States (this is not a typo) Donald J. Trump.

I like the numbers where there are as well, Mr. Trump. The poll numbers that show you trailing any of the potential Democratic candidates. But we all know numbers can and will change.

The number of those testing positive for the virus will rise because of the ineptness of this country’s response, for which you alone bear sole responsibility, Mr. President, for you are the one who should lead the nation at this moment.

But instead of leadership, calming words, and steady example of competence, you’ve once again used virtual bone spurs to avoid your responsibility.

Blame the previous administration, fire your chief of staff, turn to your favorite enemy the media, do everything you can to avoid the crisis instead of doing that which is your most sacred responsibility, to lead us through it.

Let’s hope the American people remember your dismal and abhorrent performance during this time of crisis, and it reflects in their voice at the polls.