Politicising the pandemic

The Trump Presidency is disquietingly like an episode of The Simpsons, from the surreal premise of him being president to the bit where he says Covid-19 is nothing then coughs and falls over.

And just when you think it was the punchline, he swallows some ludicrous quack cure and springs up in a superhero outfit. Whereupon, with surprisingly even-handed satire and willingness to shock and take a joke as far as it will go, Trump supporters and critics alike behave like absurd parodies of themselves.

What has happened? How did the pandemic become politicized like everything else, so people’s views on it reliably line up with their views on climate or Communist China? Part of it, I think, is a divide between the overly cautious and the possibly overly reckless, and between those who believe in trade-offs and those who don’t. But can’t we even discuss that question?

My own newspaper, Canada’s National Post, ran a rather strange piece on the three possible consequences of Trump’s affliction, namely “1. Donald Trump has mild symptoms and returns to work quickly…. 2. Trump gets quite ill but recovers and returns to campaign trail…. 3. Trump gets very ill and is yet to recover as election nears.” And they toyed with whether he’d get a sympathy bump.

Uh, that’d be not. Trump neither exudes nor attracts sympathy. But when I read that story I instantly saw two more possibilities that seemed very obvious.

First, Trump dies, immediately or after appearing to recover. After all, we’re told Covid-19 is incredibly dangerous especially to people who are, how shall I put it delicately, oh never mind because Trump neither exudes nor attracts delicacy, old and fat. But because of those warnings, my other scenario is that by brushing it off he proves, and says, we have panicked unreasonably.

So far, that scenario is unfolding. But in one of those Simpsons episodes featuring angry mobs with signs, nobody is remotely interested in the facts, just in jeering vindication.

Thus the MSM in full Trump-stinks mode keeps shrieking about the 200,000+ American dead from this dread plague. Even though in very late August the US Centres for Disease Control dropped a bombshell on Covid. Right down a deep mineshaft, it seems, because we never heard even a muffled explosion. But they said, and I don’t quote, oops we totally overcounted sorry it’s not very dangerous.

OK, now I do quote: “For 6% of the deaths, Covid-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to Covid-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.”

And Willis Eschenbach swooped in to point out, if true it means only about 9,680 of the then-161,392 American deaths involving Covid-19 involved dying of Covid-19. The other 94 percent died of something else as well as or, often, of something else alone, while having Covid-19.

Of course if Covid caused them to die of a condition they would otherwise have lived with, it deserves substantial blame for the death. But even so the lesson would be that vulnerable people should be isolated not that everyone should, since the “aaaah 200,000 died Trump’s a you know what” narrative overestimates Covid deaths by up to 17 times.

If your concern were medical here, this revision would be of enormous interest to you. But if you were a big-government Goody Two-Shoes, it might not, especially if you hated Trump so much that if he said zebras had stripes you would claim they were monochrome. As the Guardian blared, “Covid-19 has unmasked the true nature of Donald Trump and Trumpism”. So never mind some wretched facts. Don’t even test hydroxychloroquine.

Oh dear. Did I just turn into a Simpsonian parody of a loudmouth commentator? Not entirely. I find Trump revolting as a person and a politician. But somehow, despite being as fallible and sinful as anyone out there, I seem capable of noting that sometimes, somehow, he is right and his critics wrong. I won’t mention Mideast peace… and they won’t either.

But on Covid, with or despite his usual combination of bluster and ignorance, Trump has been far more clear-sighted about lockdown costs and benefits than nearly all the pundits in the land.

The costs are enormous because of the health impacts of poverty, loneliness and despair, and the benefits fairly small because Covid-19 is not an equal-opportunity, lethal killer. But nobody seems willing even to listen to Matt Ridley’s warnings about vitamin D deficiency, though Ridley’s no Donald Trump in matters of intellect, manners or morals. Is it more important to prove America is racist than to save lives?

Then there’s the World Health Organization’s Special Envoy on Covid-19 saying his colleagues “do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus…. we really do appeal to all world leaders: stop using lockdown as your primary control method.” Any takers? No. Trump is against lockdowns. We are for them. Rah rah rah.

Mitt Romney just denounced US politics having “moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass” and cited disgusting remarks by Trump like calling Nancy Pelosi “crazy” and Kamala Harris “a monster” as well as Pelosi tearing up Trump’s State of the Union, journalist Keith Olbermann calling the president a “terrorist” and so on. It’s an appalling spectacle. But to fix it, somebody’s going to have to budge first.

So why not Trump’s adversaries? They pride themselves on having brains and manners. So why not raise the bar instead of saying, well, he lowered it first?

Sure, the White House is being characteristically evasive and dishonest about when the president was getting tested, and his doctor is refusing to release details with a Clintonian “I don’t want to go backward”. But lots of other people are getting it who aren’t mask-mocking vulgarians, including the Vatican’s Swiss Guard.

So let’s have some civility and open-mindedness in the discussion of this disease. The Simpsons being more fun to watch than to live through.


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