Facts are stubborn things

The COVID-19 disease is no longer an abstract thing affecting other people in other places. Those numbers represent human beings. It’s here, now, like a hurricane roaring upon the shore. Are we ready?

In DeKalb County, we can take comfort in knowing that our county leaders were way more ahead of the curve and planned for this way before state and national leaders took heed. When I interviewed Michael Posey, deputy director of the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency, for an unrelated story on January 28, Posey mentioned he had just met with DeKalb County Commission President Ricky Harcrow to start a county-wide plan for addressing potential coronavirus cases. Getting well ahead of the situation early helped our local leaders delay the onset of local cases for roughly 60 days.

This has become a situation where days are measured by new cases in the triple digits.

Our public officials must convey confidence that everything is under control or else the social order breaks down and it becomes every man for himself. But you don’t have to be an expert on virology or logistics to see that our country, like all nations struggling to get a grip on this situation, were “caught with our britches down”.

It pains me to see anyone not taking this seriously. Can’t we all just get on the same page and get this over with as quickly as possible? Nah, some moron who feels he’s immune is going to be selfish and spread this virus to everyone he coughs on!

This crisis has exposed a lot of vulnerabilities in our society, our economy and our federal government, in particular.

I sympathize with President Trump. He didn’t ask for any of this. He’d much rather be holding his rallies where thousands are screaming their devotion instead of giving daily briefings to a bunch of reporters he hates. It’s got to be miserable. He’s a proud man, so be criticized must hurt him at his core. He needs our support and our prayers. I’m reluctant to critique his performance because I know he’s so beloved in Alabama that anything less than showering him with glowing praise is like poking a sleeping grizzly with a stick.

I’ll just say that I’ve felt reverberations of George W. Bush vacationing on his Texas ranch in the summer of 2001, ignoring memos from intelligence officials with titles like “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.” Three years later, on another summer day, Bush stood in a flight suit on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner declaring we had won in Iraq. Declaring victory didn’t reflect anything more than wishful thinking. Even then, you knew that conflict was far from neatly packed away. And we hadn’t even gotten to Hurricane Katrina or the collapse of the housing market yet.

Watching the daily press conferences about this epidemic inspires a combination of fear and disgust. Holding public officials accountable for their job performance usually prompts them to make adjustments to get back on track. President Trump isn’t quite there yet. He turned a softball question offering an opportunity to reassure a terrified populace into an attack on a reporter because he felt defensive. Watching others sharing that platform going to great lengths to flatter him and shield him from bad news in the midst of the nation’s biggest crisis since World War II is deeply unsettling – especially when the president himself smugly implies that federal aid may be slow in reaching governors unless they “treat us well.”

This is no time to inject politics, but that’s exactly what happened this past week as both Democrats and Republicans held up deeply needed aid for displaced workers in partisan battles over who will get to cash checks that might show up eventually.

Trump is clearly worried that a bad economy will cost him the election, but if he pushes to end isolation prematurely and the death toll escalates, he’ll own that. Just like the officials who thought it was a great idea to throw a parade during the 1918 pandemic and ended up with 4,500 people dying from the flu or its complications within a matter of days. However, if the president demonstrates that lives matter more than how high the stock market reaches by Election Day, he’ll own that too. There is more at stake here than his job or anyone else’s. This is life and death stuff, folks.

This president, any president, needs the American people to make sacrifices, just as we have with past calamities. During World War II, Americans bought bonds and rationed food. We rolled up our sleeves and showed a resolve to do whatever it took. If he’s going to inspire us to do that now, he needs to start being humble and honest, defer to experts when he doesn’t know answers and stop antagonizing reporters who are simply doing their duty to ask tough questions. I’m just being real, like this president needs to get.

This virus doesn’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or an independent. It can’t be forced to cower in submission by threat of a mean Tweet. It doesn’t care whether you mock it by calling it Chinese. Like the Joker laughing at Batman after he was unable to beat answers out of him, this virus is taunting Trump, saying, “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with! Nothing to do with all your strength!”

Nothing except the discipline to do what must be done, the hard choice instead of the easy way.

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