Welcome back to The Long Version, a newsletter by Jonathan Myerson Katz.
Reflecting on it—and really, what else is there to do these days—COVID-19 in America is the perfect Donald Trump disaster. It is like everything he has done in his nearly 74 years on Earth: predictable, wasteful, and boring.
Nothing has really changed since the first case was confirmed in the U.S. on January 20. We are still confronting a deadly, extremely contagious virus with no vaccine and no cure. Our only hope is still to test, trace, and isolate the sick. In the absence of such means of control, everyone has to self-isolate as much as possible, to give researchers and officials enough time to make and distribute the things needed to stop it.
It’s been 108 days since that first U.S. case; about six weeks since the lockdowns here started in earnest. Because our government officials—especially the federal bureaucracy, starting with its ultimate leader, capo di tutti capi, CEO and president, Donald J. Trump—have so thoroughly bollocksed up every single aspect of the response, the only sane thing is for as many of us as possible to stay home. Still.
No one wants this. Everyone is bored. Those of us who aren’t greedy and lucky enough to get rich off the virus are seeing our horizons and bank accounts shrink daily.
Personally, my freelancing has dried up and the two journalism fellowships I was hoping for this fall have seemingly been postponed or canceled. That leaves my wife and me without a clear source of health insurance or income starting approximately six weeks after our first child is due to be born! (It’s a girl.) Everyone is having a hard time, in other words, even this fancy-ass blue-check journalist. Your mileage may vary.
The reason those tiny astroturfed anti-lockdown protests got so much attention in the last few weeks has a lot to do with who is protesting (conservative white people) and how (with lots of guns). But I think at root, they were something different to talk about. The news producers are also stuck at home and bored.
Somehow, even the scale of the tragedy doesn’t seem to hold our collective attention: 1.2 million confirmed U.S.cases, somewhere upwards of 75,000 of our loved ones, neighbors, and fellow citizens dead. In the couple hours it took me to write this newsletter, at least 1,000 more Americans died.
Which brings us back to the man more responsible than any other for this tragedy: Donald Trump. Trump’s one skill is as a quick-hit entertainer—a rich-guy heel, the racist clown. His whole career has been a string of fleeting distractions: tacky casinos, a silly reality show, cameos in forgettable movies, gimmicky walk-ons at more talented people’s events:
His distractions have never worked out. The casinos go bankrupt. The movies suck. He quickly loses interest in his trophy wives and the marriages end.
Now, because we are in hell, this waste of a man has lucked into being the head of the most powerful bureaucracy ever devised. He could have used this power at any time to surge testing, step up tracing, and devise a workable quarantine and reopening plan.
Instead, he spends every waking moment defending his last mistake while making ten new ones. Just yesterday, he reprised one of his old standards: “This Virus is Going to Disappear.” (He’d originally blustered about that happening by last month.) Meanwhile, his administration just got caught trying to bury the CDC’s guidance on reopening responsibly. At least 30 states are easing restrictions, even though not a single one meets the best available criteria for doing so.
This is dangerous stuff in a country full of people whose civic ideal is getting exactly what they want at the moment they want it. In state after state, people are just giving up on trying to keep themselves alive, as the president cheers them to their deaths.
Maybe Trump does not care about the blood on his hands because such a large proportion of the dead are black and poor. Maybe they people around him assume that we somehow won’t notice that every country in the world with equivalent resources has done this better than we have.
Some have theorized that they’ve seen the ways we as a country have learned to shrug off gun violence deaths as part of the price of “freedom.” Perhaps his party is convinced that no matter how massive the disaster on their watch that they will be able to steal the election in November through fraud, suppression, and intimidation. Or maybe this is The Donald’s ultimate heel turn.
Whatever their plan for personal gain, the distractions—the lies, the restarted rallies, the bluster of these “reopening” bonanzas—won’t stop the virus. More of us will die, and nearly all of us will continue to suffer the economic and social effects of the disaster, until people with a modicum of responsibility take charge.
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Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. His next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, explores the life of Gen. Smedley Butler and the rise and fall of American empire. Follow his fancy-ass blue check on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.