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America is too broken to fight the coronavirus

The rot starts at the top. At the beginning of the crisis Trump acted as if he could wish the coronavirus away, and after an interval when he at least pretended to take it seriously, his administration has resumed a posture of blithe denial.

The taskforce led by Vice President Mike Pence has been sidelined, its members meeting only twice a week. Pence wrote an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal this month about how well things are going: “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” he claimed.

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump said the virus is “fading away”. Speaking to the WSJ, he said that some people might be wearing masks only to show their disapproval of him and suggested, contrary to all credible public health guidance, that mask-wearing might increase people’s risk of infection. It’s not surprising, then, that many people at his sad rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where coronavirus cases are spiking, went maskless.

A vendor wearing a protective mask and shield speaks with customers ahead of Trump's rally in Tulsa.

A vendor wearing a protective mask and shield speaks with customers ahead of Trump’s rally in Tulsa.Credit:Bloomberg

Just a few weeks ago, panicked about occupying my kids through the summer in a shut-down New York, I thought about taking them to stay with my retired parents in Arizona. Now, as New York gingerly reopens, Arizona has become a hotspot. Cases are also soaring in Texas, Florida and several other states. An epidemic that was once concentrated in blue states is increasingly raging in red ones.

When coronavirus cases started exploding on the east coast in March, there were devastating failures by Democratic leaders. New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, not only forced nursing homes to take back residents who’d been hospitalised for the coronavirus, he barred them from testing the residents to see if they were still infected.

As ProPublica reported, following Cuomo’s order, “COVID-19 tore through New York state’s nursing facilities, killing more than 6000 people – about 6 per cent of its more than 100,000 nursing home residents.” In Florida, which prohibited such transfers, the virus has so far killed only 1.6 per cent of nursing home residents.

Given how Cuomo’s errors contributed to New York’s catastrophe, it’s hard to say how much credit he deserves for eventually rising to the occasion. Still, by the time New York’s cases got to where Arizona’s are now, he at least understood that the state faced calamity and imposed the lockdown that helped bring it back from the abyss.

Arizona, Florida and Texas, by contrast, aren’t even doing simple things like mandating mask-wearing. Worse, until earlier this month, the governors of Arizona and Texas prevented cities from instituting their own such requirements.

So far, evidence about the role mass protests over police violence played in coronavirus spikes is mixed, but liberal support for the demonstrations solidified the conviction among many conservatives that strict social distancing rules are a hypocritical tool of social control. The paranoia and resentment that have long been part of the culture of the modern right are now directed at those warning about the ongoing dangers of the pandemic.


Across the country, public health workers have faced death threats, harassment and armed protesters at their homes. No matter how bad things get in red America, it’s hard to imagine where the political will to contain the virus will come from.

So while countries with competent leadership haltingly return to normal, ours will continue to be pummeled. In mid-May, when America’s coronavirus death toll was around 85,000, Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham said that as long as fatalities didn’t go much beyond 120,000, “I think you can say you limited the casualties in this war.”

By the New York Times count, we’ve hit that number. The war goes on, but Trump has already lost it.

The New York Times

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