30 June

One Man’s Truth: It’s The Pandemic, Silly

by Jon Katz

(A blog reader angrily accused me of expressing my opinion in my political pieces. I  hope so. What strange people we have become. I would love to meet Tom Paine in the afterworld, and ask him: “did anybody accuse  you of that when you wrote Common Sense?”)

The most important person in the 2020 Presidential Election is not Donald Trump or Joe Biden or Andrew Cuomo or the soon-to-be-named vice presidential candidate.

It’s our new companion, our new long-time relationship, the Covid-19 pandemic.

This unwanted guest is coming to dinner and staying for a very long time.

More than any other thing, the coronavirus will be the determining factor in who our next President will be.

It will touch every single one of us in one way or the other, more than any other issue, and billions more beyond.

The campaigns can trade insults and videos all they want, but the pandemic is holding all the cards.

If 911 changed our country, the coronavirus is changing our lives and our world.

COVID-19 seems to have a consciousness all of its own,  it goes wherever it wants, whenever it wants,  feeding off of our helplessness and American arrogance and our short attention spans.

It seems always to be one step ahead of the experts, bobbing and weaving, coming and going. The United States, once the world leader in science, looks like a Banana Republic.

Is the pandemic messing with us, or is it just me?

Watching the news these days, I’ve had this twitchy feeling that the virus is haunting Donald Trump, taunting him, matching him move by move.  The more he runs, the more it chases.

Perhaps Rod Serling ought to join the Coronavirus Task Force In Washington.

Maybe my imagination is too fertile, but sometimes the virus seems determined to rattle out President and push him into making dreadful mistakes.

Ever since it came, he hasn’t been right.

There is nothing sweeter to watch than a politician at the top of his game, nothing more painful than to see one who has lost it and is gasping for air.

By now, it is clear we have a President who can’t cope, who refuses to even speak of the pandemic and is intent on willing it away.

That is the absolute worst place to be for a presidential candidate in the summer of 2020 in the United States of America.

Surprisingly, Trump has also revived another, more subtle old wound and issue in American history – the conflict between reason and science that gripped the country during the Scopes Monkey Trial and many times since.

Fundamentalist Christians have been fighting science for many years, and this struggle surfaces in Trumpism over and over again, from climate change to education to marriage.

Like the legacy of slavery, it never goes away or is resolved.

In 1924 in Dayton, Tennesse William Jennings Bryan, another Bible-waving national politician, and wannabe President, tried to put a school teacher in jail for teaching the theory of evolution instead to his students.

It was a shocking attack on science,  teachers, learning, and freedom; here it is, and it is,  back, along with all of the other issues we face.

Another national politician using a Bible and exploiting a church to tell a lie.

As the new and young and diverse America rises, we have a President positions himself with the ghosts of the intolerant religious right, as Bryan did

They demand religious freedom, but they deny others their freedom to think.

The image is of a powerful leader rushing one way, while his country and the world are rushing the other way.

When Trump held up that Bible in Lafayette Square, he raised the stakes even higher and gave himself another self-inflicted wound.

Like Bryan, he revealed himself to be a hypocrite, exploiting a religious text everyone knows he’s never read.

But the persecution of John Thomas Scopes was also a disaster for Bryan, who was so beaten up by Clarence Darrow –  the famous defense lawyer – during the trial that he died a couple of days later.

Scopes never went to jail, and freedom won a significant victory. But here we are again, decades later, fighting the same fight in a dozen ways.

It was all an embarrassing defeat for the Fundamentalist religious movement, who had no President to tweet on its behalf. Wisely, the politicians in Washington looked the other way.

Bryan, like his Bible-waving successor, also suffered from Terminal Hubris and hypocrisy.

His Bible didn’t save him either.

Trump’s strategy is crumbling by the day.

He ignores the doctors and scientists around him and trusts only his Fundamentalist friends and visceral instincts. They are failing him badly, leading him astray.

Yesterday, there were 40,041 new cases in the United States, an 80 percent increase in the last 14 days, and 347 new deaths.

President Trump has staked his presidency on the idea that COVID-19 will be over soon and is no more severe than the flu. His refusal to wear a mask is an easy signal for his followers to read – fight science, fight restrictions, resist masks and social distancing, and staying indoors.

He is not the leader of saving us, he is the leader of the Coronavirus Resistance, denying it in just the same way the Fundamentalists rejected science in 1924.

Yes, some old and poor people will die, but let’s get our priorities straight, the economy will bounce back sooner than if we take our time with it.

Trump promised the American people time and time again that it wasn’t a dangerous thing and will be gone shortly. He has refused to wear a mask.

Trump has also has argued forcefully that the virus is not nearly as deadly as the collapse of our economy would be.

That is a compelling argument with a lot of followers.

But ironically, it seems that what the virus has collapsed is his re-election effort as well as much of the economy.

Yesterday, Dr. Fauci, who was released from confinement for a day, said it was possible we could see 100,000 cases a day in the United States (in South Korea, which locked down and tested heavily and started wearing masks a long time ago, there have been only 282 deaths. We’ve had 115,000) soon.

That means it didn’t have to be this way.

The President’s subservient media bubble is not big enough to hide this disaster. He’s hemorrhaging the voters he needs to win: moderates and independents and even some angry white people.

The polls are finding that even though his followers say they love him, they also admonish their children not to behave as he does. Not exactly a role model.

President Trump is also staking his presidency on the idea that the racial turmoil and protests in our cities will be more upsetting to the electorate than the virus.

He has conceded the pandemic will disproportionately affect older adults and urban populations – a/k/black and Latino.

This is problematic.

The return of the pandemic knocked the protests to the back of the news and the center of the campaign.

Americans are worried.

They want someone to take charge and to do it right and finish it off.

Street protests of the kind seen now in Seattle and Minneapolis are not likely to be continuing into the Fall.

And while there are promising signs that race as an issue has finally penetrated the consciousness of many oblivious whites, it has never been something most Americans want to talk about for any sustained length of time.

Even if this is the time, no story will surpass or overwhelm the virus if the doctors are correct and it comes roaring back North (and South)  in the colder weather.

The rise of the virus in the South – the heart of Trumpism – almost guarantees it will be the monster story of this year and beyond.

It was Trump himself who decided to return to the campaign of 2016 and count on grievance and bigotry and law order to get him through.

I’m not a professional campaign expert, but this decision, to me, is a fatal and almost irreversible mistake. The virus was the perfect opportunity for him to do what he needed to do – lead the country, show he can govern all of us,  and win over some new supporters.

By any measure, he blew the chance. His campaign is on life support.

Taking hold of the virus should have been something he is was well equipped to do. It wasn’t.

I don’t say this because I don’t care much for Trump – I don’t, obviously, and yes, this is my opinion – but because understanding the pandemic and its centrality now is perhaps the single most crucial element in understanding the campaign.

With every surge of the virus, the economy is set back again.

Every time the numbers go up, which is every day lately, more businesses delay opening or close up again.

More people are laid off, and out of work, more cities and states go broke, and then the stock market falls and falls.

Trump’s whole idea of ignoring the pandemic and turning to re-opening so recklessly was to speed up the economic recovery in time for the election. It has had just the opposite effect.

His race-baiting isn’t taking the way it did in 2016, although it will help him if the unrest continues into the Fall.

Trump’s opponents are locked in a sort of hand-wringing cloud of fear and gloom; he has traumatized them. They couldn’t believe it when he won the election in 2016; now, they can’t believe he is almost certain to lose this one.

The pandemic is much bigger than him and Biden than the musty dogma of the left or the right. For the election, it’s much bigger even than our tortured issues over race and policing.

Governor  Cuomo has given Trump an awful beating without even running for office. He has shown millions of Americans what it means to rise to the moment, to be honest, and empathic, and courageous.

Trump is now frightened and busy, digging more holes for himself. He seems dangerous, unmoored.

As if Tulsa wasn’t bad enough, he wants to make another mess, this time in Jacksonville, Florida, site of his scheduled coronation at the end of August. He canceled Charlotte because the governor of North Carolina insisted everyone had to wear a mask.

Today, Jacksonville required everyone in the town to wear masks for the foreseeable future.

Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, reports 6,207 cases of COVID-19, and 64 deaths.

Florida now has 146,333 cases and 3,446 deaths from the coronavirus,  one of the highest death tolls in the country. It had 5,000 new cases yesterday, more deaths expected to follow.

Governor Ron DeSantis is a staunch Trump supporter; he even flew to Washington to celebrate his decision to open up Florida way before health officials thought it safe.

Trumps and his favorite governers were all laughing the wussies closing states down.

At the White House, DeSantis, preening with the President,  delighted in laughing at Andrew Cuomo, who he suggested was kind of hysterical, accusing him of overreacting to the virus in New York.

They looked like two bullies on the playground, picking on the teacher’s favorite.

He and Trump have foolishly handed the Democrats another pole to stick up the President’s butt. They are doing it already.

Cuomo’s devastating critique of Trump’s handling of the virus yesterday went viral on YouTube and across the Internet.

What do you think the big story in Jacksonville will be if the doctors are right, and 1,000 Americans a day are dying in August?

The convention is only a month or so away, it seems very unlikely for the pandemic to be done with us so quickly.

And how will all that cheering and rejoicing look in a state with so many dead, and a Presidential nominee who is pretending the pandemic no longer exists? That is if it is held there at all.

Trump might have to move his triumphal crowds and nomination to North Dakota or Montana to escape the pandemic.

By ignoring the coronavirus and pooh-poohing its danger, he now owns it; it is his pandemic as our leader, not just ours or the Democrats, as he originally suggested.

The health officials who are desperately rushing to study the pandemic and learning much about it, say it is almost sure to return in the Fall, possibly more savagely than before.

Election time.

Trump has a lot of things going for him.

Most Americans trust Trump to rebuild the economy, and American voters get very nervous when they see poor people on TV setting fire to things.

Trump has blown both of these opportunities by making sure the economy weakens from federal inattention to the pandemic,  thus allowing it to regroup and return.

He has neutralized the law and order issue he could have had by siding so openly with racists and white nationalists – he tweets and re-tweets their rantings daily.

He has made himself the chaos and the disorder, and Joe Biden the savior.

One of my favorite political wisdoms is this: you can either eat lunch or be lunch.

He is looking like lunch, freaking out almost daily, tweeting hatred and fear,  saying stupid and offensive things, making himself more frightening to people than nearly any alternative.

I think of this as a sad time for Donald Trump, even though I am frequently scolded for showing sympathy to him.

He’d rather go down as John Wayne than as Jimmy Carter. If he loses, he loses big, not small.

If Trump’s campaign were hardwired into reality, they would be urging every single supporter to wear a mask, stay indoors when possible, social distance, and stay from crowded arenas.

He could be the savior, not the goat.

That would ease the worried of many harried voters, and help end the virus as well.

But Donald Trump does not traffic in truth or reality, so his campaign staff can’t either.

Closeted in their bubbles, they are said to be telling each other  – and him – lie after lie.

The President has dug a hole for himself that will go all the way down to China and come back up again just before November 3.


  1. I really enjoy your political commentary. I think it is spot on. I am so happy you broke out of the Bedlam Farm bubble and are giving us your thoughts on (in my opinion) one of the worst presidencies in my lifetime and I’m in my 70’s. Keep up the good work – when I see one of your political commentaries it’s like enjoying a fine glass of wine with a piece of great chocolate.

  2. It is worrisome to think what he might do as he thrashes around trying to come up with something to get himself re-elected. My fear is that he will start a war, probably by attacking Iran, a country that is not and has not been a threat to the United States, but for some reason conservatives hate.

    It is a technique that many have used to swing support behind them. Will it work this time? Seems unlikely, as people have been bitten too many times over claims that war is necessary, only for it to be revealed as contrived and false.

  3. Jon, I just googled this to make sure…. Fauci said we could soon see 100,000 cases per day not 100,000 deaths. I heard it wrong the first time as deaths & was freaking out.

  4. I keep coming back to this: The U.S., which claims to have the “best” healthcare in the world, has about 4.25% of the world’s population, but accounts for about 25% of the deaths and 25% of the (acknowledged, diagnosed) cases.

  5. Jon, Thank you so much for coming down off the fence to the side of sanity several weeks back. I appreciate your disdain for the Donald and love the due credit you are giving to the true heroes in this pandemic such as Dr. Fauci, Gov Cuomo, not to mention Gov Baker of MA and Gov Pritzker of IL for their positive efforts to flatten the curve. As a reader of your blog for over a decade I say thank you for getting the truth out. I just ordered a book of many works of Thomas Paine.

  6. Jon, thank you for every word you have written in your political essays. You have every right to do what you are doing. Of course, there are those who disagree with you, but there are many of us who do agree. Please continue writing your well-written blogs.

    I’m sure Thomas Paine would love what you are doing.

    From THE AMERICAN CRISIS II: Universal empire is the prerogative of a write. His concerns are with all mankind, and though he cannot command their obedience, he can assign them their duty. The Republic of Letters is more ancient than monarchy, and of far higher character in the world than the vassal court of Britain… Thomas Paine

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