Teleholiday Journal: Eyes on the prize


More American deaths than were suffered in the Vietnam War—less than a month ago, that was the comparison meant to shock us into the reality of the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic.  But it didn’t.  It was too little too late: for the tens and tens of thousands of the sick and the dead, and the millions and millions of Americans who got the message when they lost their jobs, because a significant portion of American businesses had to shut their doors as part of the effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease.  Since this started, U.S. unemployment has moved from a level that was arguably full employment across the country to now 14.7% actively looking for work—”Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality”—just in a matter of two months!

Today, the day we honor the more than one million of our fellow Americans who lost their lives in military service in the defense of our country, we are told we are days from seeing the COVID-19 death toll in our country pass 100,000.   Worst death toll in the world; also the most total cases in the world, with new ones still added every day.

Americans are not particularly known for being overly patient.  It’s kind of part of the ethos that when we want something, we go get it.  Or make it.  Sometimes we take it.  But we don’t like being told we can’t do something we want to do.  Our initial cooperation with directions from federal, state and local area governments to stay home and keep our distance from one another, as our best defense to fight a virus for which we had no medical weapon, had a positive impact, lessening the out of control spread of the virus.  It also caused the economic crisis.  And we are tired of that.  Understandably so.

America, and Americans, have a well-deserved reputation, for generations now, for generosity toward others in the face of natural disaster or economic crisis.  The orders to stay home, and to shut down businesses, were a call to us all to help us all: if we can keep from spreading the virus, it will die out when it has no one new to infect.  The urge to put an end to the hardships of social distancing and self-isolation, and to the self-inflicted damage to shuttered businesses and their laid-off employees, is a strong and an understandable one.

How then do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between the recognized generosity and civic-mindedness of the American people, faced with the sacrifice needed to defeat this generational challenge to our society, and the blindered selfishness of those few who are demonstrating against the restrictions because…because what, actually?  Because they are tired of it?  Because they don’t want to be told what to do?  Because they have long guns and Confederate flags laying around, and a desire to intimidate others that is going unfulfilled?

Or maybe it’s because they’ve fallen for a subversive attack:

Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyzed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and related issues since January and found that roughly half the accounts — including 62% of the 1,000 most influential retweeters — appeared to be bots, they said in a report published this week.

That’s a far higher level of bot activity than usual, even when it comes to contentious events — the level of bot involvement in discussions about things like US elections or natural disasters is typically 10% to 20%.

The researchers identified bots using artificial-intelligence systems that analyze accounts’ frequency of tweets, number of followers, and apparent location.

There is an interesting paradox about many of these demonstrators that is also found among others of the conservative right these days, including President Trump.  Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put this way:

From time to time when hearing a new complaint from the president, it has occurred to me to wonder, why is he bitching about unfair treatment again?  Has he lived his life to this point in a world where he has received, and has dispensed, only fair treatment?  In any case, there has always been what seems to me to be an inordinate amount of whining coming from Trumpworld, totally at odds with it being the source of so much winning that we can’t stand it.

Yesterday Trump tweeted that the number of new cases of the disease and the number of deaths are all down; in all fairness, not so much:

While total new cases nationally have begun declining, hospitalizations outside New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have increased slightly in recent days, as Mr. Trump’s own former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, pointed out.

Altogether, cases are falling in 14 states and Washington, D.C., but holding steady in 28 states and Guam while rising in eight states plus Puerto Rico, according to a New York Times database. The American Public Health Association said the 100,000 milestone was a time to reinforce efforts to curb the virus, not abandon them.

“This is both a tragedy and a call to action,” it said in a statement. “Infection rates are slowing overall in the U.S., but with 1.6 million cases across the nation in the past four months, the outbreak is far from over. New hot spots are showing up daily, and rates remain steady in at least 25 states.”

And even that grim total barely begins to scratch the surface of the pain and suffering endured by a country under siege by the worst public health crisis combined with the worst economic crisis in decades.

I know that in some ways this crisis feels like it’s over, or at least has turned the corner.  That probably is due at least in part to seeing restaurants and bars begin to re-open in states where governors are saying enough is enough, let’s get back to business.  I think that feeling comes mostly from us wanting it to be true.  But it’s not true, and it’s up to us to do our part.  All of us.

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