I keep fantasizing about a moment in Washington like the one at the end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy accidentally throws water on the Wicked Witch of the West. The witch melts and suddenly the evil spell she’s cast on all her creepy guardsmen and flying monkeys is broken. They snap out of it and come to their senses.
Obviously, that not going to happen in DC—at least not until Election Day. Even then, there’s a good chance that even in defeat the spell cast over an all-too-significant percentage of the American public and its politicians won’t be completely undone. But throwing out of office the miscreants and their egregious, burnt orange overseer will be a fine start. Too many have suffered death, illness or economic ruin in part because of their arrogant and selfish rule.
Admittedly, when it comes to this pandemic, I’m fortunate. I work from home anyway, so for me, that part hasn’t been much different. I continue to keep my social distance, wear a mask when I infrequently venture out, wash my hands.
For now, thank God, I’m healthy, and I’m in one of the prosperous cosseted neighborhoods of Manhattan—downtown’s West Village—where an estimated forty percent of the population or more has fled to friends and relations out of town or to their own country and weekend homes. The fatality rate here is as much as six times less than other parts of the city. We are, in a word, privileged, and not exposed to the conditions of poverty and overcrowding that have caused others so much needless suffering.
Nonetheless, friends have been deathly ill, friends of friends have died. At 7 pm, we cheer and yell and bang pots and applaud our frontline workers but where I live, too many of the white and entitled, especially over the holiday weekend, ignored the warnings and got up close and personal in parks and at the local bars and restaurants that for now serve booze—and some food—from their open storefronts. In some places, they crowded the sidewalks and streets.
It was worse elsewhere. Meagan Flynn at The Washington Post reported, “At a flashy club in Houston, dozens splashed around the pool and sipped on drinks on the patio. In rural North Carolina, thousands packed the stands shoulder to shoulder at Ace Speedway on its opening night, where face masks were the exception. And in Daytona Beach, Fla., even after an event called ‘Orlando Invades Daytona’ was canceled, hundreds still danced in the street and on top of cars near the boardwalk.”
It got so bad in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, that St. Louis County put out a travel advisory, describing the flouting of recommendations as an “international example of bad judgment.” County Executive Sam Page, a doctor, said, “This reckless behavior endangers countless people and risks setting us back substantially from the progress we have made in slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, CNN reported Tuesday morning that the number of new cases of the virus continues to rise in 18 states “including Georgia, Arkansas, California and Alabama.” In a couple of weeks, we should have a better idea of how much damage was done during the three-day weekend, of whether or not we’ve significantly been set back in the fight against this contagion. So far, in just twelve weeks or so, more than 1,690,000 Americans have been infected and 100,000 have died. Given the vast confusion over testing results and reporting, it seems probable that the real numbers are much higher.
None of us want America held back any longer by this awful disease. We all want it returned to normal and maybe even better than it was. But as Elie Mystal at The Nation notes, “Quite simply: It’s the people who are most vocal about wanting the country to reopen who are making it too dangerous to reopen the country. It’s the people who are least concerned about their own health who are putting everybody else’s health at risk…
“We can’t manage the crisis, because too many people have decided to be unmanageable. We are slowly beginning to understand how to protect ourselves from the virus. But we have no clue how to protect ourselves from the virulent people who insist on spreading the virus because they’ve determined they can live with other people dying. A person walking around without a mask isn’t telegraphing that they don’t care about their own life; they’re shouting that they don’t care about yours. They’re willing to be the one who kills you, because they don’t value anybody’s life but their own.”
Donald Trump is their enabler-in-chief.
A new study from the University of Hong Kong, not yet peer reviewed, calculates that the transmission of coronavirus via respiratory droplets or airborne particles goes down by as much as a whopping 75% when masks are worn. But who won’t wear such protection, despite the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his own surgeon general? Donald Trump thinks the word “mask” is short for “emasculation” and mocks those who wear them as “politically correct.”
Way too many of the president’s supporters follow his lead. “If he’s not wearing a mask, I’m not going to wear a mask,” a man told CNN’s Gary Tuchman. “If he’s not worried, I’m not worried.”
Oh, for God’s sake, worry. But in the face of those 100,000 US fatalities, Trump’s response? “When we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing,” he said. “I look at that in a certain respect as being a good thing, because it means our testing is much better. So if we were testing a million people instead of 14 million people, it would have far few cases, right? So I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it’s a badge of honor.” Really?
As the weeks have gone by, here in my well-off neighborhood, I’ve noticed an evolution in the facemasks worn by those who heed the warnings of public health officials. From the familiar medical and industrial masks to jury-rigged and handmade versions, we seem to be moving toward commercially sold masks that feature designs, animal faces, emojis, and even promotional versions promoting companies and products—I just saw one with the Nike swoosh.
“The Mask Era has inspired creativity, but is shaped by deprivation,” culture reporter Maura Judkis writes. “It has united people in the feeling of being muzzled; we have rallied to make that experience slightly less depressing”—not only with ingenuity but also because the majority of us know that it must be done to keep ourselves and everyone around us safe. Yet Trump campaign manager Bard Parscale brought to a meeting prototypes for Trump-Pence 2020 facemasks. Because it’s a joke, get it? Laugh ‘til you die.
If we’ve learned anything from our ongoing coronavirus calamity, once and for all we’ve finally seen in its totality that this administration cannot administrate, that from the top down its lack of leadership and compassion, its incompetence and myopia make it unable and unfit to govern. Especially when faced with a problem that requires knowhow, one which can’t be covered up by lies and distractions. And at its head, an aimless, reckless wizard of self: self-pity, self-aggrandizement, self-indulgence.
According to White House doctors, Donald Trump is testing negative for COVID. But he’s a carrier of a different contagion, one of deceit, sleaze and corruption that has thoroughly infected our republic. However, for that disease, there’s a vaccine that becomes available Tuesday, November 3. Spread the cure. Vote to break the spell.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.