Saturday, May 16, 2020

A Post Wherein I Ask A Question About Stable Geniuses And Pandemics

I believe the following facts are not disputed:

  1. Donald Trump has asserted he is a very stable genius.
  2. Donald Trump took his oath of office on January 20, 2017.
  3. China placed Wuhan province on lockdown on January 23, 2020.
  4. The number of days between the inauguration and the lockdown is 1,098.
For the purposes of debate, let's stipulate to the following
  1. The Obama administration left the nation's pandemic response capabilities in the horrendous shape Trump claims that it did.
Those facts and stipulations leave me with a nagging question: Why was a self-proclaimed stable genius not able to recognize and rectify the alleged gaps in the nation's pandemic response capabilities within those 1,098 days?

I know I am not the first person to ask a question such as this, but I have yet to see a serious answer. Please leave any serious responses in the comments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

What Have We Learned?

The question posed in the post's title has been nagging at me for the past week. Over 70,000 Americans have died from the virus and the unemployment rate has jumped from 3.5% to 16% in less than a month. I fear that the death and sacrifice may be in vain.

The sardonic angel on my left shoulder wants to me to type "Americans value toilet paper and haircuts more than anyone realized" and hit publish. The better angel on my right shoulder wants me to think about an answer or answers. Therein lies the stereotypical rub; each answer or partial answer produces yet more questions.

One thing seems obvious, the nation remains divided. One of the most obvious Covid 19 related examples is the disagreement about the death toll. An Axios poll shows that most Americans doubt the published numbers, but a majority of Democrats believe the totals are too low whereas a plurality of Republicans believe the numbers are too high. In short, Americans are now arguing about what the facts are not the implications of the facts. 

One's politics may and probably should color one's interpretation of the facts, but it should not color what the facts are. The death toll should not be a debatable proposition. It should be the same question as "is it raining?" It is either raining or it isn't; the death toll is 70,000 or it it isn't.  One can argue whether rain is timely or one can argue about how to best respond to a novel virus that has killed 70,000 Americans. Arguing about the numbers, however, precludes discussion about the best way to respond to the pandemic.

Second, sound bites have replaced solutions. These paragraphs from an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner illustrate the situation. First, 
Those arguing for a more rapid lifting of coronavirus restrictions have a refrain that goes something along the lines of: "Isolate the elderly and more vulnerable populations, and let everybody else go on with their lives."
The problem is that those advocating such a strategy have not done a very effective job of explaining what that would look like in practice. 
The most obvious way to "isolate" older and more vulnerable Americans would seem to be to put them in specialized living quarters along the lines of nursing homes. Yet these homes have been proven to be absolute death traps. 
Well done soundbites confirm one's views or trigger those who hold opposing views, but they solve nothing. Carefully considered plans based on the best facts available may ameliorate the current problems, but as noted above, Americans disagree about basic facts.

Third, Americans may have perverted the meaning of freedom. I'll let this Tom Nichols tweet speak for itself and urge the reading of the entire thread.
Finally there's a lack of leadership. Damon Linker writes about a "quality" that he has "come to appreciate, admire, and miss terribly through the civic desert of the Trump administration: the capacity of a president to rise above partisanship to speak from and to the nation as a whole."

Linker continues,
This isn't just some idle quality that sentimental Americans like their presidents to possess. It's one of the two fundamental responsibilities of the presidential office — to serve both as head of the executive branch of government and head of state. The second of these duties is as essential as the first — and for all of Trump's difficulty handling the managerial and policy challenges of running the executive branch, his inability to speak in high-minded terms about the good of the nation as a whole, about the need to rise above factionalism, and about our capacity to feel a part of a whole that's larger than ourselves is total, is one of his greatest failings as president. And it's been even more glaringly obvious since the pandemic took hold in mid-March.
Our education seems woefully inadequate to the task of fighting the virus and responding to the economic troubles that beset the nation.