It would be tempting, in the wake of his disastrous Oval Office address and his equally unhinged press conference, to enumerate all the ways in which Donald Trump’s ignorance and mendacity have made our nation uniquely vulnerable to the Coronavirus.
It would also be a tragic misstep.
Trump’s approach to Coronavirus, after all, is the same as every other crisis he has faced. He lies, he boasts, he spews disinformation, all of which distracts us from the true nature of the problem, and the human suffering at stake. (Consider the thousands who died in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the hundreds of refugee families torn apart on the border, the millions of Americans who no longer have health insurance.)
We are now facing an unprecedented catastrophe: a pandemic that one Harvard epidemiologist warns could infect 70 percent of the adults on earth. A panel of experts at the University of California San Francisco predicted that 40 to 70% of Americans will be infected over the next 12 to 18 months. Even if these scientists are off by a factor of 10, millions of Americans will contract the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, and hundreds of thousands will die.
Trump’s dismantling of the team responsible for responding to pandemics, and his efforts to deny the crisis have led to an unconscionable delay in testing Americans, thus suppressing the true scope of the outbreak. Nearly everything he says and does makes the crisis worse.
Americans cannot prevent Trump from staging his performances. Nor can we prevent his propagandists from weaponizing this crisis. And I’m afraid even the most responsible of our mainstream media outlets will continue to cover this president’s every tweet and bleat.
But we have reached a moment of national peril so extreme that we must, for our own safety, quarantine ourselves from our own president. We cannot let this global health crisis become yet another Trump-branded reality TV show that we hate-watch on the daily. As citizens, we cannot waste our precious time and energy and faith reacting to a political actor who functions, by design, as an internet troll.
We don’t have to listen. We don’t have to watch.
It is wishful thinking to suppose that this virus, and this president’s inept response to it, will remove him from our public life. He is too shameless and desperate for attention to ever surrender the spotlight. Nor can we strip him of his political power (until November).
But as Americans, we have the power — right now — to insulate ourselves from his vile discourse. We don’t have to listen. We don’t have to watch. Instead, we can choose to heed those voices who are offering clarity and compassion, the medical experts and civil servants and journalists who want us to keep us calm and connected and alive.
The next few weeks and months may well be frightening and chaotic. We need to conserve our emotional energy, our reserves of mercy, and we need to focus them on those who need us most: our friends and loved ones and neighbors, especially the ones who are vulnerable.