Coronavirus updates: three easy pieces

Today we have an article by Nick Cohen to read, a panegyric by Andrew Sullivan, and an epidemiological website to peruse and fret about. Cohen and Sullivan worry that, although Trump’s response to the viral pandemic has been erratic, hamhanded, and even duplicitous, the Prez could come out of this even stronger. (I predicted the opposite, but what do I know?)

First, a piece by Nick Cohen in the Guardian (is there an American equivalent of this liberal journalist who doesn’t fall prey to wokeness?). Click on the screenshot to read (h/t Jeremy):

Cohen argues, correctly, that both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, the former described as a “clown in a morgue” and the latter as a “cornered conman,” have grossly mishandled the pandemic, with Trump’s behavior being describe as “close to criminal.” I, for one, have never seen such an blatant display of ignorance, waffling, and lying from a President (including Nixon), and I’m counting on the fact that even benighted Americans can see through Trump’s woeful performance. When they start losing their jobs and the stock market tanks, then Trump loses the only substantial card he had: the economy was doing well. That’s why I bet $100 that he’d lose in November, though most readers seemed to think that was a bad bet.

Cohen goes on to claim that Trump might save his popularity via populism: blaming the virus on the Chinese and thus arousing “America first” sentiments and intensifying the culture wars. A few excerpts:

Instead, an escape attempt began with the right-wing deploying the language policing it so often deplores on the politically correct left. Trump is now insisting that coronavirus should not be called coronavirus but “Chinese virus”.

The side benefits he could expect to bank ought to be obvious. Trump could count on US liberals playing his game by accusing him of being an anti-Chinese racist. Liberals duly walked into the trap and Trump’s supporters were transported from the fear of living in an unprepared country with a demonstrably inadequate leader to the familiar ground of culture war. They could mutter: “Oh, these people call everything they don’t like racist; they’ll be saying it’s racist to call Chinese food ‘Chinese’ next.”

. . . However much critics may want to say Trump is a semi-senile fool – and I do – it is worth remembering that he remains a brilliant political operator, who has destroyed all opponents within and without the Republican party who made the mistake of underestimating him. In this instance his cleverness, and the major benefit he expects to enjoy, lies in shifting the blame for his folly on to the Chinese.

And this is unbelievable:

It does not stop there. If the virus is China’s fault, then domestic critics of his administration are traitors aiding the Chinese communists. You think I’m exaggerating? On 16 March, Trump tweeted a link to an article on the paranoid Federalist site. The author, one Madeline Osburn, was explicit. The Atlantic, a serious American magazine, had joined “China’s anti-American disinformation efforts”, she said. Osburn, who would have had a glittering career on the People’s Daily if she had been born Chinese, cited the work of The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum, without appearing to know that Applebaum has written two devastating histories of the atrocities of communism. Describing how the pandemic has exposed America’s weaknesses in general, and its president’s weaknesses in particular, made Applebaum a useful idiot at best and traitor at worst, Osburn said.

Well, the “Trump tweeted a link” goes not to Trump but to a tweet by Mark Levin, a conservative commenter, but the article in the Federalist takes us back to the days of McCarthy-ite Red-baiting. Cohen goes on to somewhat extol Trump’s cleverness in deflecting his own incompetence onto the Chinese, and criticizing journalists for “siding with China.” In the end, Cohen is less certain than I about the effect of Trump’s competence on his electability come November. But I’m hoping that America’s pocketbook will outweigh its jingoism.

Cohen:

The hope that events will justify your beliefs is an ineradicable delusion. Surely, now the British will see through Johnson, liberals say, rather than blindly rally to his government in a time of crisis. Surely, the Americans will toss Trump on the scrap heap in November. But political battles do not win themselves. Democrats still have to unseat a sitting president – a feat they have not managed since 1992. Labour still has to turn itself from a serial election-loser into an election-winning machine. As the US shows, coronavirus can become the “China virus”. And what seems an irrefutable argument for a comprehensive welfare state can become an excuse for nationalist tricksters to wrap themselves in their tattered flags.

My own reading of the press, both right and left, doesn’t show this kind of “Chinese excuse”, at least in the U.S., but readers here aren’t so sanguine. My bet is that as the pandemic continues, lasting longer than our public officials are telling us, Trump’s popularity rating will fall, and come November we’ll have Biden in the White House. You may not be elated at that prospect (I’m not), but it sure beats the hamburger-fed tuchas now sitting there.

************

Every Friday, reader Simon sends me a link to Andrew Sullivan’s weekly column, and every Friday I read it, for Sullivan, however you feel about him, is a man worth reading. His latest, replacing his usual tripartite column, is a meditation on the pandemic—especially poignant because Sullivan (who is HIV positive) lived through the AIDS epidemic of the Eighties. Click on the screenshot to read:

According to Sullivan, the “plague of AIDS” changed people in many ways: making some fearful, others resolute and compassionate, and showing “whom you can trust and whom you can’t, and also reveals what matters.” It also brought gay rights, for which we have no equivalent with coronavirus—except, perhaps, a fix of the healthcare system and greater readiness to deal with these emergencies.

Mourning the lose of closeness (Sullivan says it’s been two weeks since he got a hug), he also tries to find the silver lining, which isn’t all that convincing to me, much as I want to find good in the bad. But there’s no law of nature—only the feel-good homilies of faith—that says that tragedy will be compensated with joy. Perhaps it’s because of Andrew’s Catholicism that he feels this way, and indeed, he gives a shout-out to religion:

Good will happen too. Surely it will. The silence in the streets portends something new. The other day, I realized I’d been texting a lot less and calling a lot more. I wanted to make sure my friends and family were okay, and I needed to see their faces and hear their voices to be reassured. As we withdraw from each other in the flesh, we may begin to appreciate better what we had until so recently: friendship and love made manifest by being together, simple gifts like a shared joint, a head resting on your shoulder, a hand squeezed, a toast raised. And in this sudden stop, we will also hear the sounds of nature — as our economic machine pauses for a moment and the contest for status or fame or money is canceled for just a while. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” Pascal said. Well, we’ll be able to test that now, won’t we?

These weeks of confinement can be seen also, it seems to me, as weeks of a national retreat, a chance to reset and rethink our lives, to ponder their fragility. I learned one thing in my 20s and 30s in the AIDS epidemic: Living in a plague is just an intensified way of living. It merely unveils the radical uncertainty of life that is already here, and puts it into far sharper focus. We will all die one day, and we will almost all get sick at some point in our lives; none of this makes sense on its own (especially the dying part). The trick, as the great religions teach us, is counterintuitive: not to seize control, but to gain some balance and even serenity in absorbing what you can’t. [JAC: That, by the way, is taught not just by religions but also by philosophies like Stoicism. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is not a religious homily.]

All fine and good, but if we were God and could have stopped the plague (clearly an issue for theologians who must explain why he didn’t), we would have. The loss of lives cannot be outweighed by a slight increase in the quality of lives that remain. And the lessons learned about life’s fragility, as when you survive a medical crisis, are often forgotten quickly, and it’s back to business as usual.

Finally, Andrew doesn’t see Trump’s incompetence during this time as having doomed his political prospects, but for reasons different from those given by Cohen:

 But a lot is at stake, and I suspect that those who think COVID-19 all but kills Donald Trump’s reelection prospects are being, as usual, too optimistic. National crises, even when handled at this level of incompetence and deceit, can, over time, galvanize public support for a national leader. As Trump instinctually finds a way to identify the virus as “foreign,” he will draw on these lizard-brain impulses, and in a time of fear, offer the balm of certainty to his cult and beyond. It’s the final bonding: blind support for the leader even at the risk of your own sickness and death. And in emergencies, quibbling, persistent political opposition is always on the defense, and often unpopular. It requires pointing out bad news in desperate times; and that, though essential, is rarely popular.

Watching Fox News operate in real time in ways Orwell described so brilliantly in Nineteen Eighty-Four — compare “We had always been at war with Eastasia” with “I’ve felt that it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic” —  you’d be a fool not to see the potential for the Republican right to use this plague for whatever end they want. If Trump moves to the left of the Democrats in handing out big non-means-tested cash payments, and provides a stimulus far bigger than Obama’s, no Republican will cavil. And since no sane person wants the war on COVID-19 to fail, we will have to wish that the president succeed. Pulling this off as an opposition party, while winning back the White House, will require a political deftness I don’t exactly see in abundance among today’s Democrats.

*************

Finally, as if you need another reason to be depressed (I’m watching the evening news through my palms, but my hands are clean), reader Charles sent me this ProPublica guide to the readiness of American hospitals to deal with coronavirus.

As Charles wrote, the source seems reputable: “The infection rate scenarios are based on estimates from leading epidemiologist Dr. Marc Lipsitch, head of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, who made the projections of how many people globally would be infected.”

Read and weep:

The metric is what percentage of hospital beds would be filled (from 0% to over 200%) under all nine permutations of infection rate and time: 20%, 40%, and 60% of American infected, combined with those infection rates occurring over 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months. Here’s the scenario for 18 months; you don’t want to look at the others! Anything that is yellow is bad, indicating 100% hospital-bed occupancy. And it’s almost certain that at least 20% of Americans will become infected.

 

You can also enter your locality and see how ready the hospitals around you are. This is for Chicago. Only under the most optimistic scenario will we not fill more than 100% of the hospital beds. The red line is full capacity.

Oy!

74 Comments

  1. merilee
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Sub

  2. Posted March 22, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    “Democrats still have to unseat a sitting president – a feat they have not managed since 1992.”

    Sounds like a steep hill, wow we haven’t been able to do that in 28 years!

    Except, Democrats are 0-1 (2004).

    • EdwardM
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      That’s a 100% failure rate!

      • Posted March 22, 2020 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        And what’s the sample size?

        • EdwardM
          Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          Explaining jokes ruins them, Glenn.

    • C.
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      And the republicans record for unseating a sitting president is…well, they failed to unseat Obama, they failed to unseat Clinton, but they did unseat Carter, back in the 1980 election. So the moral of the story is that it ain’t easy for either party. It’s only happened to GHW Bush, Carter, Ford, Hoover, and Taft to round out the most “recent” examples.

      • Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        That’s true, but I don’t find it comforting that Republicans also cannot unseat a sitting president. You have a sitting president.

        • C.
          Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          I don’t find much of anything comforting these days. Sometimes I thinks it’s because I am a depressive misanthrope, but perhaps I’m a depressive misanthrope because there’s nothing comforting. Nothing makes sense, nothing can be relied upon. Or, if I may offer a quote from The Satanic Verses:

          “Study history, Alleluia. In this century history stopped paying attention to the old psychological orientation of reality. I mean, these days, character isn’t destiny anymore. Economics is destiny. Ideology is destiny. Bombs are destiny. What does a famine, a gas chamber, a grenade care how you lived your life? Crisis comes, death comes, and your pathetic individual self doesn’t have a thing to do with it, only to suffer the effects.”

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        True, but that may be a bit misleading, given the 20th century saw four consecutive elections won by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (before the 22nd amendment put a two-term limit on the presidency) and given that, between 1963 and 1974, two presidential terms ended prematurely — one by assassination, another by resignation — and a third president (Lyndon Johnson) chose not to seek reelection due to the waning support for the war in Vietnam.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Yes, and let’s recall that 2004 was the election after Dubya’s approval rating spiked about 35 points in the immediate aftermath of the 911 attacks (before being worn down to a nub by the end of his second term, following the debacles of his military misadventurism in Iraq and his driving the economy over a cliff near the end of his term). And even with his post-911 popularity spike, he barely won in 2004, with the electoral college outcome hinging on fewer than 120,000 ballots in Ohio.

    • Posted March 23, 2020 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      Might also mention that the Republicans haven’t done that since 1980. They have a way worse record than the Democrats. They are 0-2. That’s 200% of the Democrats failure rate!! Ha!! Take that Republicans!

      I really hate when columnists (or anybody) try to make points with fancy sounding statistics that they obviously haven’t bothered to think through.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Personally I do not spend much time on the political speculations of pundits and others who think they know what the people are going to think and do. It is not reality.

    There are currently a few democrats in congress working on bills to make a difference. One example is a bill to make voting much more practical and likely as we get closer to election time. Making voting easy and safe in a pandemic – hey what a great idea. Right now we have many states with very poor ability to pull this off. Look what already happened in Ohio. We need full blown voting by mail and advance voting and there is no reason why we shouldn’t. Other than the fact that republicans don’t want you to vote. Lets wake up and concentrate on what is important and not worry about the clown in the white house. He is taking care of himself.

    • EdwardM
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Like movie critics, pundits’ opinions aren’t worth much, given how often they so poorly match reality. However, I like to read them because it helps ME think about the situation. Not that I wind up getting it right either (you want a safe bet – pick the team playing the one I bet on). But I agree with Dr PCC, both Cohen and Sullivan are the kind of writers worth reading even if you don’t agree with them.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        And I don’t always not agree with them or their opinion I just don’t find it particularly reliable or much more than a speculation. At times like this I am much more interested in what smart, responsible people are doing. I could make a long list of the stupid and worthless things coming from Trump and his cult but is is just the same old crap. Lets look at what the state of Washington has been doing to fight this virus, building hospitals from scratch and converting hotels. All the actions taken with no help from the fed. Just like what Amy Klobuchar is attempting to do to make voting possible in the fall.

    • Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Agree with all of that. what we need is for easier voting. But the Republicans know that does not favor them so they won’t let it happen.

  4. C.
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    We have already begun to see tRump’s strategy: blame the Chinese for the virus (in all fairness, he’s not wrong, but fight the pandemic first, then we can pressure China to change) and of course blame Obama. Our weak healthcare system and weak pandemic response MUST be the last guy’s fault, after all, it’s not like they prepared the current administration when it was time to transition, right? And what better way to undermine your democratic challenger, since he was the VP of the last administration who gave you such a weak and ineffective pandemic response team over three years ago! I’m terrified that this historical revisionism will work. People are stupid, have short memories, and show little interest in fact checking.

    • Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Yeah, the pandemic response team was so bad that Trump got rid of it altogether.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        And the Trump administration’s arrant failure to take advantage of the assistance offered by the Obama administration during the transition period is documented to a fare-thee-well in Michael Lewis’s book The Fifth Risk.

    • Harrison
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      I mean anything Trump does, regardless of how ridiculous it is, has a greater chance of working every day that Biden doesn’t show up on camera and push back. So far he’s a week behind the curve and his team has stated on Friday that MAYBE they’ll be able to get him out there on Monday.

      If his electoral strategy was just to stay mostly out of sight and throw the occasional potshot at Trump while coasting to easy victory, then this crisis needs to force a very strong and immediate shift in those tactics.

      • C.
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Agreed. He needs to do what Obama did during the opening weeks of the Great Recession; be vocal, be visible, show strong leadership, offer better ideas than the other guy. Of course it’s a bit more complicated this time around.

        And I’d also add to my list of tRump strategies (blame China, blame Obama) the “wartime president” scheme used by W. Bush in ‘04. Remember that adage he used “you don’t change horses mid-stream” or something like that. tRump is “fighting an invisible enemy” and is a “wartime president” so we better stick with him, because something worse could happen! The devil you know and all that rot. Biden has to step up and fight this fallacy head-on or face the consequences of appearing to be the “something worse”.

    • merilee
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Did you see his pitiful press conference tonight??

  5. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Reports of American citizens queuing around the block to purchase guns do not suggest a high level of confidence either in the US government’s ability to manage the crisis effectively or in general social cohesion in a time of crisis.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      I’m guessing that a significant proportion of those gun purchasers are Republican voters normally.

      • EdwardM
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        They’re mostly nutters.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          I think the set of people you limn is almost wholly subsumed in the set limned by Jonathan Wallace.

    • Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      They need the guns to protect their stash of toilet paper.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        “They need the guns to protect their stash of toilet paper.”

        Or to provide a sonic laxative.

  6. Roo
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    My prediction – and I actually feel fairly certain about this, but it’s just my guess, of course – partisan divides stay in place but a new source of anger is government handling of the shutdown, with the Right blaming the Left for economic problems and the Left accusing the Right of heartless disregard for the vulnerable. I feel like these lines are already appearing pretty clearly on social media, in articles, and in casual conversation. If the pandemic turns out to be bad, the Right’s narrative will be that it was a huge mistake to put everyone in social isolation vs. isolating the vulnerable. If we are lucky and the pandemic is not as bad as feared, good lord, all bets will be off and I’ll let you imagine the resulting narrative.

  7. Randy Bessinger
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    The fact that Trump supporters can’t see that Trump is at his heart just a promoter and divider and what the country needs is a uniter is beyond me. When I read articles and posts by Trump supporters they are just blame pieces.

  8. jhs
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    “According to the model…”

    A key assumption when using a statistical model to make predictions is that the current situation or trend remains the same for the foreseeable future.

    If infections are not stopped in 6 months, we Americans probably need to do some serious self reflection.

  9. Rita Prangle
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    The model in the third article assumes that the number of hospitals and beds will remain constant. But, there are manufacturers and construction companies who will be gearing up to transition to making beds and building hospitals, or converting other buildings into hospitals. Democrats ought to be united in loudly pushing that effort.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Will it be fast enough with cases doubling every week?

    • Charles A Sawicki
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, there is no way to rapidly increase workers in health care. One possible hope is that the modeling vastly under-counts the number infected people who remain well. In this case, for example, the 20% simulation might actually be a simulation for 40% infection. More undetected infections lowers the % that need hospitalization in the simulations. Typical estimates are to expect 50% infection of people in the US.
      They should be antibody testing large numbers of well people to see if they have had the virus and answer this question. This would put simulations on a firmer footing.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, the article did mention that.
      Also note that the maps for 20% at 6 months, 40% at 12 months and 60% at 18 months are identical. I guess the model did not take the probable increase in capacity into account.
      That being said , it is clear that mitigation measures are imperative and urgent.

  10. Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Where Nixon knew he was lying, Trump sincerely believes he knows more than the experts and is the most intelligent person who ever lived. That awareness weakened Nixon in his psyche and made the label of “liar” stick. But it will never stick to Trump, because Trump isn’t lying. He’s being truthful — he really does believe he’s the greatest person ever.

    Worse still, chaos serves his purposes perfectly. He always gets people wrong-footed, because they expect him to act rationally like they are, and he never does.

    As reader Sastra pointed out here some years ago, Trump believes in Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking”. Peale was indeed his pastor. Trump is too stupid to keep the philosophy behind it in his head, but it is above all a set of habits of thinking: the belief that words have creative power — “we create our own reality”. So Trump enters a meeting unprepared and looks like he’s just wining it or improvising, but in fact he thinks he’s using his words to create a new reality.

    The Power of Positive Thinking is also a huge marketing scam and sales technique. The better known version of it is the recent “Law of Attraction” scam that was popular last decade. It’s the same people — Trump hung around with them too; and the scam, (just using affirmations instead of “prayer” and “quantum physics” instead of Jesus).

    Chaos serves this mode of operation perfectly. Everyone else is scared and doubting their own abilities, but Trump doesn’t change at all. His body language remains clear and decisive, and his words remain authoritative, even when he’s speaking gibberish.

    He has no conception whatsoever of the dangers, just as he has no conception of what the government does.

    No one exposes his ignorance, because they can’t conceive of the extent of it. No one makes him appear as boring and predictable as he is because they can’t believe an adult would act act from the knowledge base of a four or five year old child.

    Anyone who has had the misfortune of knowing a believer in the Law of Attraction will know that they live in a mental world that is shockingly different from the rest of us. Science is wrong and the laws of nature — even the normal ones — don’t really exist. We really do “attract” the things we thinks about — this is why Trump is so scornful of victims. We should remain positive — this is why it always looks like Trump is trying to put a positive spin on things. He’s not. He’s trying to use words to really make reality more positive. This is why he freaks out at journalists who ask “negative” questions.

    (It is also, incidentally, why his aides have to give him a file each day of “positive” news coverage about him, complete with photos where he looks strong. Law of Attraction practitioners call this a vision board.)

    People keep expecting him to implode at some point and admit the con if it’s exposed compellingly enough. But it’s not a con. It’s a positive sales pitch, and the product is the positivity he creates.

    (Apologies for ranting.)

    • Historian
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      You have described a cult leader, a very effective one. It is beyond dispute that tens of millions of people crave the snake oil that he is selling. In our highly technological world, people such as Trump who have gained political are more dangerous than ever. They have the power to bring to entire globe to ruination. Yet, his acolytes, lemming such as they are, are happy to go over the cliff with him.

      Probably all cult leaders are con artists. Certainly, Trump is one, indeed, one of the best ever. The question is whether Trump knows that he is a con artist or that in his deranged mind he actually believes what he says, even though he contradicts himself on a daily basis. It probably doesn’t matter which it is in terms of how he behaves and the power he has over his cult, but it is an interesting psychological question.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      … Trump isn’t lying. He’s being truthful — he really does believe he’s the greatest person ever.

      I think that’s largely, though not entirely, accurate. There are times when Trump is outright lying, and his “tells” are as transparent as those of a tenderfoot at a poker table.

      For example, when Trump knows nothing at all about a subject, when questioned about that subject he will try to bullshit his way through with long, rambling, often off-topic answers (much like a student who hasn’t studied for an exam). When, OTOH, he knows the answer to a question and knows that the answer is harmful and/or incriminating, he will give a curt answer along the lines of:

      “I don’t know anything about that. You’ll have to ask _____. Next question.”

      Such answers give clear indication that he has left the realm of his habitual bullshitting for that of flat-out lying.

      • Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        I suspect he was consciously lying about having been tested for the virus, for example. (Maybe he let someone take his temperature, but I doubt anyone shoved one of those swab things up his nose.)

        Otherwise, he has no concept of his own ignorance or anything outside his own experience and factual knowledge. I wish reporters would ask him general knowledge questions sometimes, “What is the UN?” for example. (After he was laughed at by the UN General Assembly, he said “there were many highly professional people there from many countries, including the United Nations.” None of the reporters seemed to realise that he thinks it’s like the United Arab Emirates or something!)

  11. Historian
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Now, more than ever, it is impossible to engage in anything but extreme speculation as to the outcome of November’s election. The state of the world could be anywhere from more or less normality to civilizational breakdown (including Trump trying to call off the election). Therefore, I will make two general comments.

    1. The pandemic will not help Trump. He will win no votes from anyone previously inclined to oppose him. Neither will he lose votes from his cult supporters. However, people on the fence will become more inclined to vote against him. Although this number will be relatively small, they could make the difference in the swing states.

    2. All states need to be prepared to implement a secure mail-in only system of voting. They must assume that the pandemic will still be raging in November and that vast numbers of people will not venture to polling places. Those states that do not already have such a system have other states as models. All states need to devote the resources necessary to see that this happens The fate of democracy could depend on the maintenance of the integrity of the voting system.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for that last paragraph.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Since the fate of the Republican white house and Senate depend on preventing or at least limiting the voting process, prospects for the integrity of the voting system are not encouraging. They depend, in essence, on the State governments. The Republicans control both state legislative and executive branches in most of the South, and in much of the midwest and mountain west. See:
      https://ballotpedia.org/Gubernatorial_and_legislative_party_control_of_state_government#State_government_trifectas.2C_post-2018_elections .

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        If I’m not mistaken in only 2 of the ‘grey’ states (divided government), Alaska and Maryland, the governor is Republican. And, again if I’m not mistaken, it is the governor who oversees the elections. Doesn’t that give some hope?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, and I seriously doubt Trump’s supporters in the Russian intelligence agencies are being kept from their appointed hacking and trolling farms outside Saint Petersburg by any type of “shelter in place” edict issuing from the Kremlin.

        If anything, “Cozy Bear” (SVR) and “Fancy Bear” (GRU) will endeavor to operate under cover of the coronavirus pandemic to accomplish even greater interference in this year’s US presidential election.

    • Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Yes– the Democrats too should be promoting those ideas, and doing all they can to secure and improve postal voting systems throughout the US.

  12. Vaal
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Not a political comment, but on the spread of the virus, an anecdote:

    We were returning from a brief Florida family vacation earlier in March. In the Tampa airport, on way to boarding, we joined the line for security. Everyone was being funneled through one point, to go through one of those tube-encased body scanners.

    I was behind a woman who was next in line to go in the scanner (waiting to be motioned in by a security guard). Suddenly this woman broke in to a massive sneezing fit! Just spraying, spraying, spraying her sneeze where she was standing. Then the guard tells her to step in to the tube. She does and the guard motions me forward to step right in to the spot that woman just occupied and had sprayed with her sneezing. I hesitated, but the guard barked that I step to that spot.

    Great. WHATEVER was causing that woman’s sneeze, I was stepping right in to a cloud of the stuff.

    With hail-Mary futility I actually tried to hole my breath waiting to go in the body scanner. (I know, futile on many counts…eyes etc). But I saw the woman sneezing in the enclosed body scanner as well. Ah hell. Next I entered the body scanner.

    Now, odds are that woman didn’t have coronavirus. And sneezing is not a typical symptom. Getting on 10 days since being in the airport I have no symptoms of any illness. (But continue to self isolate the full 14 days).

    BUT…it was a stark lesson in just how hard it is to avoid the transmission of certain diseases. If that HAD been an easily transmissible disease, depending on how long it could hang in the air, you had hundreds of people being funneled right in to the path of that contagion, and through a body scanner containing the contagion.

    Yikes.

  13. GBJames
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Lord hear my prayer. So to speak.

  14. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    When the 2020 election campaign begins in earnest, the Democrats could not do better than to purchase TV ads which simply show
    President Trump’s public statements of this
    winter, such as:

    Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” — Trump in a CNBC interview.

    Feb. 26: “So we’re at the low level. As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.” — Trump at a White House briefing.

    Feb. 26: “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” — Trump at a press conference.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t take responsibility at all” ?

    • phoffman56
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      “…you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero..”

      After zero, he forgot to mention that it would then go up to 38,000+ before 3PM Eastern today Sunday, as the reliable, I think

      https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

      says.

      TV news is very late on these numbers.

      I hope Italy gets better in terms of blow-up soon. In that case US will be #2 in cases by this time Tuesday, #1 by this time Friday (more than China by then), and worst in absolute sense in the world for a long time after that–except–who knows what will happen in India.

      US is 3rd in total population, so the relative badness is a different matter.

      Just now US is 25 to 30 times worse than Canada in absolutes, so nearly 3 times worse relatively. I hope ours stays at least that much better, by us keeping it ‘low’ of course.

      Good measures are probably the deaths/cases ratio, and the cases/population. But it will be a long time before the cases number is reliable. The numbers for now depend a lot on when the virus got ‘started’ in the country, as well as how much testing.

      Question:
      Would it be immoral for a person who happens to be–impossibly–95% sure that both
      (1) unless a certain people very radically change their government in the next 10 months, then 1 billion humans in the world will die prematurely in the next 5 generations due to climate change exacerbation caused the present government of that country; and that
      (2) the only likely possibility for that government change in (1) is for 1 million people of that country should die from the virus;
      so that person secretly hopes that 2) will happen to keep (1) from happening????

      • phoffman56
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Between 3 and 4 PM, the 38K+ dropped to 32K+, so they are correcting a mistake, it seems. So add a day to what I said after that.

    • Rita Prangle
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      March 6: “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship”

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        As always, the President’s assertions must be interpreted, keeping in mind the special features of Trumpspeak. Our stable genius predicted the number would be “close to zero” very soon, but did not state explicitly how many zeros he had in mind. Currently it has
        reached three or four zeros, maybe it will be
        “close to” five zeros before long.

  15. Historian
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    As always in times of trouble, the religious try to explain why God allows suffering. Catholic priest James Martin make such an effort in an NYT op-ed. He rejects those arguments that natural disasters are a testing of faith or punishment for human failings. His conclusion: he doesn’t know, but one should look to Jesus for solace. Any rational person would ask this: Is this the best you can do?

    • Vaal
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Ugh. It’s just painful on the brain to read Christians rationalizing their belief against mountains of evidence to the contrary.

      From the article:

      “But those who are not Christian can also see him as a model for care of the sick. Needless to say, when caring for someone with coronavirus, one should take the necessary precautions in order not to pass on the infection. But for Jesus, the sick or dying person was not the “other,” not one to be blamed, but our brother and sister. When Jesus saw a person in need, the Gospels tell us that his heart was “moved with pity.” He is a model for how we are to care during this crisis: with hearts moved by pity.”

      This misses the important fact that if you are taking Jesus as an example of how to act toward suffering, it follows that Jesus’ modus operandi is VASTLY more oriented to “doing nothing” than to acting.

      It is part of the Christian claim that Jesus wasn’t just a caring guy who showed up for a few years on earth. Jesus STILL EXISTS and has the supernatural power to heal and help.
      And yet since Jesus stepped out of his mortal body, the world has been inundated with untold levels of suffering and grief as a result of the assaults of nature upon humanity. And there is no evidence of Jesus lifting a finger to stop or mitigate any of it, just as there is zero evidence Jesus is doing a damned thing right now as the pandemic ravages the world.

      Jesus should be the LAST person anyone should look to as a model for how to act in a crises. Real people doing real, tangible things for others are the appropriate objects of moral praise and emulation.

      I was just interacting with a Christian who admits it’s hard to see God acting in these situations, but as per the usual apologetic: “We can be assured that God isn’t just sitting there watching, God is suffering too!”

      My reply:

      Then that isn’t much of a “God.”

      It’s like saying Superman is sitting there watching children yelling out the window of a burning orphanage. He’s not doing a thing to help them but he “feels their pain.”

      Well…f**k you superman for taking the useless route and valuing your own empathetic moment over the well-fare of the children, and same with any purported God that is similarly useless.

  16. andrewnwest
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    $100 on Trump is a 50/50 bet: https://www.oddschecker.com/politics/us-politics

  17. Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    It is a dominant allele among liberals to worry worry worry about how our opponents are going to out-flank us and out-smart us in the rough and tumble that is politics. I see this all the time. And I certainly don’t see this phenotype among Republicans.
    I am simply commiserating, since I too share this liberal trait. Introspection sucks sometimes.

  18. Vaal
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    On the religion note again:

    Of course this Pandemic is bringing up the problem of prayer for the religious.

    As atheists point out, among the problems for prayer are:

    1. No evidence it is efficacious at all.

    2. It seems to make NO SENSE in of itself. (What’s happening? Is God sitting there unaware that someone is suffering or in danger and needs to be alerted by prayer? Doesn’t make sense if He’s omniscient. Is God aware, but needs to wait for a request in order to help? That hardly bodes well for the claim of a Good God. Good people just act when they can help someone – they don’t need to be asked first. Etc).

    Faced with this the more sober Christian apologists always try to re-cast prayer as something different. The Christian isn’t really demanding or requesting God does anything…that’s absurd!…rather Prayer is more about putting yourself in communion with God…a God that suffers along with us..”

    Which we all know to be bullsh*t.

    I watched an episode of the British Unbelievable podcast which gathered several Christians – including a Theologian and a Christian virologist.

    First, it is so disconcerting to see a scientist, a virologist, talk in sober, evidence-based terms about a real pathogen and it’s effects, and then switch right to cult-like murmurings and beliefs derived from an ancient book. Just bizarre.

    But, anyway, at the end of the show the Theologian led a prayer.
    The first thing he prays for is that God will “halt this pandemic” and he talks about the devastation it’s causing. His emotion, desperation is so evident (and rightly so!).

    It just puts the lie to this idea that the Christian is not “really” trying to move God towards action. Real, palpable action, in stopping suffering. And that therefore it is no test of God, when the prayers do not seem to be answered.

    It can all be spun to God’s “mysterious ways” and faith “God is doing what is right whether it looks that way to us or not.”

  19. Roger
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    There are two categories of people who voted for Trump. The first category already know he’s an asshole and it’s a feature not a bug. The second category still think he paid for his campaign with his own money. They’ll believe anything.

    • Vaal
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Roger,

      Yes. I’m on another martial arts forum which is inhabited by a lot of USA guys who voted for Trump. Basically all of Trump’s most ugly aspects, the ugly American, the assholeness etc, are lauded as virtues.

      In their case, Trump is just an extension of their own ugly characteristics, so why would they be put off Trump?

      (Sort of the way I’m not surprised by the typical Harley rider. The personality tends to fit the bike and visa versa).

      • Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        What Trump gives these people is a raise in social status (self-perceived). They see themselves as winners as long as they identify as a Trump supporter.

        • Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          Or rather personal status, not social status. Or just ‘status’ or self image.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Although the categories are overlapping and more complex, for analytical purposes, Trump’s 2016 voters can (like all Gaul in the time of Julius Caesar) be divided in three: there are those for whom his being an asshole was a feature not a bug (the Deplorables); those who believed he was the all-knowing el jefe he played on “The Apprentice” (the Marks, a group that also includes patrons of “Trump University,” buyers of his bust-out condominium projects, and the people who believed his promises about his casinos in Atlantic City); and those who saw Trump for what he was and is, but thought he could be tamed and used to advance their own ends (such as fat-cat tax cuts, ending abortion, or preventing meaningful gun regulation).

  20. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    One possible hope is that the modeling vastly under-counts the number of infected people who remain well. In this case, for example, the 20% simulation might actually be a simulation for 40% infection. More undetected infections lowers the % that need hospitalization in the simulations. Typical estimates are to expect 50% infection of people in the US.
    They should be antibody testing large numbers of well people to see if they have had the virus and answer this question. This would put simulations on a firmer footing.

    • Posted March 23, 2020 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Anecdotal support: my son Craig and his wife (who visited New York two weeks ago), plus their two children, are all now thankfully recovering from Covid-19, we believe. Craig was checked quickly in hospital (they couldn’t get him out the door fast enough), and sent home with painkillers, but was not tested. Their symptoms are highly indicative of Covid-19, but none of them was tested.

  21. sugould
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Combine this with The Justice Department wanting “new emergency powers” to detain people indefinitely, it’s a winning combination.

    • Filippo
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps Amuricuns will do what they know they ought to do, and the Justice department won’t need these additional powers. (Or am I expecting too much of my fellow “Exceptional” citizens?)

      With regard to the above, Univ. of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon, if you’ve not already seen this:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHUuWq6y8F0

      The NY Times has done a thorough job of raking China over the coals for its shortcomings and “draconian” methods in dealing with the coronavirus. Thoroughly critiquing the U.S. government as the Times so far has, does the Times and its ilk hold “draconian” methods to be off limits in the U.S.? If so, what will the Times say about (the lack of) these methods should U.S. deaths exceed those of China?

      A sports writer recently opined that, regarding the virus, the sports world did what the government would not do. That may be true enough, though, e.g., the NBA did not shut down until after at least one player was infected.

      (When, if I the layman correctly gather, they should have shut down, and activated social distancing, prior to any player infection, per predictive models based on data from China and Italy, and perhaps (likely? surely?) from historical infection transmission data.)

      Forgive me for being a skeptical crank, but I suspect that at least one team owner motivation for wanting the government to act first was so that the government, not the owners (and sports world in general), would bear the blame and be the object of fans’ ire. (“We had to shut down – the government made us!”)

      • phoffman56
        Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        “…should U.S. deaths exceed those of China?”

        Surely you realize it seems 100% certain that the number of cases (not deaths) will, very likely exceed China’s by a factor of 20 or more, i.e. >1,600,000.

        The ratio of the number of deaths to cases in US is about 1.25 now. If that stays, you’ve got about 20,000 deaths. More likely it will rise, as in Italy where it is pushing 10%.
        At half that, 5% of 1,600,000 would be 80,000 deaths. China says they have 3,270 deaths and now rising very slowly.

        We’ll see, but by next weekend the cases will already be more I’d say, by extrapolation just from the last couple of days. The number of deaths over here will start to look very bad in 2 or 3 weeks.

        • Filippo
          Posted March 22, 2020 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

          “Surely you realize it seems 100% certain that the number of cases (not deaths) will, very likely exceed China’s by a factor of 20 or more . . . .”

          Does it “seem” 100% certain, or IS it 100% certain? I don’t claim to know more than I know. No doubt I need to know more. Always glad to look at informative, accurate links.

          • phoffman56
            Posted March 23, 2020 at 6:56 am | Permalink

            Maybe my “seems” relates to the large uncertainty about the accuracy of the number of cases, as opposed to number of deaths which for ‘western’ countries is probably accurate enough.
            Their ratio varies wildly, from about 9% for Italy down to ⅓ of 1% for Norway among European countries with many cases relative to population (and Iceland even less–huge numbers of Chinese tourists there in recent years, relative to population–one death so far).
            The very latest report has another big jump in cases for Spain, but it’s now firmly behind US for that dubious case number. But much higher death/case ratio, largely because of date of virus ‘arrival’ (though also because of the case number uncertainty possibly).

            Because of its population size, there seems no question the US case number will soon enough exceed even Italy’s, which will exceed what China reports this week probably.
            Maybe not as soon as I guessed for US.
            Both US and Italy seem much worse than other in the west for trying to control the spread. So overwhelming hospitals now in Italy and soon in US seems very likely unfortunately.
            I’ll bet Norway and Iceland are both on top of that problem. They have likely the best public health in the world, and the most responsible publics as well, along with some Asian very small countries.

  22. rickflick
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    As if we all hadn’t read enough, here’s a very good overall summary from the latest research. It recommends bringing the hammer down by locking everyone down for a couple of weeks to buy time. Lots of fun graphs:

    View at Medium.com

    • merilee
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Excellent article, Rick. Thanks.

    • Filippo
      Posted March 22, 2020 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      Much thanks for the article.

      Regarding the “Hammer” the author mentions:

      ” . . . set up a tracing operation like the ones they have in China or other East Asia countries . . . This would give us a ton of intelligence to release later on our social distancing measures: if we know where the virus is, we can target these places only . . . it’s the basics of how East Asia Countries have been able to control this outbreak without the kind of draconian social distancing that is increasingly essential in other countries.”

      It seems the willingness of human primates to voluntarily submit to the Hammer, as defined by the author, will determine whether it must of necessity be forged in the fires of Draco.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 23, 2020 at 12:28 am | Permalink

        I agree. It is a test of our species ability to adapt. That’s for sure. I never thought I’d live to see something like this.

  23. Posted March 22, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Just saw that Trump has offered Kim Jong Un help.

    The mental world that man inhabits is so alien to the one everyone else inhabits that even Republicans don’t realise it.


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