When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in America, we already had different views of the global event in our public consciousness. As it has spread, those views have multiplied. We have different views based upon regions, income levels, data sets, and whether or not we subscribe to a science-blind political ideology.
Regionally, the pandemic has hit urban areas the hardest. To the people of the major US cities, COVID-19 means overwhelmed hospitals, compromised police, fire, and emergency medical staff, and deeply-felt questions about a federal government that has so far been unresponsive to their pleas. In the cities, it is hardest to maintain the necessary distance required to keep the disease from spreading. The cities are also where the fight against the disease is the hardest, where self-protection measures are strictest and where we see the greatest benefit from those measures.
In rural areas, distancing is already part of the lifestyle. They have questioned the need for a government order to mandate pretty much what they’re already doing. Except… they’re not doing it, not completely. There’s enough contact going on in rural areas to where the disease spreads steadily. Not as rapidly as in the cities, but steadily. Given rural areas’ resistance to being ordered to shelter in place, I’d expect the spread in the countryside to persist longer and to peak higher than in the cities.
The urban/rural divide is further colored by how a governor or mayor may or may not be an ardent supporter of President Trump. Those who are least supportive of Trump are most likely to enact comprehensive measures. As support for Trump increases in a government official, so multiply the loopholes in the comprehensive measures, so increases the slowness in applying measures, and so increases the likelihood that the official not only refuse to apply measures, but may even overrule other officials and mandate that no restrictions be in place. This means that we have a range of pandemics from those experienced in the non-ardent urban areas, the ardent urban areas, the non-ardent rural areas, and the ardent rural areas. While most non-ardent officials are in urban areas and most ardent ones are rural, there are exceptions to those rules. Ardency itself is on a spectrum, but these four major divisions will suffice. Expect the ardent, rural areas to be where the disease lingers longest and where it can hide from view, only to strike again as immunity fades in the general population.
Economically, it is the nation’s poor who suffer the highest infection rates and the highest fatality rates, with Blacks and Hispanics suffering the most among the poor. When politicians such as Texas’ Lt. Governor Dan Patrick – white and rich – exclaimed his willingness to die for the economy in order to justify not placing any restrictions on Texas’ population, he was actually pushing the poor of all ages in front of him. Of course, the poor Blacks and Hispanics of Texas were the vanguard of Mr. Patrick’s meatshield. With his access to not just emergency but life-long health care, Mr. Patrick was in good shape to face COVID-19. He was not volunteering himself, but his state’s poor as an offering to the economy.
So there is an epidemic for the cities, there is an epidemic for the countryside, there is an epidemic for those who live under an ardent Trump supporter, there is an epidemic for those who do not, there is an epidemic for the rich, and there is an epidemic for the poor. Now to look at the epidemics’ portrayal in data.
There are states that have had a high rate of testing of their populations, levels on par with testing heroes South Korea and Japan. There are states that seem to throw up obstacles to testing, for whatever reason that such a strategy may serve. The declared rates of infection in each state are a function of that state’s own definition. With no federally-accepted standard, we do not know the reach of the epidemic in regions where the local or state government prefers such questions not be asked – suppression of uncomfortable information prior to its gathering.
But we also have states where there is a high rate of testing and where the local health care system has also been overwhelmed. At that point, the health care system simply cannot spare the time required to test every patient for COVID-19, and where they certainly have no time to spare for the testing of the dead. And so, the spread of the infection is under-counted in those places. The fatalities are under-counted, as well. We have what numbers we have for the moment, but we also have to know where the numbers are weak in reporting the full view.
At the end of the day, it may not be until the full analysis of vital statistics data for 2020 is completed in 2022 and we can compare the year-on-year increase in mortality between 2019 and 2020 to get an idea about how severe the epidemic has been. How many more patients die of causes attributed to pneumonia, but for whom a COVID-19 test was not administered postmortem? How many cancer patients succumb not to COVID-19, but to the cancers, after being weakened by COVID-19? The same question, this time for those with heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, or other “underlying health conditions”, as we euphemistically lump them all together? How many will be answered in two years’ time, which will be yet another view of the pandemic.
The remaining views belong to the rational on one hand and the science-blind ideologues who are made up of President Trump and his most ardent supporters on the other. Granted, these are two opposing views with many grades in between, but they serve as anchors of the continuum. I use the adjective “science-blind” advisedly. In many cases, the ardent Trumpists are outright hostile to science, as well as reality. The reason has to do with their ideological stance.
Political beliefs are one thing: they color how we view facts, but we still view the same facts as those of opposing political beliefs. One may see an economically-underdeveloped area and decide the solution is to have federal or state funds boost commerce there. Another may see the same economic underdevelopment and argue instead for a suspension of government regulations to allow commerce to flourish. The argument there is not whether or not the area is economically underdeveloped. The argument is how best to improve the area, and the solution may very well wind up being a combination of the two factors. In this case, the solution to the problem is more important than *how* the problem was solved.
But with a political ideology, facts and solutions take second place to the rightfulness of the ideology and the wrongness of anything that competes with it in the public mindspace. To the ideological Nazis, the Will of the German people could have pensioners with rocket grenades defeat armored divisions. To the ideological Stalinists, corn could be made to grow in the frozen wastes of Siberia, provided it was planted with socialist ardor often enough – it would figure out on its own how to take root in permafrost. To the ideological Maoists, steel production could be increased dramatically by melting down iron tools and cookware in backyard forges that produced nothing more than slag. To the ideological Khmer Rouges, Cambodia could be purified by murdering anyone with glasses, soft hands, or knowledge of the French language. This list is long – the Juche philosophy of North Korea, the Baathist ideology of Iraq and Syria, the hardline beliefs of the Iranian Revolution, and so on.
Finally, we come to the Trumpists, whose ideology allows them to stare at two photographs of the same place and state unflinchingly that the one with fewer people in it is actually the one with more people in it. When President Trump stared directly into the sun, his ardent supporter Tucker Carlson of Fox News called it “the most impressive thing a president has ever done” in spite of the fact that scientists globally throughout generations have warned us to never, ever look directly at the sun. The Trumpist ideology places prime importance on their leaders being in power in order to do two things: eradicate legal abortions and to obstruct any limitation of Americans’ ownership of arms. If those leaders stare at the sun like fools – or promote white supremacist groups and their policies – it is of no consequence. The Trumpists do not elect leaders to be sane or sensible or to care about facts. They are elected to eradicate abortion and to obstruct limitations on access to arms. Whatever else they do, the Trumpists either care not or actively support, as in the case of promoting white supremacist movements.
If there is any fact that threatens to unseat their leaders from their abortion-banning, weapon-loving bully pulpits, then the Trumpist will lie, cheat, and shout it down. This is why the photograph with fewer people actually has more in it. This is why staring into the sun is impressive. This is why they refuse to admit that their ranks are shot through with white supremacists, antisemites, and authoritarians. That is why they are proud to the point of public boasting to disobey any law they do not like, but scream in powerful fervor when others debate the wisdom of the laws they wish to impose on others.
And this is why the COVID-19 pandemic is such a threat to them: it threatens to add so much calumny to the pile already accrued by Donald Trump and his most fervent followers so as to make it nearly impossible for them to repeat their hair’s breadth win of 2016. The pandemic threatens to display Trump and his ardent followers for what they are – incompetent, science-blind, and unable to actually govern. Therefore, the pandemic was at first belittled. Then it was completely dealt with via a ban on Chinese travel. Then it was a conspiracy of some Chinese or American Deep State cabal. Then it was not worth shutting down the economy for. Now, Trump and his ardent supporters have the ghoulish chutzpah to claim that, should the USA have *only* 100,000 deaths, that it would be a good thing.
Already, as I write this, the USA has the 11th greatest per-capita loss of life among major nations. With 12,805 deaths out of roughly 330 million people, the USA has 39 known and recorded COVID-19 deaths per 1 million population. Yes, this is much less than Spain’s 300 per 1 million, but I expect the nation to bypass Ireland’s 43, Iran’s 46, and quite possibly most of the others. If we *do* arrive at only 100,000 deaths, that would be a mortality rate in excess of Spain’s 300 per 1 million, and Spain is considered one of the worst of the worst-hit nations.
Trump is presiding over what may be the worst response to COVID-19, and his abject failure as a leader in that capacity threatens the Trumpist agenda’s twin policy pillars. And this is why none of the other ways of viewing the pandemic have any meaning to them. The only way they can see it is through a blindfold.