WASHINGTON — Just as Romantics eventually learn that no amount of passion or staging can fully recapture love’s first blushes, political movements often suffer the ennui and self-parody of attempted recreations.
Recent attempts to reenact the erstwhile Tea Party protests in a movement to oppose coronavirus-related shutdowns have shown signs of fizzling despite President Trump’s weird cheerleading. They are, after all, shouting down Trump’s own guidelines for trying to contain the new coronavirus, which has afflicted more than 1.3 million Americans and led to more than 81,000 deaths.
The protesters began losing steam when the Koch network, underwriters of the Tea Party movement from a decade ago, decided to run with scientists instead of the gun-toting provocateurs trampling the spring-green grass around state capitols. The CEO of Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the Koch network, said that they prefer working with doctors, data crunchers and public policy leaders to create guidelines for a safe and staggered reopening of American businesses.
While this approach may prove challenging, the concept itself is simple. Based on what we’ve learned since January, a modified return to “normal” is the only prudent course of action, as credible experts have said again and again. But Trump, like a child who covers his ears and sings tra-la-la-la-la, prefers to hear only what erupts from his lips.
Perhaps the president has fallen prey to his own imagination. Just last week, he declared that Americans have met the challenge of COVID-19 and have prevailed. Have we? Where Trump envisions parades, others see funeral processions.
Not only has the virus NOT vanished “like a miracle,” as Trump predicted earlier this year, it’s not going away until we have vaccines. Testifying before a Senate hearing on the pandemic on Tuesday, chief epidemiologist Tony Fauci reiterated his warning that we still don’t know enough about the virus to re-enter the normal zone without great caution. When a newly bearded Sen. Rand Paul challenged Fauci on the media’s reporting that there’s no evidence that antibodies protect against reinfection, Fauci explained the issue may be a matter of semantics.
Yes, it’s likely that antibodies will protect previously infected people from reinfection, Fauci said, but there’s no hard, scientific evidence in the sense of long-term protocols being met to declare it definitively so. This is what one would expect a scientist to say — and it’s not the media’s job to insist he disregard his training and speak wishfully.
Monday’s protests, meanwhile, reduced the odds of unity going forward as some Republicans added their voices to those on the ground. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., an obstetric anesthesiologist, railed against the shutdown during a recent tele-town hall, saying: “They promised us 2 million dead at the beginning of this.” I half-expected him to whine and dammit we only got 80,000!
That’s a curious way to lament the shelter-at-home orders that may have saved many lives. But then, medical degrees don’t necessarily confer wisdom. In words Donald Trump surely would appreciate, Harris accused the media of having a “vested interest” in making things sound worse than they are so that people would tune in.
But then, just a few days earlier, mocking the stay-at-home warnings, Harris had also noted at a congressional hearing that, “We’re safer from death if we’re not born.”
Long before COVID-19, there was risk in life everywhere. But the virus and its on-again, off-again nature makes our “normal” risk computations impossible to calculate. All you can really be certain of is this: The election season is well upon us when hurling mortality rates back and forth replaces good old-fashioned personal mudslinging.
As sometimes happens in election years, 2020 could be one of those Moments of Reckoning when it is hard to find anyone on the ballot to admire. But there’s much to love amid the strife of these moments. As a president might have said, the virus is still with us, but we’ve so far prevailed despite great hurt, fear, unemployment, lost wages, depression, sadness, loneliness and grief over the sick and the dead.
While staying apart, we have come together and learned new ways to live more simply, generously and compassionately. Those are not small things.
Let’s not let our politics — or politicians — take that away.