Part II: When the S**t Hits the Fan
It has been a little over 100 years since the last global pandemic. In that time, air travel has radically changed the exchange of goods and people from location to location, two World Wars have ravaged the continents, the atomic bomb was created, humans set foot on the Moon, computers went from the size of a room to the size of a watch, world population increased from 1 billion to 7, and the planet’s temperature increased by 1.5 degrees celsius. Not surprisingly, human behavior has stayed mostly the same. Pathogens, however, have gotten stronger. Fed by burgeoning populations and closer proximities to animals such as pigs and birds, mutation rates increased and at the beginning of the 21st century new waves of biological threats emerged to feast on cities filled to the brim with millions of potential hosts. We have entered the age of pandemics.
Ebola, SARS, the Avian Flu, even the common flu remain constant threats to high concentrations of humanity. Every year bacterial and viral based diseases claim thousands of lives. In nearly every instance of these outbreaks the numbers affected are contained to cities, states and nations. However, every once in a while, one of these breaks containment and affects every continent of the world to become a global threat. In 1918 an outbreak called the Spanish Flu crossed the oceans with help from World War I and killed millions. Today these germs don’t need the help of another global catastrophe to hop from place to place, modern transportation offers the best vehicle yet for their transmission. As the Earth has truly become a “global village” so have all its passengers taken advantage of the ease with which goods are exchanged. Once released upon unwitting societies it takes little time for contagions to spread as social interaction is a staple of human behavior. How do humans and society deal with these when they grow to this extreme? History teaches us that it does not go well.
COVID-19 or “the Coronavirus” began in China and spread from there to Europe and eventually the United States and every other country/continent. Initially called the “Chinese Virus” by westerners it defied this moniker to rapidly prove that no one was immune from its spread. Victimizing the elderly in particular with the highest death rates, this virus afflicts its carriers with respiratory infection, muscle aches, fever and fatigue. Although this sounds like the regular flu, it is much more severe and within three months of its outbreak outmatched its cousin the common flu for lethality. If you want a deadly combination for a pandemic, pair human apathy/arrogance with a terminal virus and you have the makings of a catastrophe. So many countries did not take COVID-19 seriously and paid the price dearly. In fact, almost every country that considered itself a developed nation saw exaggerated infection rates despite well-developed infrastructures for healthcare and public utilities. Like all outbreaks, this one depended and counted on the bad habits that haunt all of society’s members.
Hygiene, Distance, Quarantine
What would seem to be common sense and daily practice by everyone becomes a message that must be hammered into the public consciousness repeatedly: “Wash your hands thoroughly, cover your mouth/face when coughing and sneezing, maintain safe distances, stay home if you feel sick.” It rapidly became alarming the frequency with which these practices were ignored. In days stocks of toilet paper, soap, bleach and hand sanitizer disappeared off shelves. Nations and economies stopped; the stock market experienced the largest single day drop in history, businesses shuttered. The pandemic will have untold impacts on every nation and their economies. Even more concerning will be those who do not have the resources to sustain themselves or businesses, the world has never been shut down to this extent ever. Even World War II offered the promise of recovery in wartime production and extensive efforts to redivert labor to infrastructure repair and social programs. The measures required to deal with Coronavirus are the opposite, which all societies nurture: isolation, limited interaction and reduced public access to resources. In every country that has seen high rates of infection, all precautions were stalled or ignored until what was controllable became rampant. By April of the year the United States had surged ahead of China, Italy and Spain with the most cases. Hospitals were overwhelmed in major cities and state and local governments delayed in issuing quarantine and mandatory lockdown orders fearing backlash from angry, entitled citizens. Anger, over perceived lost independence in the face of a global catastrophe.
The ‘Fakest’ Generation
Americans pride themselves over how their ingenuity has always driven them to rise to a challenge and overcome all obstacles. This sentiment was always reinforced with the country’s efforts in the two world wars, relentless pursuit of science and development during the space race, progressive advances of the Civil Rights and Women’s ERA Movement and a “melting pot” mentality in regards to its international community. The beginning of the 21st century has seen this mantle of idealism whittled away by the spectres of unresolved racial inequality, crony capitalism and a growing divide in social stratus. In short, America has grown overconfident and bloated with its distant successes. Short-sighted leadership cultivated an attitude of arrogance and entitlement that proved not only off-setting but dangerous. America had started down the path of so many fallen nations and empires before it. So it was fitting that it got a “king” for its leader, or rather a self-appointed CEO turned-demagogue. Donald Trump fits a nation of Millennial Brats perfectly. His insular and aloof approach to world and human affairs echo perfectly the contempt that his red-flag base wants to enact in their daily lives. Possessed of a narrow view of the world and self-righteous attitude towards the American lifestyle, modern-day conservatives feel threatened by any encroachment onto what they consider their “way of life”. This includes the fact that this core group is dominantly Caucasian, Christian and paranoid that their beliefs and even race is threatened by the increasing demographics of immigrants and minorities. Trump appeals to his base by turning any issue into one relative to race. His response regarding the COVID-19 crisis has ranged from insisting it be called the “Wuhan Virus” and falsely claiming that Latin American immigrants are a greater threat to the US because of their poor practices in hygiene and social distancing. When, in fact, it is America who leads the world with the highest rates of infection and the worst examples of social distancing. Not that facts ever stood in this President’s way of manufacturing his own truth. So far Trump has lied his way through press conferences and marginalized the threat which has severely crippled response times in many states. When brought to task for these actions he has done what he has consistently done in his tenure as President: blamed the media and partisan opposition for misinformation and efforts to sidetrack his re-election bid. Lack of accountability and inept leadership are hallmarks of his entire term which will not change in the four years following 2020 as there is little chance that he will be removed from office.
COVID-19 may have found its greatest ally in America’s worst leader.