The coronavirus has been trying for the whole country. While it is a tragedy for those who have lost loved ones, its chief negatives have been social and economic. Classes, graduations, weddings, and even funerals have been disrupted. Millions have lost their jobs or even their businesses, and this continues to happen. Masks have been either inconvenient and ugly or, worse, an excuse for petty tyrants to act out their sadistic impulses.
In short, the whole country has suffered from the COVID-19 response and is completely over it.
Blaming Trump for the Virus and the Treatment
Joe Biden and the Democrats have put almost all the blame on President Trump. On the one hand, they say he is responsible for more than 200,000 deaths. At the same time, they also blame him for the economic catastrophe caused by the shutdowns and other extreme measures to which he acquiesced in March of this year. The fact that the pandemic is an Act of God that no one has been particularly successful in slowing down is simply forgotten.
Moreover, the 200,000+ number is surely exaggerated. Of course, some people have died, and others have gotten very sick as a result of COVID-19. Until now, there were few viable treatments. Factors out of the president’s control have inflated death numbers, including the still-not-explained policy in New York and New Jersey of sending suffering patients to nursing homes, where they could infect vulnerable populations. We also now realize that aggressive treatments in the early stages of the pandemic may have contributed to deaths. But this is, after all, a novel virus. No one could reasonably be expected to know exactly how bad it was, how to treat it, and what to expect since there had been nothing like it before.
In the early stages of the virus, Joe Biden and others in the Democratic Party had the view that the whole thing was a bit exaggerated. It’s hard to recall now that in January the country was distracted by an impeachment proceeding. Shortly thereafter, Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York were encouraging people to celebrate the Chinese New Year in New York’s Chinatown and suggested that fear of contracting the infection there was somehow racist. When Trump stopped travel from China, Biden declared it an example of fearmongering and xenophobia. Wearing masks was first deemed superstitious and unnecessary by the scientists who now insist we all have to wear them.
As New York was hit hard, everyone realized this could be serious. Calls for a shutdown came from everywhere. Epidemiologists’ predictions of millions dying—now known to be off by an order of magnitude—understandably shook the president. He blinked. He called for a brief shutdown to “flatten the curve” and prevent hospitals from being overrun.
It had little effect, much like the shutdowns in Europe and elsewhere. The virus ran its course, rising and falling in the Northeast, then in the South, just as it had in Europe. Mask mandates and other ersatz measures only then came into vogue. While the data for wearing masks is more mixed, these also had little apparent effect on the spread of the virus.
But these various measures did succeed in doing one thing: They destroyed the economy. Certain industries—bars, restaurants, travel, and commercial real estate—remain severely depressed. The “new normal” is not normal at all. These effects were a direct result of the overzealous measures urged by scientists to control the virus.
Yet, during the vice presidential debate, Kamala Harris blamed the Trump Administration for the more than 200,000 people said to be dead because of COVID-19, while also stating, “you have Donald Trump who has reigned over a recession that is being compared to the Great Depression.” This, while just last month, Joe Biden said that he would “listen to the scientists” on a second shutdown, as if there were no other considerations.
This is not an example of using a different emphasis for different audiences. Indeed, Harris, at least in theory, was speaking to the whole nation in this debate. The Biden-Harris campaign, instead, is trying to have it both ways. They are blaming Trump both for the virus and for the economic consequences of the response they urged him to take.
Taken together, Biden and Harris’ position is simply childish and sentimental. One definition of sentimentality is wanting both a thing and its opposite at the same time. In other words, the benevolent motive supposedly redeems an action, even as the natural consequences of that action are disavowed.
Public policy involves tradeoffs,and fashioning particular means to achieve particular ends. As the Democrats prioritize intrusive public health measures, so also they are accepting these measures’ inevitable cost in terms of lost jobs, social and mental health burdens, and other unavoidable consequences. There is an argument to be made for such a position, but it is not likely to be popular at this late stage in the game.
The best framing of their position is that an earlier and more robust public health response would have been better for both the economy and the COVID-19 death rate. One could argue that the failure to do this led to the necessity of blunt emergency measures that produced significant collateral damage—that we did too much and not enough at the same time.
Perhaps. But no one quite knew the scale of the virus in March, and no obvious measures presented themselves that did not entail significant economic damage. And neither Biden, nor Harris, nor any other Democrat proposed such a thing then.
Realism Involves Tradeoffs
We live in a dangerous world. Almost three million people die in an average year of various maladies, accidents, suicides, murders, and other causes. In other words, Trump’s instincts were correct all along. He recognized that not just public health, but the economy and traditional American freedoms, were also important. As the facts became clear, he became more insistent that we could not suspend normal life for a disease that more than 99 percent survive with little more burden than with a bad seasonal flu.
Biden and Harris are not merely evasive, but deeply cynical and unserious. They blame Trump for matters out of his control and also blame him when their own policies would lead to the same results or worse. They abjure their executive responsibility and want to hand the keys to scientists, who are naturally only concerned with one aspect of the common good.
As recently as August, Biden was suggesting a second shutdown. By then, we had some shutdown experience. It was a disaster—though not for the government workers, hedge fund managers, and Silicon Valley oligarchs who drive his campaign. For waitresses, flight attendants, retail business owners, and other working stiffs, however, the pain was and still is all too real.
In spite of their contradictory rhetoric, most people know the score. Biden and the Democrats are in favor of job-killing lockdowns, indefinitely extended mask mandates, and other barriers to normal life.
Trump, by contrast, is in favor of opening things up, bringing back football, and funding the best treatments, while remaining stoic in the face of an unavoidable and natural phenomenon. His own swift recovery from the virus has been welcome for him and the country. Not only did he demonstrate courage under pressure, but he now has additional credibility to support his instincts.
Trump’s recovery also highlighted something the data already shows: for the overwhelming majority of people, the coronavirus is not much worse than the flu, and we all need to grow up and face reality.