Tag: covid-19

Fear

I’ve had cancer this year; I’ve lost a dear friend to suicide. More intimately than COVID-19 (which raged outside my Brooklyn window this spring, but not inside my house, thank God), it’s given me perspective on the plausibility of some worst-case scenarios. The worst can happen. It often does.

Anyway, I sent a donation to the Biden campaign yesterday, and this morning I got an email from his people asking me why I’d done it. “Fear,” I answered. Then they asked me if I want to give them money on a weekly basis. I almost answered yes.

The New York is Dead strain in punditry

This is a pretty good piece about the “New York is Dead” strain in Covid-19 punditry. The whole genre strikes me as unbearably classist and narcissistic, and I imagine it does to most people who don’t live in Manhattan, who bring home less than $200,000 per year, and who aren’t white (which is to say, about 99.9 per cent of the people in the US). The longest I ever lived in Manhattan was two months—my first five years here I was in Jersey City and then I moved to Brooklyn, where I stayed for 35 years. I was white and hence privileged, but I wasn’t entitled—I never saw the city as the romance-drenched backdrop for the movie I was starring in (as it was for Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the 1940s or Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies today). It was where I worked, and a lot of it was always unaffordable, culturally other, or dangerous. Even then, most of Manhattan fit into the first category, while Jersey City fit into the second and third. Brooklyn only fit into the third, and in time that changed. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that the city doesn’t take its definition from me—it was here before I laid claim to it and it will be here long after I’m gone.

Great cities like London, New York, LA, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna are agglomerations of people and economic activities. They are growing hubs, so they support a lot of innovation, artistic and otherwise. Economically and situationally, the quality of life they offer changes. Diseases and economic downturns come and go, as do occupying armies and technological shifts that superannuate existing industries. If they are single-industry cities, those shifts can prove fatal. But if they’re ports, centers of different kinds of trade, of government, universities, and media; if they are magnets to internal and external immigrants, then they regenerate. They regenerate after fires, even after volcanoes blow up and kill all their inhabitants; certainly they regenerate after epidemics.

Most of those articles are so anecdotal and self-referential. Yes, certain numbers of mid-level financial people and lawyers may move ten miles to the east, west, north, or south of Manhattan, but in the scheme of things, what does that matter? The metro region has always been a more relevant economic unit than the over-priced neighborhoods of Manhattan. Anecdotally, I visited my lawyer sister at her second home in Long Island last week, where she’s been sheltering since this started. They don’t know when they’re going back to Manhattan but they have absolutely no intention of selling their apartment. She told me about friends and colleagues and friends’ and colleagues’ kids who have shifted to their second homes, but none of them were giving up their city houses. Who would they sell them to, even if they wanted to?

As for the creative people, they are going to have to come together somewhere, because even solitary creatives like novelists and poets and painters of still lifes crave company or work in academia or media to support themselves, and most collaborate. Odds are, they’ll congregate here.

More From my Plague Year Journal

6.4 So Tom Cotton is selling a narrative in which New York has fallen into the hands of elite white gangs of leftists, whose leaders drive Mercedes around the city ordering random attacks on minority business owners while its effete liberal mayor insists that the police stand down. Nice scenario for a low-budget post-apocalyptic movie starring some ex-wrestlers, but in reality, the NYPD has been running riot every night and the mayor, who won election as a police reformer, won’t stop weakly defending them. DeBlasio has been under siege from both the left and right for his pandemic response too–there is as big a crisis of leadership in this city as there is in Washington, and it’s frankly hard to understand.

There was a shooting a couple blocks from my house last night. Someone stabbed a policeman in the neck and grabbed his or her gun. Shots were fired and three police and the assailant are in the hospital. No one is saying yet whether he or she was a protester, a looter, antifa, white, black, pro-Trump, or anti, but you can be sure that there will be confident stories that they were all of those things before very long.

If we get to November without riot police or federalized National Guard or Bureau of Prison enforcers shooting bullets into a crowd, I will be amazed. If there is an election, Trump is going to lose it in an unprecedentedly huge way. I can’t imagine how he will leave office without violence–and for every Mattis that can quote the Federalist papers, there are a thousand angry cops. Trump is a cornered animal, and I am afraid the militarization in Washington is a rehearsal for the fall.

6.3 I more and more believe that the conspiracists get all the details wrong, but are right about one thing: that there is indeed a hidden explanation that unifies the seeming randomness of events. The deity that we worship as God is really a demonic ringer; the deep state framed Oswald; Trump is on a crusade to rescue America’s children from pedophiles. Their stories are completely nuts, of course, but they’re grasping at an intimation that things are not what they seem: That our great national experiment–with its melting pot, endless entrepreneurial opportunity, and love of liberty–is a flimsy front. Scratch the surface of most conspiracists’ writings and the hidden power turns out to be Jewish. But the critical race theorists have broken a real code: they’ve seen that America’s liberal humanism is built on a foundation of race supremacism, religious chauvinism, land theft, and chattel slavery. Some of the American dream is real, of course. Ethnicities have melted into the mass over time (very few of us think of people with Slavic features, like Melania Trump, as non-white anymore); anti-Papism is mostly a thing of the past in this once militantly Protestant country. Some Americans really have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, and we have a body of law that gives great deference to individual liberty. There are are real American heroes and role models, though pretty much all of them, like pretty much all heroes and role models everywhere, have feet of clay.

But we also–as most nations do–have a horrific past defined by rape and violence that is not even past. Its unacknowledged omnipresence is what gives Trump his strength; our desire to deny it distorts our thinking to the point that cognitive dissonance (like Freud’s repression) has come to define us. Harold Bloom was thinking of something else when he said that the American religion is Gnosticism, but I tend to think he got it right.

6.1 Call me naive or racist, but I had been under the impression that George Floyd had been caught passing a bad check. It wasn’t until I read about the 911 call this morning that I learned that a store clerk accused him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20. You’d think we’d know about it by now if there was a counterfeit bill in that grocery’s cash register, so I’m guessing he was innocent.

I live a couple of doors down from Brooklyn’s very urban Flatbush Avenue. A couple of weeks ago, the guy at the pet food store told me that people try to pass him counterfeit bills almost every day, so I know it does happen. Some of them must get through, which means that if a citizen like me used a $100 bill to buy a big order of cat food, I might end up with one in my wallet. But I’m pretty sure the police would give me the benefit of the doubt if someone caught me trying to pass it.

On a different but related topic, my gut tells me that Trump and Karl Rove (who I would bet big money will end up running his campaign) believe that they have been dealt a winning hand. By pushing the pandemic out of the headlines, the civil unrest in blue cities has given them the opportunity to strike a decisive blow against anarchy and racial identity politics once and for all. I am expecting military deployments, monkey trials, curfews, and states of emergency for the rest of his term.

Whether voters reward Trump for the American carnage is an open question. My hope is that the hunger for normalcy favors Biden and the Democrats, but my gut also tells me that there will be a lot of state violence unleashed right around November 3, with an aim to discouraging voting.

The Invisible Enemy

Read an article about disinformation tactics in the Atlantic yesterday and fell asleep thinking about Trump’s nightly rallies. Millions of captive, bored TV watchers, listening to him congratulate himself on his victory over the “Invisible Enemy” night after night between choruses of praise from his toadies. He can’t do much to influence reality, but he can sure shape people’s perceptions of it. He’s said that he wants us to forget all about this plague as fast as possible, and we know from the scant traces that the Spanish Influenza left on our collective consciousness that people can and do and will.

I’d known about the Spanish Influenza as an episode of history, of course, and, a little bit as a piece of science, since I read Oliver Sacks’s AWAKENINGS thirty years ago. I was in the book business, so I remember all the trade books about pandemics that came out after the SARS scare in 2003—one of them inspired GW Bush to create the medical stockpile that the Trump administration neglected. But a couple of months ago, I was rereading a chapter of my book THE NEW HATE (an editor was putting together an encyclopedia of hate and was thinking of adapting it–a project that I bet is on permanent hold now) in which I recount an episode in 1918 where Henry Ford accuses an innocent Jewish army officer of murdering a fellow officer. The official story was that the victim was overcome by the flu while he was target shooting; the pistol went off when it fell from his hands. Suddenly, I realized that “the flu” was the Spanish Flu—and that the terror, confusion, and “blame the Jew” mentality were all familiar reactions to plagues. Even though I’d written about it, I’d done so without having any understanding or appreciation of that critical context. It was as if I was writing about the Kent State shooting without any knowledge of the Vietnam War. The “Invisible enemy” indeed.

What will future book writers make of this hinge moment in our own history—when our corrupt, idiot president either became our Hitler or was swept away by the democratic reaction? People like William Bennet and Dr Phil and Dr Oz can go on TV from the shelter of their rich, celebrity lives and call the pandemic a hoax while tens of thousands of people are dying around them, bodies are being stacked up in NJ nursing homes, and an actual head of state has been in the ICU and some of their fellow celebrities have died from it—what will people think in 20, 50, 100 years? Or will we be living in a climate-altered world by then in which pandemics and superstorms are routine, and the balance of power and wealth in the world have long-since shifted to China and Americans no longer have any hope or great expectations for themselves? These are the things I wonder about as I lie awake at night.

The better off you are, the more likely you are to kvetch

I was looking at some survey data yesterday. Fascinating, and not the least bit surprising, to see that outcomes for COVID-19 sufferers are in inverse proportion to their income levels (ie, the less means you have, the more likely you are to die), as are self-reports of emotional and mental well-being. The higher your income, the sorrier you feel for yourself.

My mother could have told me that without all the cost and bother of running a survey. But when you look at it in that light, it makes sense that the billionaire president of the United States sees himself as not just the great hero of this national crisis, but its biggest victim.

Hurricane Maria only killed 64 people in Puerto Rico

When Trump did his paper towel toss in Puerto Rico, he marveled at how low the official death toll was (just 16 at the time), comparing it to a “real” tragedy like Katrina (whose numbers he also understated). Many thought it was an obscenity at the time. Certainly, it is the template for what is happening now.

The reality of this pandemic in NY and certainly in the rest of the US is that the recorded death rate (ie, the percentage of cases that result in a fatality) is too high, because most people being tested are sick enough to be in the hospital. On the other hand, the numbers of reported deaths are likely many orders of magnitude low. Add all the infected people who have pneumonia or heart attacks on their death certificates and the number skyrockets. Add all the people in the hot spots who can’t or won’t go to the ER and who are postponing other vital medical procedures, and you get a Puerto Rico-sized adjustment (about 700 percent, according to the Harvard study).

Since the sole aim of the Trump administration is to play down the depth of the crisis while exonerating Trump himself of any responsibility for it, expect to hear the exact opposite message from him and his minions over the next terrible weeks–that most of the people who are dying of COVID-19 were about to die of something else anyway. In other words, that while Trump’s efforts have been heroic, Herculean, and altogether successful, the disease isn’t such a big deal.

Not sure they’ll be able to sustain that when MAGA people are dying at scale, but we’ll see.

In Which I Abandon All Hope

So in the last two weeks, 10 million people, give or take, applied for unemployment. We will soon have a jobless rate that is double that of the Great Depression. Trump has also reluctantly conceded that a couple hundred thousand people will die from Covid-19. Since the hospitals will be overwhelmed, many more will die of normal diseases and accidents. World War II level mortality rates at the very least, because let’s face it, a couple of hundred thousand is really lowballing it.

And what will the US government, whose negligence contributed mightily to this unprecedented catastrophe, do to help us? We already know. It will go on TV nightly to tell us that it’s doing an A-plus job. Imagine that 100 Challengers were blowing up on live TV every day, and that every night Richard Feynman stood silently next to Ronald Reagan while Reagan declared that if he wasn’t president as many as 1,000 Challengers might be blowing up. But it’s even worse, because this government is using its power to ensure that the states that didn’t elect it will suffer more than the states that did.

No, Trump hasn’t started a nuclear war. But our economy has blown up on his watch and hundreds of thousands of people are dying. If this isn’t the end of the American experiment, I don’t know what is.

And another thing (I know I said I was going to stop posting, but my buttons are really getting pushed today). Can we agree to have a moratorium on “if only HRC had been elected,” “Obama was a corporate shill because he didn’t enact Medicare 4 All,” and “Joe Biden is a senile sexual offender who stole the election from Bernie” type remarks on Twitter for a while? I feel like I’m standing on the deck of the Titanic, trying to enjoy the band’s rendition of “Nearer My God to Thee,” and the guy next to me keeps saying, “the Captain really should have steered around that iceberg.” I mean, I get it, but the ship is sinking. Maybe I should just stop looking at Twitter.

A few random thoughts…

Some random thoughts…..After this, I’m going to stop posting so much. I feel a little like I’m writing angry letters to the editor as Armageddon unfolds.

1) This will be going on for a long time–months and years. People might want to wait and consolidate their comments instead of reacting to every hiccup willy nilly.

2) This is going to be unendurable. Unlike 911, whose immediate impact (as opposed to the subsequent war on terror and the Iraq invasion and everything else) was only felt directly in three locations, virtually every American is going to know someone who gets sick. Many will be within one or two degrees of separation of someone who dies.

3) The economic effects will be deep, deep, deep. The Trump boom is over. The market will come back fairly quickly once people get used to the idea of millions of people dying, but it’s not going to change the fact that a huge part of the workforce will be idled because there’s no demand for what they do. The inequality that you’ll see over the next ten years is going to make the last ten years look like Communism.

4) Yes, a huge amount of this is Trump’s fault, but to make it about him to the extent that the media and we Trump-haters do is to play into his hands. He wants it to be about him because he wants everything to be about him.

5) His press conferences are his rallies, and COVID-19 is his reelection platform. His wedge issue is himself. Don’t waste your time pointing out his inconsistencies, because you’ll just be amplifying his message. If it serves him in one news cycle to say that no one is really dying, he’ll say that. If it serves him to say that the people who are dying deserve to die, he’ll say that. If it serves him to say that people are dying and his liberal enemies are celebrating, he’ll say that. If it serves him to say that, thanks to him, only a 100,000, 200,000, a million, two million have died, he’ll say that.

6) Be careful not to get too carried away with the war metaphors and the celebrations of our service class heroes. Not that this isn’t like a war and not that they’re not heroes, but there’s a danger of normalizing the terrible risks they face out of their need to work and support their families. I mean, they’re making sacrifices, but they’re not doing it for God and country, they’re doing it because they don’t have any choice. Calling them heroes may make us feel a little less ashamed that they’re dying in the numbers that they will be to keep the people who do have choices fed and clothed and safe.

Trump’s call to cure the cure

I’m not as worried about Trump’s insane call to end the pandemic by fiat in two weeks and turn Easter into a national day of Thanksgiving to him as I am about a lot of other things, because 1) He’s already proven that every decision he makes is the worst possible, so what else could we have expected? and 2) Because two weeks from now might as well be a thousand years from now. Things have long since passed out of his or anyone else’s control.

As to what it will take to wake up the GOP, the answer is pretty clear. People who Republican lawmakers and their contributors care about (meaning themselves and their immediate families) have to get sick and die. That’s always been the case, no matter what the malady–as long as it’s a gay problem, a Hispanic or black problem, an immigrant or poverty problem, or a New York and California problem, they dismiss it with censure or suggest that the victims cure it with prayer. When it hits closer to home, they demand action. And that’s already starting to happen.

Time is out of joint

3/20 The weirdest thing about all this is that the knock-on effects are being felt before the virus itself has landed the full-on body blow that it’s expected to deliver. It’s as if the fallout has preceded the blast. The markets are devastated, the work-a-day-world frozen, and the government a zombie (Trump is finished no matter what the polls say—today’s job report was terrific too, for all that that’s worth—and the GOP’s insider trading has likely doomed its control of the Senate). But the numbers of deaths worldwide are still in the low five figures, not the millions that seem all but inevitable.