Unless you’re quite literally 100-years-old, this is your first pandemic. Everyone remembers their first time. As the wave began to break over the United States, the reality became stark and clear. We weren’t going to be safe, nor would anyone. But, it all happened gradually, and so we as a nation experienced the tentative dip of our toe into the water before diving into the pandemic head-on. I was terrified at first. The symptoms were too close to things a person could commonly feel. My allergies were flaring up, and every scratchy throat meant clearly that it was my time to die. It wasn’t, lucky for you.
Cases spread in the single digits at first in New Jersey, my home state. We had a few cases here and there, and then over the course of a week the numbers began to steeply climb. But strangely, as the numbers rose, I felt safer. My family and loved ones were all in their respective homes, so we were doing all right.
I’m not writing this to give a history of COVID-19 in America. We’ve all lived it and we’re nowhere near out of it. The point here is this: as this is my (our) first pandemic, I wanted to be able to turn to our leaders for guidance. In such an unprecedented time, I felt it important to get the official word from the highest offices applicable. This is honestly the first time in my life where I felt like I needed a president. Though I don’t think it needs to be said, I’m not a fan of President Trump. He’s diametrically opposed to everything I believe in, especially in his “money over everything” way of “running” the country, not to mention his flagrant racism, sexism, homophobia, chauvinism, and xenophobia. But, I was willing to suspend my ire and disbelief as the pandemic began. What did I know about pandemics? Nothing. But, it turns out that the president’s knowledge of germs, disease, and the pandemic was a great deal less than my own – go figure.
And so, I listened to President Trump and Vice President Pence in pandemic’s infancy, hoping they could make sense out of terrifying uncharted territory, at least for us non-centenarians. If you can’t trust your leaders in a national crisis, who can you trust? Against my better judgement, I listened to President Trump and his goon squad as the pandemic escalated and became so obviously a national crisis for America. However, as glaring contradictions emerged early on between Doctor Anthony Fauci and President Trump, it became clear that I was going to have to pick sides. Between a highly educated doctor with decades of experience and a disgraced businessman who failed upward his entire life, I went with the doctor. Science, to me, is always the best bet.
My initial instinct to turn to our leaders was proven quite wrong. Like a parent who just caught their kid doing something they shouldn’t, I wasn’t mad, I was disappointed. It was a harsh truth to know that in a crisis, my leaders didn’t have my back. It was denial all the way up the ladder with the Trump administration:
Everything will be fine.
Look, it’s already better.
Warm weather kills COVID.
Inject yourself with bleach.
Take this untested drug.
Masks aren’t necessary.
We must open businesses, we must open schools.
Our numbers are climbing because we’re so damn good at testing.
None of that was true, all of it was to make President Trump look better in an election year. The safety of the people does not seem to matter to him in the least, only his campaign and the economy. It looks bad for him that our numbers are the highest in the world and that our country is having such a rough go. President Trump fed into the madness by refusing to wear a mask, encouraging his base to do the same, and worse still, encouraging his base to protest their state governments. His latest gambit has been threatening to withhold funding from schools which don’t reopen. It goes without saying that this is an unbelievably reckless and cruel use of power. Once again, President Trump cares not for the human outcome of his late-night toilet rage-tweet decision making.
What did I learn here? Perhaps I learned to trust my instincts. Perhaps I learned a hard lesson about what our leaders really care about. No, I already knew these things. Us tri-state area citizens were fortunate enough to have our three governors band together and act as the leadership we lacked. But, my point is this: in one the darkest times the nation has faced in our history, we couldn’t turn to our leaders. President Slumlord had other concerns, none of them external. As always, science makes progress and politicians run in place. Perhaps we can change that, I think we can, but I don’t want to say anything here that I’ll regret in November. Trust in scientists, dear reader, and stay vigilant.