Daniel W. Drezner: Anger and loathing during a pandemic
Summary: If the fear has ebbed, the anger has not. With each passing day, the Trump White House's incompetence at handling the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more manifest.
In March, I recorded some scattered thoughts about life during a pandemic for future social historians. The two dominant emotions were fear (of contracting the virus) and anger (at the Trump administration's bungled response) and how they intersect.
So how are things going a month later?
I suppose the good news is that the fear has certainly subsided. Until recently, I would start to feel sick after every shopping expedition, convinced that I had contracted the coronavirus. As stores and restaurants where I live have adapted to commerce amid plague — requiring masks, installing plexiglass, enforcing social distancing — that fear has ebbed. The simple repetition of doing this without developing symptoms has probably also helped.
That said, the decline of fear is not entirely rational, either. There are days when I convince myself that I already had covid-19 but it was asymptomatic. Every time I try to read something about the novel coronavirus, I feel as if I understand it less. The unreliable nature of testing and the vagaries of statistics keep reminding me of writer William Goldman's epic line about Hollywood: "Nobody knows anything."
My biggest uncertainty might be in my own ability to process all of this. A recurring fear of mine for the past two decades has been the sense that I intellectually peaked at age 27 and with each passing day I am a little bit dumber. The quarantine has accelerated that sensation. The break in routine and elimination of gym visits probably have not helped.
My sense of time has also been badly warped this month. If March seemed to last 500 days, April feels like it's consisted of five days of waking insomnia. There have been days when it gets to be five in the afternoon and I have no idea where the time went.
Claims that the novel coronavirus will simply accelerate distance working now seem fanciful to me, because my fatigue from Zoom sessions has increased over time. Kate Murphy explains in the New York Times that the small imperfections of Zoom and Skype videos make our brains work overtime to compensate: "Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why." I had used Zoom once a week last year and found myself tired from each experience. The accumulation of daily Zoom sessions in this new normal has been noting short of exhausting.
On the other hand, the (barely) warmer weather has made the daily constitutionals more pleasant. Seeing neighboring families out and about lifts the mood. There are sunny days, with folks are out and about, when if I squint hard enough there's something approaching normality in the tableau. More often, however, the masks and the larger-than-usual distance between neighbors remind me that we are occupying an uncanny valley rather than a world returning to normal.
If the fear has ebbed, the anger has not. With each passing day, the Trump White House's incompetence at handling the pandemic becomes more manifest. The thought that the crisis has badly hurt Trump's chances of reelection offer little in the way of comfort. Sixty thousand people are dead, with plenty more on the way in the short term. Regardless of who wins in November, Donald Trump will be president for the next nine months. His son-in-law will continue to spout inanities and falsehoods. The country will stagnate, more Americans will suffer or die, and all I can do is seethe at the stupidity of it all.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.