Susan Estrich: What's missing from this COVID war
Summary: People are going to die to drive the market higher. There's no consensus about anything. Community spirit, where it exists, is at the local level. As a nation, we are as polarized and as leaderless as ever.
We are reading about the teams of researchers around the world — the most brilliant of the brilliant — working together, partnering with drug companies, on a mission to create vaccines more quickly than ever before. There is unity of purpose. And while the politicians may think of it as a competition, the scientists quoted uniformly praise one another's efforts. To produce enough of a vaccine, we will need more than one success.
In World War II, we made the trade of human lives. Everyone knew the fatalities would be catastrophic. We made the trade for freedom.
Vietnam was different. A sharply divided country cannot support a war effort, not a successful one.
In the days after 9/11, then-President George W. Bush convinced a terrified country that together, we would triumph.
This is a completely different kind of war.
There is no unity of spirit, no unity of any sort, no national spirit about being in this together.
The games and the lies make it impossible. We face a scientific problem, and it's being run like a political campaign, complete with name-calling and conspiracy-mongering, a competition, a revolt against authority by the commander in chief. He doesn't comply with social distancing. He doesn't wear a mask. He is the worst example for a vulnerable nation. People who do as he does will die. But he gets tested every day. Forget the Supreme Court case: President Donald Trump considers himself above the law.
What is supposed to be a briefing becomes him shouting at reporters for being "nasty," and talking up treatments that could and probably will kill people who listen to him.
This war has devolved into a set of purely political skirmishes that are costing lives.
Which makes it that much easier to trade American lives for money.
The call to "the better angels of our nature" — the message of Abraham Lincoln to a divided nation — has yet to be issued. The dignity of the presidency is gone, and with it the ability to summon a nation to be its best. At our best, we put on masks not because they will protect us from those who are infected (only the medical-grade masks really do that) but to protect others from him. It is an act of community. If the president of the United States, the most petulant man to ever lead this nation, won't put on a mask, lest it detract from that movie-star profile, it becomes OK to not wear a mask. More lives.
Think back. The president did not take this disease seriously until the stock market tanked. It wasn't that no one told him an epidemic was coming. He didn't listen — and even praised the fine job China was doing — because he wasn't about to let some virus mess with his reelection campaign. It was the economy, stupid.
And the economy is in the tank.
For about five minutes, people speculated that this was his Churchill moment — when Churchill unified Britain as it faced monumental fatalities. Trump is no Churchill. Instead of uniting us, he divided us, and that is how this new stage is playing out. Blue states and red states? It is a disgrace that the focus is on the electoral map. Americans are dying. And our leaders spout anti-government rage that is the last thing a nation facing an epidemic needs. Divide and die.
People are going to die to drive the market higher. There's no consensus about anything. Community spirit, where it exists, is at the local level. As a nation, we are as polarized and as leaderless as ever. It feels like we're heading into another round of a disaster. It is almost as frightening as the disease itself.
Susan Estrich can be reached at email@example.com.