The Perils Of Living In Trump Country During A Pandemic

The Perils Of Living In Trump Country During A Pandemic

With a hesitant, reluctant and bungled response from the Trump administration, combined with a Conservative media that continues to downplay the coronavirus pandemic, many Red areas of the country aren’t taking the crisis seriously enough.

By David Todd McCarty | Monday, April 6, 2020

Unlike the deserted streets of New York City, Paris, London and Los Angeles, take a drive around Cape May County and you might not think anything all that unusual is going on. On a short run for supplies, there appeared to be a good deal of traffic on the streets. The Home Depot and Wawa remain open. Construction and landscaping crews continue their work on neighborhood yards unabated. Grocery stores are open with a steady stream of shoppers coming and going. Banks continue with drive-through service and the McDonald’s drive thru is doing a brisk business.

You do see some people wearing an assortment of makeshift masks, but the numbers are low. There are certainly big changes you can’t see. Schools are all closed of course, as are most bars, restaurants, and any businesses not considered essential. It’s not business as usual, but it’s not a ghost town either. On a nice day like today, the traffic is constant, and there are reports that on the barrier islands, it looks like a typical spring, with plenty of people in a town otherwise shuttered out of season.

According to cell phone data collected by Unicast®, Cape May County is one of the worst offenders in the state when it comes to decreased mobility during the crisis, earning grades of C- through F depending on the day of the week. Rural and poorer counties tend to be more mobile throughout the country, as people have to drive farther for essential services such as grocery and medical needs. Still, the numbers are not good.

There seems to be a disconnect between the rest of the world and areas in America where there are a high density of Trump supporters, and nowhere is it more evident than right here in Cape May County, a district that voted for Trump in overwhelming numbers. 

Wawa parking lot in Cape May Court House, NJ. Photo: David Todd McCarty

Despite an order from Governor Phil Murphy (NJ-D) to shelter in place and avoid contact with anyone outside of those living under your roof, it was still not uncommon as recently as this past weekend to see gangs of neighborhood kids playing together on the street, or to witness a group of adults huddled around an evening bonfire, red solo cups in hand, as a Trump flag flew overhead.

Even among people who are staying home, there seems to be a constant muttering that this whole thing has been overblown by the mainstream media and liberals determined to hurt Donald Trump in the fall. They repeat this because is this is what they have been told, by not only the media they consume, but by the President himself.

Despite Trump’s recent pivot towards taking the crisis somewhat seriously, recent history shows that he was anything but concerned at the beginning of the crisis, a time when experts say was possibly the most critical.

Back on January 22, three days after the first case of coronavirus was reported in the US, Donald Trump was in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum when he was asked by CNBC’s Joe Kernen, “Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?”

The President responded, “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

It’s possible, had the administration taken the threat of a global pandemic seriously, that this would have in fact been true. As we all know now, it was not.

In the following weeks (a total of 70 days in fact), the Trump administration could have taken aggressive measures to contain and defeat the virus, but again, it did not. The President could have insisted on efforts to produce testing kits, urged Americans to take precautions, or even simply listened to his many advisors that tried to tell him that this was a problem that needed to be taken seriously.

Donald Trump does not trust information he doesn’t understand or complex concepts he is unable to grasp. He relies instead on how he feels about a topic, based on what he sees on television or what the last person he talked to told him. In essence, he believes what he believes based on whether or not it fits comfortably into his world view and whether or not it appears to benefit him.

A global health crisis with catastrophic economic repercussions did not fit anywhere into the President’s plans for the future, so he ignored it, hoping it would simply go away.

Rather than raising the alarm that this was something Americans needed to be concerned with, Trump instead rushed to calm investors lest they panic and scuttle his chances for re-election based on what he viewed as his greatest asset, a strong economy.

Two days later, he tweeted, “It will all work out well.” 

A week later, on the very same day that the World Health Organization declared coronavirus to be a “public-health emergency of international concern” and announcing 7,818 confirmed cases around the world, Trump told an audience in Michigan, “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”

On Jan 31, Trump took one of the few decisive steps he would take and barred most foreign visitors from China from entering the United States. Two days later he went on Fox News and told Sean Hannity, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China, which is a very positive thing. Getting along with China, getting along with Russia, getting along with these countries.”

By that time the number of infected individuals worldwide had climbed to 14,557, almost doubling over the previous three days.

On Feb. 10, he told a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

Two weeks later, the World Health Organization said that the virus had spread to 30 countries, with 78,811 confirmed cases, a fivefold increase.

On Feb. 26, he said: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” 

On Feb. 27, he said: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” 

On Feb. 29, he said a vaccine would be available “very quickly” and “very rapidly” and praised his administration’s actions as “the most aggressive taken by any country.” 

On March 6, he said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

On March 10, he said: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

None of these claims were true, but were continually echoed by the conservative media, that lashed out against what they viewed as yet another attack on the President, telling their viewers that this was nothing but a hoax and another attempt to nullify the 2016 election. Most of those commentators have had to soften or walk back their remarks, and at least one Fox News personality who lost her job over it.

As of today, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the virus has spread to 209 countries and territories with 1,292,331 confirmed cases worldwide and a total of 70,680 deaths. The CDC is reporting 352,160 cases in the US, with 10,369 deaths, the New Jersey DOH is reporting 37,505 cases statewide and 917 deaths, and finally the Cape May County DOH is reporting a total of 77 cases and 2 deaths.

That is where we are today, at least outside of the Republican echo-chamber. Every credible expert, including those in the Trump administration, have said that the next few weeks are going to significantly worse than what we’ve seen so far. The US Surgeon General Jerome Adams described the upcoming weeks as “a Pearl Harbor moment” and a “9/11 moment” citing a significant increase in the death toll. 

New York and New Jersey, the critical epicenter of the outbreak in America, are not expected to see the apex of the crisis for another few weeks, and health experts are warning that it will continue to be bad for weeks or even months after that.

In a recent New York Times piece, it was reported that any county with over 43 confirmed cases had a 100% probability of a communally-spread epidemic. As of Saturday, Cape May County already had at least 77 cases and 2 deaths, putting us way over that threshold. 

Robert Ray Redfield Jr., a virologist and the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that because we are still testing so few people in this country that the actual number of infections in any one area is likely anywhere from five to fifteen times the number of confirmed cases. For Cape May County that would put us somewhere between an estimated 385-1,155 actual infections as of last Saturday and if we end up doubling every 3-4 days like other areas, we could be looking at something closer to 1500-4600 infections by the end of the week. With our limited testing capabilities, combined with many whom are self-quarantining with obvious symptoms and yet remain untested, and with an even greater number of infected persons who are asymptomatic, we might never really know how many are affected, making the future all that much more precarious and unpredictable.

A largely Mechanic Street in Cape May Court House, NJ. Photo: David Todd McCarty

The point being is that the only real weapon we have against the devastating impact of this pandemic is social distancing combined with sheltering-in-place. The sooner people stop spreading the virus, the sooner we might actually be able to return to some normalcy. If everyone stayed home for two weeks and didn’t interact with anyone, we could stop the virus dead in its tracks. But there are those among us who refuse to believe this is absolutely necessary.

If things continue this way, any hope of even a shortened summer season for our local economy will be lost. We will be overrun with the virus, the hospitals will become overwhelmed quickly, people will die, and businesses unable to operate, will be unable to recover. A total loss of tourism in the summer months would be devastating to the local economy and the resulting loss of life would be felt long after this virus has run its course.

This is a time for serious people to be responsible, not only for themselves and their families, but for their communities as well. We really are all in this together, whether we like it or not. The political reality of our times, polarized as it is, is going to be quickly dwarfed by the human toll of death and economic destruction. Either we all work together to survive, or we all suffer. There is no middle ground.

It is critical that the current administration, as well as the conservative media, begin to take this crisis seriously, and do a better job of informing the public and encouraging them to take proper precautions against the spread of this virus.

The alternative will be a situation that no one wants to imagine and no one will come away from having won. The sooner we start trying to beat this virus and stop trying to win political dogfights, the more likely we will be to reduce the inevitable damage that is most certainly coming.

There is only one way to stop this. Stay home.

Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard

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