Two excellent articles on May 12, arguing almost exactly opposite cases, and both (to me) almost equally persuasive.
First, the Optimist: Greg Sargent in the Washington Post: “Trump is badly botching the virus. New polls show Americans know it:
A new Post-Ipsos poll finds that 56 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, while only 43 percent approve. By contrast, 71 percent approve of their governor’s handling of the disease. . . .
But in Michigan, approval of the governor’s handling of the virus is 72 percent, while Trump’s is 39 percent. In Pennsylvania, those numbers are 72 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Another finding from the poll confirms even more clearly how badly Trump has lost the argument: It finds that an astonishing 57 percent of Americans say Trump is not doing enough to ensure that people can return to work safely. By contrast, only 42 percent say he’s doing enough.
By contrast, 69 percent say their governors are doing enough to ensure that people can return to work safely. And 56 percent say their state governors are handling the pace of lifting restrictions “about right,” while only 16 percentsay they’re not lifting them quickly enough.
And 74 percent agree with the view that the United States should keep trying to slow the coronavirus even if it means keeping many businesses closed. Only 25 percent take the opposite view — Trump’s view.
A stunning indictment
All of that is a stunning indictment of Trump’s failures: Large majorities grasp that he’s putting people in danger by urging a reopening on his timetable — which we all know is largely dictated by his reelection needs — and large majorities understand this is precisely because he failed to do enough to ensure it can be done safely.
Trump is dissembling furiously to try to make these accurate public perceptions disappear. He just claimed once again that coronavirus rates are “coming down in most parts of our Country,” which “wants to open and get going again.” . . .
Here again, as the above polling shows, a sizable majority of 57 percent do not believe Trump is doing enough to allow us to reopen safely.
Meanwhile, a new CNN poll also shows the public soundly condemning Trump’s performance: It finds that solid majorities believe the federal government is not doing enough about the shortage in testing (57 percent) and is not doing enough about the potential for a second wave of cases (58 percent).
It also finds that an abysmal 36 percent trust information from Trump about the coronavirus, that 52 percent say the worst has yet to come, and that only 42 percent approve of Trump’s handling of the disease, versus 55 percent who disapprove of it.
The rage of Trump partisans
One thing that has been remarkable is the sputtering rage of Trump’s propagandists as they witness large majorities refusing to prioritize Trump’s reelection needs — oops, sorry, I meant refusing to prioritize “getting the economy going” — over their own health and lives.
How to balance resuming normal economic life with the public health of the country is a complicated and difficult question, of course. But Trump’s partisans refuse to treat this topic with any nuance.
They are pushing utter nonsense, such as pretending those criticizing Trump for failing to scale up testing so we can reopen carefully are waging class war on oppressed workers who just want to resume livelihoods.
But the Post poll shows only 25 percent of Americans want to reopen faster. And never mind that in many cases, those bearing the brunt of the illness right now are working people — that is, people who have kept on working low-skilled but essential jobs.
It’s hard to overstate how comprehensively and thoroughly the American people are rejecting these arguments.
Convinced.? Well, not so fast: in the other corner isconservative Never-Trumper Charlie Sykes, proprietor of the heavyweight blog “The Bulwark,” who insists to the contrary, that the social contract is unraveling, the virus is increasingly out of control, and reaction to the lockdown is “making America Mean”:
1. Making American Selfish
The images of a packed restaurant in Castle Rock, Colorado, shoppers in Arkansas, and crowded beaches in the midst of a spreading pandemic felt like a turning point, because, let’s be honest, they were.
The social contract is unraveling.
While most Americans continue to tell pollsters they are worried about re-opening the country, a substantial number have simply decided they are done with it. And by done with it, they mean done with it all: the social distancing, the wearing of masks, treating the pandemic as a BFD. We’re not talking about the protests or the politics here, but rather the jail-break-like decision by millions to defy the quarantines.
Visits to fast food restaurants and gas stations have already returned to their pre-coronavirus baselines in rural regions, Foursquare reported. While suburban and urban areas are still below normal, those areas have seen 15 percent growth since the end of March.
This is understandable, because the social, personal, and economic costs of the shutdown have been extraordinary; and nothing this inconvenient can last forever. People want to get on with their lives, and really, who can blame them?
But there’s another undercurrent: We aren’t all in this anymore, are we?
As Dr. Anthony Fauci will warn the senate today, a premature return to normalcy “will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
So when the president declares that Americans are “WARRIORS,” he redefines the word to mean a willingness to risk getting sick and to infect others. That chorus has been taken up by other “thought leaders” who conflate American Greatness with going to Arby’s; and who seem to have confused recklessness with courage, and freedom with me-firstism.
This is not how healthy societies respond to a crisis.
Imagine for a moment London during the Blitz, and thousands of residents simply decided to turn on the lights and open the shades because they were tired of the blackout. Imagine a nation in the grips of a plague where the public decided that only cucks took precautions… Oh wait.
The essential element in all of this is voluntary compliance. There are simply not enough cops, not enough bureaucrats, and not enough monitors for it to be otherwise.
But the problem now is not the lack of cops, it’s the erosion of a culture that calls us all to common purpose and sacrifice. In other words, a culture bound by a social contract that says we are in this together.
Conservatives used to understand this. Insisting on responsible self government is not the opposite of freedom, it is the essential predicate. Freedom-oriented conservatives used to argue that individuals and non-governmental institutions would act in their rational self interest and would do a better and more effective job than bureaucratic top down fiats.
But this requires responsible and credible moral leadership to reinforce responsible conduct.
Those norms (like simple good manners or even rules of gun safety) are enforced both formally and informally; by public exhortations to responsible conduct, but also by the informal values of peer groups that quietly urge us not to give into our dickiest impulses.These norms may have been codified in formal rules, but they were enforced because they were accepted, honored, and reinforced on a daily basis informally. We can all remember some older individual or colleague who quietly cautioned us against taking a rash action telling us that it was a bad idea or that it was not the way to do things.
Which brings us to the masks.
For most people wearing a mask is neither pleasant nor natural, nor is isolating oneself.
Peer pressure is crucial. If you walk into a room where everyone is wearing a mask, you are likely to comply; walk into a room where only a handful are wearing one, and you are more likely to keep it in your pocket.
So it is all the more important for social networks and trusted voices to more or less constantly reinforce the importance of such actions. People need to be persuaded, encouraged, and reminded by trusted voices that this is a good idea. When that social network turns against the sacrifices, the process falls apart, no matter what the law says.
But if you spend any time on social media, or have watched the president’s latest press conference, you know how this is going.
Obviously, this breakdown is going to have huge consequences, because the key to fighting the pandemic is not simply technical (testing and tracing) but also political and social. This is a useful thread. Stanford professor Keith Humphreys warns that countries that have successful testing programs not only have more deference to government, but also more of a sense of communal social responsibility. Testing programs, he notes, “depend on people being so compliant that they will stay home for 14 days because a health worker told them to. Meanwhile, in Detroit last week a grocery store security guard was shot in the head for asking someone to wear a mask.”
Health professionals, he writes, have not yet asked hard questions such as “What do you do when millions of Americans refuse to take your tests?” and “What do you do when many of the people you order to isolate, or to close their business, angrily refuse?”
Here is his kicker: In a mobile nation like ours, “you can’t build a ‘no peeing’ section in the swimming pool.”
. . . Meanwhile, even as COVID-19 spreads through his own White House, Donald Trump will never wear a mask.
So, what do you think? These writers must manifest divergent aspects of my personality. I agree with them both, if not simultaneously then within an hour. Two or three times.