In the movies I watch, calamity—an alien attack, an errant meteor, a rampant pandemic—unifies humanity. Nations, once enemies, begin to work together. Political divides evaporate. We become a global team battling a common foe. That’s the prevailing attitude. Let’s work for the common good. Walking out of the theater I bask in a warming glow. We’re better than I think we are; it makes me proud to be an American, a Homo sapien, an earthling.
Over the past week, the world has gotten serious about the novel coronavivus. No, nothing has happened that wasn’t apparent six weeks ago. The virus, after simmering on the Chinese mainland for a month, has sprung up simultaneously all around the world. Those locations with a handful of cases since January are now seeing full scale outbreaks emerge. And of course, the global stock markets tanked. No, none of this should have been a surprise to anyone, and if it was, well, our leaders and public health agencies haven’t been sufficiently forthright.
This is all normal fodder in ‘collapse’ novels. Collapse fiction is a sub-genre of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. During the Apocalypse—the period immediately preceding dystopia—society collapses. Often, it’s triggered by an event, usually a natural disaster or an act of war, where overnight the world-as-we-know-it has forever changed. Or sometimes the collapse happens in slow motion: humankind, fat and happy, ignores the signs that hard times are coming and rides the status quo right into its grave.
In one of my favorite collapse novels, World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler, the collapse begins with a moderately fatal disease sweeping the earth. The second—of many—nails in the coffin is the stock market crash that follows. Hmmm, life imitates art? So, no surprises this week.
On a recent sick day, home with the flu, I watched Deep Impact with Téa Leoni and Morgan Freeman. Incomplete synopsis: Huge meteor plummets towards earth, Reporter Téa Leoni (no one plays fragile/broken better than she) breaks the story; U.S. President Morgan Freeman provides a strong and steady hand to guide the nation and the world up to and through the coming disaster.
This presidential behavior isn’t limited to only Deep Impact. In Independence Day, President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) not only showcases inclusive, motivational leadership skills, but he also suits up and flies a fighter jet in World War II style dogfights with alien space ships.
I’m feeling seriously ripped off in the presidential leadership department right now.
Donald Trump and the rest of his administration don’t get it. Several times a day he makes statements minimizing the seriousness of the coronavirus. By repeatedly insisting the flu is a larger threat, Trump shows that he doesn’t understand how far reaching this pandemic could (and probably will) be. Early in the week, he stated that the virus will naturally peter out by April, and then today he suggested that it will, one day soon, simply disappear. He’s clearly more concerned about the performance of the stock market and his polling numbers than the potential loss of American lives. Propping-up his flu comparisons, he doesn’t understand why everyone is freaking out.
Do you ever wonder who reads your blog? Is there any chance that Donald Trump, searching for his next Twitter target will google his name and stumble on this post? On the slim possibility that he will, here are the facts I’d like him to read:
The flu fatality rate is 0.1% or less. The fatality rate of the coronavirus epidemic so far is 3.44%. That’s one in every twenty-nine people. Because this is a new virus, no one has immunity to it. The heavy transmission rate in Wuhan can’t be dismissed as something that happens somewhere else. As towns across America become infected, we’ll experience the sort of rapid transmission like we’re seeing in Italy and South Korea. One in twenty-nine is likely to get pretty personal. Your neighbor’s baby. Your boss’s wife. Maybe your mother or father.
I read today that the White House is requiring all federal coronavirus messaging to be first approved by the administration before releasing it to the public. This article shared the same screen as one lambasting China over the information they apparently withheld from the world at the onset of the outbreak. So, President Trump, this isn’t the flu, it’s not about your polls, and it’s not about the stock market. We’re facing a serious natural disaster that requires active management and global teamwork. Stop trying to minimize public concern and convince America that you have everything under control. You don’t.
I don’t think we’re on the brink of collapse, but I see some rough months are ahead. Channeling the steady, sober, mature demeanor of Morgan Freeman or Bill Pullman will only help. The world needs it.