by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
I need a better president. It is that simple.
I need less tweeting and more thoughtful leadership. Is that so hard? Recently, Trump held a press conference to discuss the coronavirus. He said that everything is under control, and he, Trump, appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the effort. Now, I don’t want to say that Mike Pence hasn’t led anything of importance in the last three years, but he does not instill me with confidence.
Earlier this year we began hearing reports out of China about a “new” virus
—Coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, or Novel Coronavirus 2019.
If we can remember our high school biology, viruses are smaller than bacteria. Viruses, for the most part figure out a way to attach on to our normal cells. Then, the virus takes over the machinery of the cell. The cell begins to replicate the virus, hundreds if not thousands of times. Then the cell ruptures, releasing the virus.
Coronaviruses are relatively common. They are seen in bats, camels, cats and cattle, but this new virus has never been seen before in humans. It appears that the epicenter of this virus jumping to humans was at a live food market in Wuhan, China. Then this viral infection began to spread and spread. First, there were thousands of infections; then, seemingly overnight, there were tens of thousands of infections in China. And there were a few deaths, including some healthcare workers.
The next thing we heard, as the nightly news picked up on the story, was that the Diamond Princess, a huge cruise ship with thousands of passengers, including hundreds of Americans, was being quarantined by the Japanese, because some passengers had symptoms consistent with the coronavirus infection. There was no plan to deal with the passengers, though more and more of them were getting sick.
Then, suddenly, everyone was allowed off the ship and the Americans were flown home. Some of them were infected with the coronavirus—but they were allowed on the plane with the healthy folks!
Who thought this was a good idea? Was it safe? Did the plane have isolation cabins, and if so, did they have their own air supply? Or were these sick, infected patients allowed to cough into everyone’s air? To the best of my knowledge, none of these questions were answered.
Just a virus
For those of you who think that coronavirus is nothing to worry about because it is “just a virus,” let me remind you that viruses have killed millions of humans over the last 100 years. The outbreak of influenza during World War I killed between 5 million and 10 million people worldwide. Smallpox, also caused by a virus, wiped out almost 90% of the indigenous population of Central and South America. Currently, the garden-variety flu, for which we should take vaccines, kills between 300,000 and 650,000 people every year worldwide. We have a pretty good handle on the flu, yet it kills tens of thousands of Americans every year.
It is important for us to understand that coronavirus could be a big problem, one that could be with us for a long time. We need experts to help us. We need vaccines. We need affordable testing kits. We need a government that is prepared.
The government is ailing, too
We do not have a government that is prepared. Donald Trump has systematically and deliberately weeded out the best and the brightest in our government. He has eviscerated the talent at the Centers for Disease Control (our primary agency to combat infectious diseases). In the wake of Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu, and other recent epidemics, President Obama established preparedness agencies to help coordinate resources and research to deal with future, potential epidemics and pandemics. Donald Trump has done his best to eliminate those programs, simply because President Obama established them!
As a result, we as a nation are not ready for any infectious disease that easily spreads across the United States. No hospital is ready to take 50 or 100 infected patients all at once. We do not have the facilities. We do not have the equipment. We do not have the staff: North Carolina currently has a shortage of nurses, and nationwide that shortage is expected to grow over the coming years. I hope and pray that our government gains the wisdom necessary to listen to experts.
At the end of February, I would have told you it was unlikely that Super Tuesday would clear up anything in the democratic presidential race. I would have been wrong. Secondly, I would have told you that endorsements really do not matter. Again, it seems I was wrong. In South Carolina, the endorsement of long-time Representative Jim Clyburn seemed to propel former Vice President Joe Biden from fourth or fifth place to front runner. Somehow, against all odds, Joe Biden won South Carolina; the next day former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar pulled out of the presidential race and endorsed Biden.
Three days later, Biden pulled another rabbit out of his hat. He won Super Tuesday, including Virginia, Texas, and North Carolina by wide margins; within a few days, both Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of NY, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also suspended their campaigns. They are still counting delegates in California, but Biden won Super Tuesday.
Now, the race is between Biden and Bernie Sanders. I like both candidates. I wish Warren was able to connect better with voters, especially black voters, on a visceral level. I think she has some great ideas but could not win without breaking her campaign speeches into smaller soundbites and more emotional connections. She even lost her home state of Massachusetts to Biden—though that was probably because of his perceived “electability” on a national level.
Debates, primaries, and cash
What happened on Super Tuesday? Can we all agree that Iowa and New Hampshire do not represent the average town in America? Can we even agree that primaries with actual voters are a better indicator of support than caucuses, which lots of people can’t participate in because of time, money, baby-sitters, jobs, and other commitments?
Can we also agree that these debates are a waste of time? Debates were great in the 1960s and ’70s. What are we supposed to learn from these debates? If you debate well, does that mean that you are going to be a great president? No. The skills to run this country are not the same as having a debating gene. If you give a great answer in a debate, does that mean the candidate must stick with that idea until it becomes law? Of course not. We want our politicians to be more flexible than that: if circumstances change, candidates should be able to change their minds.
What debates can show is character, temperament, preparation—and the ability to think on your feet. Elizabeth Warren destroyed Michael Bloomberg in the first debate, because she was calm, on target, and totally prepared—and he wasn’t. I have no idea why Bloomberg wasn’t ready for those attacks with a thoughtful answer; maybe a good answer is something money can’t buy!
Poor Mike. Well, not really. He isn’t poor. He spent over $500 million on his campaign. Would that number seem smaller if I say that he spent a half a billion dollars? Nope: to me, at least, $500,000,000.00 still seems like a ton of money, and all he won was the territory of Samoa.
Now, as a result of his failure, Americans are saying that you can’t buy the presidency. Horse hockey. That’s exactly what Trump did. You can buy the presidency—using huge sums of dark money and $50 million from the Russian NRA to buy Facebook ads and color the overall narrative on social media. Bloomberg needed to spread his money out over many more months, and spend it more strategically and tactically. He also needed a better debate performance.
Now, together as a progressive movement we need to figure out how to win in November. We will need everyone on board this progressive tidal wave, including Mayor Bloomberg and that other billionaire, Tom Steyer. As well as Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, President Obama, and every other Democrat and independent in the country.
Our focus must be defeating Trump and pushing America in the right direction. That’s what we need!
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed here, as well as assertions of facts, are those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of The Urban News.