The wartime president is back. It took Donald Trump only a few days to realize that wishing away the novel coronavirus wasn’t going to work. It might have sunk in with the news that America had taken the worldwide lead in confirmed coronavirus cases, meaning, among other issues, there won’t be any Easter parades or packed churches for Easter services this year.
All Trump needed to get back into action was a suitable enemy. And as we know, when it comes to perceived enemies, Trump never has to look far.
He started with General Motors – with which he has a longtime grudge over a plant closing in Ohio – for what he called “wasting time” in producing ventilators. Yes, his complaint came less than 24 hours after Trump had dismissed the need for so many ventilators and two days after Trump had pulled back from a deal with GM. But, as I said, we’re back in wartime. And so when finally invoking the Defense Production Act, which allowed him to compel GM and other companies to produce ventilators, Trump would blame GM for trying to “rip off” the government.
It was the usual Trump misrepresentation. In any case, a fight with GM would only take you so far. It turns out that mayors and governors across the country had been the ones criticizing the president for slow-walking the response for much-needed tests, ventilators and protective gear. They were the ones begging Trump to use the Defense Production Act. And yet last Thursday night, Trump was telling head sycophant Sean Hannity that he didn’t believe New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo actually needed the 30,000 ventilators he was asking for. And the next day, it was suddenly an emergency.
And there it was, waiting for him – the ideal target. Not just governors, but Democratic governors, in plain view. And if you watched the Trump-led press briefing/campaign rally last Friday, you saw Trump in full-blame mode, name-calling Washington Gov. Jay Inslee – who, Trump said, “leveled out at zero” in the polls when he ran for president – and “the woman” from Michigan, otherwise known as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Of Whitmer, Trump said, “she has no idea of what’s going on.” When he used her name in a tweet later, he called her Gov. Gretchen “Half” Whitmer. That’s the same president who kept saying that the coronavirus was under control when it wasn’t and who was pushing unproven medications to treat it.
And here’s the kicker that only Trump would proudly admit to: Trump said his problem with Inslee and Whitmer was that they weren’t showing him – and, to his credit, he actually included his team – proper appreciation.
When asked what more governors could do to help in the fight against the coronavirus, Trump said, “All I want them to do – very simple: I want them to be appreciative. I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true. I want them to be appreciative.”
Apparently Inslee and Whitmer – whose states happen to be among the hardest hit by the virus – didn’t meet Trump’s standard for kissing up. So his response was to tell Mike Pence, who’s heading up the White House task force, not to bother calling them.
“I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan. It doesn’t make any difference what happens.’ You know what I say: ‘If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.’ He’s a different type of person. He’ll call quietly anyway.”
Trump didn’t mention Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, which is too bad, because, coincidentally, on the day Trump went to war with governors, Polis pulled out reams and reams of data to show Colorado’s need for hospital beds and ventilators and, most importantly, to explain his statewide stay-at-home decision.
Polis didn’t need Trump to make him a foil. He already had state House Minority Leader Patrick Neville calling the governor’s decision “Gestapo-like.” And state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, in an op-ed piece for Colorado Politics, saying Colorado had become a “police state” with communism creeping in. So we have Polis consorting with commies and Nazis. And we have Sonnenberg failing to understand that in a police state he could not have actually written that column.
In a more reasoned critique, 14 Republican state senators wrote a letter to Polis complaining that he hadn’t consulted with them before making his decision and that he had not shown the data on which he based it. But Polis, who was reluctant to issue the stay-at-home ruling, felt he had no choice.
According to modeling by the Colorado School of Public Health, each infected person in Colorado would infect three to four other people. That’s how pandemics happen. The three-to-four infections rate is a number higher than in some other models, but Polis showed, in a slide show, where this model would lead.
Before his statewide stay-at-home ruling, he said, about half of Coloradans were practicing social distancing. At 50%, the death toll, the model says, would be between 800 and 19,900 deaths, depending on whether the infection rate was three people or four. At 60%, it slips to between 400 and 11,500, depending.
Polis’ expectation is that the stay-at-home ruling would lead to 80% social distancing. The model didn’t have numbers yet for what that level of compliance would mean. Polis said we won’t know for about two weeks when the numbers kick in. What we do know, he said, is that “the more noncompliance there is, the more people are not heeding the advice to stay at home, the longer and more severe this crisis will be.”
In rolling out the numbers, Polis said we should translate those numbers to actual people. And to treat the actual people, he said, Colorado now has just under 2,000 ICU beds and will need 5,000 more by the summer. Polis said the state has about 900 ventilators, but needs 7,000 more.
What Polis wants to see, he said, is Colorado eventually reaching the South Korea model, where life, while not yet normal, is somewhere near normal, which would be a far cry from a statewide shutdown. As you probably know, South Korea tested early and located those who had been in contact with people testing positive.
At this point, Polis said, South Korea is “dealing with the problem on a case-by-case, cluster-by-cluster basis instead of with widespread lockdowns and disruptions of economic activity, which is where we want to get here in Colorado.”
Polis is an admitted data nerd, and his fluency on the pandemic is a little greater than, possibly, Trump’s, who said recently about the coronavirus: “You can call it a germ. You can call it a flu. You can call it a virus. You can call it many different names. I’m not sure anyone even knows what it is.”
Polis, citing the numbers that convinced him a statewide shutdown was necessary, said: “If we get this right, some might say we did too much too soon. I would much rather be the recipient of that complaint than to have a full-scale public health disaster with tens of thousands of Coloradans paying the ultimate price.”
Which is why nearly half the nation is shut down – and will be for a while. It’s not about a police state. It’s not about Whitmer. It’s about a pandemic and saving people’s lives.
Mike Littwin is a longtime Colorado journalist and a columnist for The Colorado Independent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.