The year the earth stood still

It ought to be clear to everyone in the United States by now that, thanks in part to a minority of the ignorant, the coronavirus plague will not be ending any time soon. Just as a minority of Americans have somehow managed to hijack the entire gun control narrative, resulting in the deaths of an average of 30,000 Americans every year from suicide and firearm violence, so now a minority of ignoramuses hold disproportionate sway over rational precautions against the spread of this pestilence.

America’s crisis is becoming the world’s crisis. Much of the ignorance and misinformation that is Trumpism is infecting the rest of the world. It’s easy to forget that, for better or for worse, the American President is the leader of the free world. However much that honorary title has been discredited by Donald Trump, the fact remains there is more truth in it than fiction. The office of the presidency still has influence, and that influence remains, however disproportionate it may be to the worthiness of the title holder. However absurd the child-raping murderer’s utterances may be to most of us, an ignorant core of science-denying conspiracy theorists believe him, and they keep alive the absurd-on-its-face notion that coronavirus was created in a lab, or is an artefact of 5G technology, or — deadliest of all — that the stay-at-home order doesn’t apply to them, that the whole thing is and remains an overreaction.

This is a real world amplification of how ignorance can kill. The great tragedy of this crisis of ignorance is that before this pandemic is over millions will die unnecessarily. We had an opportunity to come together as a world community and, so far at least, we have blown it. What began as an epidemic has become, with the assistance and blessings of people like Trump, a pandemic. Soon coronavirus will become endemic.

I can imagine a world where its leaders unite in a single voice and deliver a single message of sanity, unity and practical education, one that would have made it possible to instruct all members of the global society with a consistent mission statement. What we find ourselves with instead is a hodgepodge of differing policies, some of them anti-science nonsense.

What is needed is a consistent message. Yes, stay at home. Yes, practice social distancing. But there’s no reason why western powers cannot dip into their vast resources of wealth and provide ventilators for every contingency, gloves and masks for everyone, and education in the proper use of those gloves and masks. When we recall the desperate lengths the Republican Senate went to in order to force feed us the ridiculous 1.5 trillion dollar tax welfare bill for the super rich in 2018, we should not tolerate any complaint they may have about the cost of keeping Americans safe from this deadly pestilence.

There have been pockets of sanity and competence, to be sure. The government of New Zealand, under the enlightened leadership of prime minister Jacinda Ardern, has managed virtually to eliminate coronavirus in a short time. Its 1,115 cases to date resulting in a total of only 16 deaths across a population of five million makes New Zealand an exemplar of sanity and precaution. They achieved so much in so little time by observing strict adherence to protocols we all know — staying at home and social distancing and testing. Even more, they banned such common individual pursuits as hunting and swimming. New Zealand’s outcome resulted from the scrupulous adherence to advice taken from the best scientists and epidemiologists and was no overreaction. The results speak for themselves.

For the rest of us I fear these weeks of confusion and conflicting advice will not end so well. Two thousand twenty will be remembered as the year the earth stood still. Because a minority of Americans continue to defy the advice of good science and sane medicine, thousands of human beings will die, and even possibly millions.

Winter will bring the flu season, and there’s no reason why people cannot be both sick with the flu and sick with coronavirus. Such a combination could prove deadly. Worse still, coronavirus may mutate and hit us with a second lethal wave, as Spanish Flu did in 1918.

In the 1951 film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” the interplanetary messenger Klaatu delivers a speech that ends with these words: “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer.” I hope sanity carries the day and it doesn’t come to that. The world is waiting for the answer of those few worshippers of ignorance who continue to place us all in peril. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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