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Is it fair to blame Trump for deaths from COVID?

Trump is getting blamed for the deaths caused by COVID. Is this fair? It is after all a natural disaster not an act of human agency. Should he get the blame for all of the death and economic suffering from a natural cause that didn’t even start in this nation?

To answer this let’s try a thought experiment and imagine how this plays out in two parallel universes. One where America was actually intelligent and Mitt Romney is winding down the last year of his second term, and one where America is at least less stupid and Hillary Clinton is finishing her first and probably the only term. 

Alternate Universe 1:

If Mitt Romney had been put in in 2012 then on a global stage you would have seen Russia being treated as the greatest threat to our security that it is. And rather than cozy promises from Barry followed by Trump doing whatever tricks his master wanted just for a scratch behind the year, economically and politically they would have been constrained (and any Russian soldiers dumb enough to venture into the Ukraine would now be working as fertilizer for Ukrainian soil). Why is this important? Because it would mean that Russian actions over the last 8 years to destabilize the world order would have been challenged if not halted. This would mean a stronger NATO, a stronger WTO, that TTP along with numerous other trade agreements would be implemented, that Brexit and its Russian support would never have gotten off the ground. The world order would be more efficient. And because of that, and especially because of TTP, there would be less business centralization and more business in other nations. Now it’s hard to say if this would lead to less business in China or simply more business for everyone else with China holding about the same amount of growth, but what would be clear is that China would in a position where they would have to be more transparent. As they would be more transparent they would be revealing the severity of the first COVID outbreak weeks if not a month earlier. With that additional information work on a vaccine could have started weeks earlier (doesn’t seem like much—but with hundreds of thousands of infections a week, a two-week head start could mean a lot).

But let’s say that the disease still spreads out of China in this universe at the same rate, the fact is that a stronger international order could have worked to a faster consistent, and organized plan on how to deal with this. A united international order would likely have resulted in a must faster closing of flights, screening, and quarantine of passengers and perhaps better sharing of resources. No country wanted to be the first to close down its borders and flights because that was an obvious economic disaster, but international cooperation would have come with a perceived sharing of burdens and the spread could have been dealt with much faster. One of the key flaws of this entire process has been the lack of international cooperation anywhere. That breakdown can be placed squarely at the feet of Obama and Trump (not saying that Bush didn’t also have a hand in that, but 12 years of competence could have undone all the strain Bush put on the system). 

But once it got to US shores would Romney have done any better. The answer is obviously yes. As the spouse of someone with a severe immune disorder, he would already have been more open to the science side of this issue, would have not gutted the CDC pandemic response programs, and possibly there would have been more money to the CDC as he would have worked over the previous 8 years with Democrats across the aisle even if he had majorities in both houses because that’s the kind of guy he is, and the CDC would have been an easy thing that both sides could agree to give more money to—not saying a lot, but certainly not the dismissive nature that Trump has treated it with. He was also a cautious man so he probably would have been issuing guidelines for masks much earlier as it would come under the “it can’t hurt and it can only help” mentality, thus it would have reduced the spread, especially early on.

Further, his business background would have made sure those national stockpiles that both Obama and Trump ignored on medical supplies would be, if not fully stocked, at least in a better position.

Finally, there would no political fighting about masks. The government would be on a united front on this and thus the spread of the disease would be much slower.

In this situation, COVID-19 would probably still be in every state, but the curve would likely be far flatter. Further, as there would be more coordination the impact on business would be less (there would still be some but it would be less). We would be in roughly the same position as most European nations, still not fully open, still not firing on all cylinders, but in a stable place without mass unemployment and infection and death numbers greatly reduced. 

Alternate Universe 2

 Hillary Clinton is winding down her first, and likely final term as president.  

Not the great negotiator that her husband was or Romney could have been her relationships with the rest of the world would, like her predecessor be strained but not irreparable. She would, however, have likely signed TPP and thus China would have been boxed in again and some divestment of industry would have occurred from China meaning that there would have been less economic contact between China and the rest of the world, thus slowing down the spread, at least partially, but not as much as in Alternate Universe 1.

However, while some appointments may have been just as corrupt as Trump’s appointments, they would likely not be at the Cabinet-level and thus there would still have been competence running through the departments that oversaw issues of travel, trade, health, and other such issues.  

Given that Republicans would likely have held onto the House under a Clinton presidency, she would have taken a page from the previous Clinton administration and worked with conservatives, specifically Speaker Paul Ryan who would have never felt the need to resign in a universe where the Trump brand of idiocy and evil prevailed, thus the economy would be in a better place and the social safety net would be in a far better position and able to handle a new shock to the system (given Ryan’s fiscal genius and the Clinton propensity for making deals across the aisle there would likely be a yearly surplus in the budget and principal on the debt would have gone down instead of up as it has with Trump.)

Now the issue of calling for masks. The animosity and hatred of Clinton would probably have powered the alt-right still, however, the defeat of Trump would not have turned them into the powerhouse that they currently and they would be exiled to the fringes of internet trolling (where they belong) rather than in seats of power. Thus, while it is likely all government officials would provide a united front, there would still be a portion on the alt-right who would want rally all the same Karens to make the same ignorant “freedom” arguments against masks—but it would be a smaller segment and the spread would still be much slower.

There are of course thousands of other smaller issues and opportunities that the official government plans for these scenarios that would likely have been followed by literally ANY other president because following the official plan is what bureaucracies staffed with even barely competent people do. But Trump has gotten rid of most of the barely competent people because any level of intelligence has an aversion to working for him and so he only hires knuckle-dragging buffoons who praise him as the god-king he thinks he is. The fact is that more people died because of what Trump has done then would have happened under any other president, and thus he is responsible for those deaths. Can I give you an exact number?  No, but given that part of the problem is that his destruction of worldwide cooperation has helped this thing spread, he is morally (and in an ideal world legally) responsible for deaths the world over. But it’s not just him as I pointed out above the destruction of this worldwide cooperation began under Obama…because extremes of populism and progressivism are equally destructive and antithetical to the rational balance between moderate liberal and conservative thinking.   

So yeah it is fair to blame Trump for deaths, not all of them, but certainly a huge amount of them because the rapid spread is primarily responsible dd

And this is the real problem. It’s idiots who do things for stupid reasons. Idiots who gave us Trump, and Clinton, and Bernie, and Biden, and Cruz, and AOC, and Rand Paul, and every other buffoon currently in politics. These idiot elect morons who do stupid things, attack free markets and international agreements that would have lessened these disasters on numerous levels and thousands, perhaps millions by the time this is over, would not be dead from this disease and the economic hardships that come from handling it so ineptly.  

So, in the end, the most guilt goes not to Trump, or even Obama who helped destroy the international order that Trump only finished working to destroy, it goes to the morons out there who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 (doubly so if you did both acts of evil—seriously if you got it wrong both times ethically you’re guilty of crimes against humanity). And understand this is not a glowing endorsement for Biden and the Democrats, it’s not. We, the people of the United States are going to have to hold all of their feet to the fire of whoever is in power and demand we not give into isolationism just as much as we demand that we return to a policy of free trade and free markets with the world.  

 

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A Long-Term Case for Optimism

“The past can teach us, through experience, how to accomplish things in the future, comfort us with cherished memories, and provide the foundation of what has already been accomplished. But only the future holds life. To live in the past is to embrace what is dead. To live life to its fullest, each day must be created anew. As rational, thinking beings, we must use our intellect, not a blind devotion to what has come before, to make rational choices.”—Wizard’s Seventh Rule, The Pillars of Creation, Terry Goodkind

So, in a bizarre way to treat optimism let’s first look at how bad this is going to get. That may seem very counterintuitive but go with me on this for a minute. “Of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme,” says the Buddha as he calls for an awareness of death (maranasati)…and some research shows that there are emotional and intellectual benefits to contemplating our death. When you have faced the worst end, analyzed it, accept it, and moved on, you are no longer bounded by the fears of the the worst-case scenario.

The same is true of any terrible situation.
So, let’s deal with the worst that this could possibly be. COVID 19 at worst has a fatality rate of 4%, and we will probably have a second round of it next cold and flu season. That is upwards of 8% dead. In the US that is 26.4 million people. Worldwide that is 624 million people.
That is beyond tragic. That is over four times more than communism killed in its entire existence. That is somewhere between 56-100 times the deaths of the Holocaust. It is nearly everyone you know over 65, parents, friends, certainly grandparents, and depending on who is reading this, possibly you. A new word might need to be invented to deal with death at these levels.
I want everyone reading this to take a few minutes, maybe even days to consider this, and let it sink in. It will be horrible.
It’s okay, it’s worth crying over, worth being horrified by, and worth being revolted that more could not be done.
Let it sink in.
Okay? If not, maybe this is a time to stop reading and think about why you’re still not okay with this. Do you need to make amends with people who might be gone or who might lose you? Then why are you still reading and not doing that? Didn’t accomplish all you wanted in life? Again, if that’s what is really bothering you, you might want to deal with that while you have time. Didn’t’ go on that trip or buy that car or retire to that beach…you know these are the kind of moments that are supposed to make it clear that life isn’t things, and you may need to think about what is bothering you.
Okay, have we come to terms with this worst-case scenario?
Now let’s move on.
This is unspeakably terrible, but there is one thing it is not. It is not the end of the world.
The Black Death killed 50 million people in Europe. That sounds like a lot less but it was closer to 35-65% of the population of Europe. (Data on what it did in Asia is a little harder to get, but over the course of centuries it probably did a bang-up job there too). And you know what happened? Europe survived. Possibly two-thirds of the population gone. Two out of every three people dead. And Europe survived. This is a disease that strikes hardest at the elderly, which was a disease that was indiscriminate to age. And they survived. We will survive 8% of the population dying.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t’t care about the people who die, not do every reasonable and even a few unreasonable efforts to save them. But understand this will be tragic deaths of people we love—it will not be the end of the world. If a bunch of illiterate peasants who are civilized only by the barest of definitions can survive two-thirds of their civilization, we will survive. *
This is not the end of the world.
Let that sink in.
Really, let that sink in because to get to the optimism for the future this might come off as a little callous if you haven’t accepted the previous points.

The plagues that struck Athens which led to their conquest by the Spartans led to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The Black Death was followed by the Renaissance. The Napoleonic Wars led to the Industrial Revolution on the European Continent, and the Civil War was followed by the Industrial Revolution in America. WWI and the Spanish Flu were followed by the Roaring ’20s. And the post-WWII economics was nothing short of miraculous. The universe has a way of balancing great tragedy with a spectacular moment of growth economically, intellectually, and spiritually. I’m not saying that everything about these periods was great, but the good certainly outweighed the bad. And granted, not every great tragedy is followed by prosperity. But assuming we get better at what we’re doing (either by toughing it out until January, or maybe blessedly COVID will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue) and learn that the free market with light direction is often a better innovator to our problems, and then hopefully set the groundwork for prosperity when this passes—and this too shall—then we will rise from this better than before.
That might not seem logical, but consider that we’re already coping remarkably well. Restaurants are still serving people via delivery and so while they won’t be in a great situation come to the end of this, they will still be there and ready to grow again. Companies will find that most people can be more effective from home, and will probably find out that 30 hours from home (so long as they have support from the corporate office) will be more effective than 40 in the office for a lot of jobs, which will not only help bring about a new jump in productivity but hopefully give vast new hours for people to spend on pet projects, artistic endeavors, and side business possibilities. This is giving us the opportunity to put in a lot of automated systems that unions and regulation had previously stood in the way of, which will raise the quality of life for numerous people and drop the costs of products worldwide. I’m sure we will see a massive increase in the money for self-driving cars and drone delivery to help reduce human to human transmission of the COVID, which will have an unspeakably massive drop in transaction costs of almost every economic transaction. We have been on the verge of a change as great as the change from an agrarian culture to an industrial one—and it promises to be a world where there is far less poverty and institutional injustice, and it’s sad this is the price we may have to pay for that change, but it is a better world on the other side of this.

And if you’re still not convinced, let me be exceptionally coldly rational here. The average person over the age of 65 in the US has an average net value of over a million dollars. In the worst-case situation, you’re looking at 20 million senior citizens dead. I hate to be callous but, that’s $20 Trillion being pumped into the economy. Granted a good deal of that is in housing, which that kind of glut on the market will radically drop housing prices (but that is affordable housing that isn’t bad) …but that’s still about $10 Trillion being pumped into the economy in the next year and a half. This is terrible, but it relieves a huge strain on our safety nets which can give us the opportunity to fix them properly without having to cut the benefits of those who depend on them while we fix them to be sustainable.
If we think long term here and amidst trying to save as many as possible, but we also need to work to set the groundwork for the world that comes after. And that world is better with less government (which I think we can easily see how stupid and short-sighted government is), with more guardrails in government to prevent the idiotic and unethical from achieving power over anyone, with more efforts put into the technologies and innovations that can make our lives better, and by using the time to reflect on how much we do need human connection in our lives and how we need to re-establish a greater sense of community with others in our lives after this.

What I am not saying is that we should help those who are vulnerable to this disease, who are suffering from it, or who are afraid. We most certainly should be there for them in any way that we find we are able to without going further than we feel comfortable doing.
That we need to understand that it was globalization that gave us exposure to so many diseases before this that we had better immunities and that this will only be, at worst, 8% and not 20% or 70%.
We should take time to ask if this is the best plan to save the most people unlike right now which only cares about deaths from COVID ignoring that the economic harm we’re causing will also cause death from more suicide, accident, stress, domestic violence…and the fact is that I can’t find anyone seriously asking which will have more death, it would likely be COVID is the greater danger, I would just love to know somebody looked toward the long term…you know in a way the government never does.
That science and free markets are working hard to find solutions while governments dither and sputter in incompetence.
And that life is a mixture of good and bad, and we shouldn’t give up on the good just because of terrible, but undeniably momentary, bad.
The world on the other side of this is easily a better one than behind us. Take comfort in that.

*A caveat. I know there are some older parents out there who are worried that they might not be there for their children. I wish I could transfer my faith that the universe is an ordered place, and that they will not be challenged with anything more than they can take, and any loss they endure will be a loss they knew about coming into this life and that it will give them the opportunity for growth. But I can’t transfer that faith. I can only advise that you seek some reconciliation with your own beliefs. But I understand that logically there is probably nothing I can do to ally your fears.

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