There is a meme going around in which Dr. Anthony Fauci, the medical professional that sometimes is allowed to talk at the daily White House coronavirus briefings, demonstrates a mask for surviving the coronavirus briefings themselves. Fauci holds up a roll of duct tape while Trump stands behind him with his mouth taped over.
When the supposed “leader of the free world” suggests injecting disinfectant to kill the COVID-19 virus, you know you’re in danger of not surviving coronavirus. But as deadly as the virus is, the idiocy coming out of Trump’s mouth is the more dangerous. Worse, perhaps, are the lengths his cult followers have gone to claim he didn’t say what he said or mean what he meant…all while basing their support of him on him “saying what he means and meaning what he says.” Yes, the mental contortion needed to make that seem not crazy is, well, crazy.
In any case, perhaps this latest fiasco will stop the daily coronavirus briefings (spelled, campaign rallies/pity-me sessions). But likely not. Trump needs to be in the public eye (spelled, riling up his cult base), so he’ll be back at the podium until he can go back on the road to do the big rallies that are his raison d’etre.
Former Bill Clinton press secretary and long-time political analyst Joe Lockhart has some tips for journalists trying to cover the daily “briefings.” They make a lot of sense, assuming journalists from different networks can collaborate somewhat with each other. Lockhart suggests journalists ignore Trump and direct their questions at Drs. Fauci and Birx, or anyone else who might actually know what they are talking about. When Trump tries to attack you (the journalists) or your news organization, say you work for the American people. Repeat the question when Trump doesn’t answer (or as is often the case, he tosses up incoherent word salad). When Trump tries to move on without answering, the next journalist repeats the same question. Lockhart suggests the press pool should bring in a medical correspondent who can ask the more technical questions. When he interrupts you, politely say you would appreciate it if he would let you finish the question. All of this is good advice for journalists.
But what about the rest of us? We are stuck watching the briefings on TV or our laptops without the opportunity to ask questions. So what do we do?
First off, don’t watch the briefing. They aren’t actual briefings anyway. Trump has been known to run up to two hours, with only a minimal amount of that time given over to the actual experts. Trump has a tendency to talk when it’s clear he has no clue what he’s talking about, in part because he is intellectually deficient and unprepared (he starts by reading a prepared text that he clearly has never seen before, then riffing idiotically [hence the disinfectant injection “idea”]), and in part because he sees these briefings as free campaign rallies. So at best there is very little useful information provided; at worst, Trump inspires people to endanger their lives or the lives of others (literally; poison control hotlines in every state have reported calls from people who tried injecting bleach or swallowing “hydroxychloroquine” tablets designed to kill algae in fish tanks). So don’t watch. Later, read reputable news coverage.
Second, unless you live in a “conservative Republican” state, check out your state Governor’s press conference. New York’s Governor Cuomo offers daily information useful to everyone, even if you don’t live in New York. Other Governors (both Democratic and Republican [e.g., MD, MA] may have less frequent press briefings, perhaps weekly, but they usually provide information that accurately informs their states but can be useful for other states. Know what the stay-at-home criteria are for your state. If you live in Georgia or Florida, listen to New York’s Cuomo since your Governor clearly isn’t listening to health experts.
Third, be wary of going out too soon. We will have a second wave of COVID-19. When people who have been sheltering at home start interacting with more of their neighbors, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in cases (and deaths) until such time as there is a vaccine. And a vaccine lilely isn’t coming until summer 2021 at the earliest. Social distancing in some form will be the norm until then, and perhaps to some extent even after.
Fourth, engage your family. Physical distancing will be necessary for a long time, but that doesn’t mean mental distancing. This is the time to take advantage of the “family time” created by working from home and remote schooling. Always wanted to try that new hobby? Do it now. Cooking, doing repair work around the home, puzzles, reading, playing with your kids. Start writing that novel. Keep a diary called “Surviving Quarantine” (or whatever). Explore what is important in life. Plan out that road trip you’ll take in 2021 or 2022. Save up for the big vacation you’ll want to take once it again becomes possible. Take advantage of various Zoom/Google Hangout/Facebook Live events. Check out museums/concerts/lectures/courses being made available for free during this home sequestration period. Do it all. But don’t do it as a sprint; it’s a marathon. Pace yourself.
Fifth, engage with others. The previous paragraph isn’t going to work so well for people who are essential workers because they likely have even less time and more stress than before the quarantine. Others have difficult family situations that are exacerbated by the close quarters (domestic abuse cases are up). Others don’t have the financial or physical resources to maintain physical distancing. Others are out of jobs and may not ever get them back. Still others find seclusion psychologically taxing; depression is a major problem even in the best of times, and these are clearly not the best of times. If you fall into one of these categories, please reach out as much as you can to friends and organizations available to help your particular situation. If you are privileged to be covered by the “Fourth” paragraph above, then reach out to other people in need. Deliver food to those in need. Man hotlines. Call/email/text family, friends, and online acquaintances who may be having a hard time. Donate to organizations that are stepping in to help.
Sixth, think about how this crisis has revealed the darkness in the hearts of some, and the inequality inherent in many of our systems, from the economy to health care to how government works. Change is always hard, but change will be necessary. Think about how we can make America work for all of us, not just the few.
This current crisis won’t end soon, but it will end. When it does, there will be a new normal. As Abraham Lincoln wrote in the midst of the Civil War:
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise–with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
We will get through this. And when we do, we must make bring our nation closer to what the Founders aspired to when they said “all men are created equal.” We must rediscover the soul of America. Only then can we nobly save the last best hope of Earth.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.