Measuring Trump’s Covid Failure

One of the key takeaways from the revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book is that Trump is not as stupid as he makes himself out to be on television.  After weeks of consulting with some of the best infectious disease experts in the world, he actually understood at a childish level how viruses are contracted and transmitted.  While this revelation may raise one’s assessment of Trump’s intelligence slightly, it further demolishes any notion that he is anything other than a pathological liar.  Trump sees this crisis, as he sees everything, in completely self-promoting terms. 

The problem is that the virus is not interested in his politics.  The only quest of the virus is finding uncovered human orifices.  And Trump has done the virus the great favor of making certain that as many Americans as possible avail their orifices to as intense an exposure to it as possible.  That is why the US will have the worst rate of Covid deaths in the developed world.

Notice the qualifiers in the previous sentence:  the US will have the worst death rates in the near future, and those death rates should be measured relative to the developed world.  It is almost certain that countries with extreme poverty and mediocre health care infrastructures will soon surpass the US in Covid deaths.  The developing world, however, has never been the standard by which the US has measured its success.

The global measures employed commonly in mainstream media are frustrating and open to manipulation by such an effective liar as Trump.  For months, newscasters have properly asserted that the US represents only 4% of the world’s population yet accounts for about 25% of Covid cases and deaths.  The liar-in-chief can easily counter such claims, though, with the assertion that the reason we have so many cases is that we test so effectively.  This is not true, but it is a complex enough matter to seem true, and that is sufficient for the Trump cult.  Of course, he rarely mentions death and then only in the context of co-morbidity.  In other words, those who died from Covid were probably not long for this earth in any case.

All of this raises the issue of what should be the simple and clear measure by which we might assess Trump’s response to the pandemic.  In this age of information, it is easy to get confused in the fog of numbers available.  Confusion can occur both with regard to the reliability of numbers and their meaning.  For example, the US will continue to represent 4% of the world’s population.  Its share of Covid deaths, however, will certainly decline from the 25% it currently sustains.  This decline in the US portion of Covid deaths, though, should NOT be asserted as an improvement in the US situation.  It only means that the number of deaths in poorer countries will have risen.  Right-wing media will nevertheless trumpet the relative decline in the US portion of the world total as conclusive evidence that Trump is a stable and effective genius.

The table below attempts to provide data that is both meaningful and reliable.  It conveys data only relative to the G7 countries, which are commonly regarded as among the most advanced societies on earth.  These countries should provide the standard by which the US measures itself.  Column 1 identifies each of the G7 countries.  Column 2 provides the most meaningful statistic over the long term: Covid deaths per 100,000 population.  The third and fourth columns indicate deaths on April 16, 2020 and on September 11, 2020.  These comparative numbers will show the general trend in Covid deaths as well as provide a sense for the effectiveness of the various G7 countries and the failure of the US in addressing the challenge of the pandemic.  Mid-April represents the height of the global pandemic in most of the G7 countries.  September 11 was chosen because it is recent and carries some symbolic value. 

Covid-19 Death Rates in G7 Countries

CountryDeaths/100,000 popDeaths on 4/16/2020Deaths on 9/11/2020Total DeathsTotal Population
Canada24.131070917038,000,000
France47.551438803091065,000,000
Germany11.222851942184,000,000
Italy59.33578103560360,000,000
Japan1.1410111439126,000,000
United Kingdom61.21102964162368,000,000
United States58.6124381004194000331,000,000

These statistics show that only one country of the G7 has failed to contain the spread of the virus and limit its deadliness.  The other members of the G7 had a combined Covid death count of 128,166 on 9/11/2020 out of a total population of 441 million.  The US had 66,000 more deaths with a population that is 110 million less than the other six members of the G7.  This fact alone should put to rest any notion that Trump has been successful in addressing the pandemic.  But there is more.

The US will soon surpass by far the deaths per 100,000 population of Italy and the UK because a much higher portion of our population continues to die on a daily basis.  It should be noted that all of the G7 countries except the US and UK had brought their daily death rates below 100 by July 1.  For those who argue that the reason the US maintains such high death rates is that we became exposed to the virus later than Europe and Asia, they need to explain the particular success of Canada in minimizing fatalities. 

While the numbers selected here might seem arbitrary, the patterns they represent are not.  The greatest distortion in this chart is the 80 deaths in France on 9/11.  The daily death average in France since August has been much lower, less than 20.  Canada’s 0 deaths on 9/11 is not as much of an anomaly as it might seem.  Canada has only on a few occasions had more than ten covid daily deaths since mid-August. The combined daily deaths of the other 6 nations of the G7 is currently below 100.  It is the exceptional day when our death count dips into triple digits.  It is an exceptional day when the death counts of the other G7 nations rises to triple digits.  This death disparity is the ultimate measure of Trump’s failure, and no one should listen to a word he says until he explains it. 

The other countries of the G7 respect science.  They trust the ability of their governments to provide good guidelines for managing both the health and economic challenges of the pandemic.  Because those countries have undertaken effective nationwide testing and tracing regimens, they have earned the right to send their children back to school.  They have earned the right to reopen their plants and factories.  They have earned the right to attend public events that inspire mind, body, soul, and spirit.  They have earned the right to enjoy the benefits of a properly functioning society.  They have earned the right to pity us.

We in the United States have not earned the right to send our children back to school and reopen our economy.  The metrics for doing so entail establishing a NATIONAL regimen for testing, tracing, and isolating.  Our current leadership ignores the success of our G7 associates and refuses to implement their programs.  Instead, we are bombarded with lies and exaggerations about the efficacy of UV rays, bleach, hydroxychloroquine, convalescent plasma, and herd immunity.  We are dangled the promise of an effective vaccine by election day, but it will be authorized by an FDA and CDC that has been politicized and discredited.  Trump is already using the unproven vaccine as a political weapon by claiming that those skeptical of it want Americans to die. 

The data above indicate that at least 90% of the Covid deaths that have occurred in the United States over the last three months are unnecessary and the direct result of Trump’s failed leadership.  We should not forget those moments three months ago when Trump criticized governors for following CDC guidelines by closing schools, businesses, and indoor assemblies.  We should also not forget those Republican governors who mocked the closures, prematurely reopened, and continue to pay deadly consequences for their ignorance and arrogance to this day.  Finally, we should not forget the entire body of Republican elected officials who have had nothing meaningful to say about the pandemic whatsoever.  They have all fallen in silent lockstep behind Trump.  It is a political party of lemmings that has turned us all into suckers and losers.

But it is not just Republican politicians, it is the media cheerleaders at Fox and in the Sinclair web of local television stations that have played a role in undermining respect for scientific authority.  They have systematically and persistently misinformed the public about Covid and other key challenges the country faces.  They have falsely claimed that children do not transmit the disease and that Covid is not threatening to anyone under the age of 50 who does not have co-morbidities.  They have touted herd immunity and the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine.  The list of covid misinformation could continue for pages. 

But it is not just covid.  They claim that the wildfires in the western states are not the product of the dryness that has occurred as a result of increased evapotranspiration due to rising temperatures.  Instead they blame the increase in wildfires on poor forest management, echoing another line of Trumpian nonsense.  They assert that the 2008 financial crisis was not the product of a deregulated derivatives market that fed corporate greed in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries.  No, Fox Business claims that the true cause of the 2008 collapse was that evil government regulations forced banks to provide mortgages to people who could not afford them.  This, of course, is just another racist way of blaming the poor and minorities for problems created by the wealthy and powerful.  It is important for Republicans that they look anywhere for the origins of problems except the mirror.

The source for the idea of American exceptionalism is contained in the Founders’ phrase novus ordo saeclorum, the New Order for the Ages.  The US Constitution encodes the key ideals of that exceptionalism.  The writers of the constitution embraced Enlightenment notions of science, equality, and the importance of education in making not just our country but the world a better place.  The original motto for the nation was another Latin phrase, e pluribus unum.  Inherent in that expression is the belief that our diversity of people, philosophies, and values was a strength that would play out in our political discourse and inspire the rest of the world toward similar understandings.

The only thing exceptional about Trump’s America is its dreadfulness.  We cannot make America great again when we have lost a basic understanding for the source of that greatness.  Under Trump, our global leadership role in upholding democratic norms and human rights has been completely abandoned.  In the void, the world’s dictators have advanced.  Putin, in particular, has achieved every major objective of Russian policy.  He has done so while paying bounties for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan, with hardly a word from any elected Republican. 

The rise of Putin with Republican acquiescence has disturbing parallels to the rise of Hitler.  Among the chief parallels is the absolute silence and active collusion of the Republicans in both.  Why do Republicans not seem the least bit interested in finding out how much money Trump owes to Russian oligarchs?  Why was the Mueller investigation prohibited from examining the key financial ties between Trump and the Kremlin?  Why do Republicans not seem the least bit interested in examining the credible allegations of Russian involvement in our elections?  It is exceedingly difficult to see Trump as anything other than the culmination of a decades long Russian intelligence operation.  It is hard not to imagine some former KGB agents at the end of the Cold War asserting that the US system was so corrupt and the American public so gullible that they could maneuver a Trump presidency.  Yesterday, Alexander Vindman referred to Trump as “Putin’s useful idiot.”  It is hard to see it otherwise.

We stand before the abyss.  It will take all of our efforts to work out of this crisis in a way that preserves the ideals of this country for our children and grandchildren.  Covid will either be used by a corrupted Republican party to end once and for all our experiment with government of, by and for the people; or 2020 will be an inflexion point toward a new political order not manipulated by the world’s dictatorships but inspired by the founding ideals and a vision for a novus novus ordo saeclorum.

10 thoughts on “Measuring Trump’s Covid Failure

  1. Well done Sam!
    You lay it out very clearly. And imagine, using data to support your assertions!
    I will forward this to some of my family and friends, and I would not be surprised if they do the same.
    Thank you Sam….

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    1. I’ve appreciated, Mike, the many exchanges we have had on these topics. You have always brought an evenness of temper and spirit of understanding to those discussions that have kept me from falling too far into the debilitating anger that this situation can evoke. You have pushed me to consider the distinction between the evils of Trump as a cultural phenomenon and the many good-hearted people who nevertheless support him. The situation requires patience and humility, but these are hard to maintain when the time is limited and so much is at stake.

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  2. Sam
    I forgot how good you are at presenting a powerful case and interpretation of the data that needs to guide our decisions. Just wish those that are making those decisions were listening. I will definitely share.

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  3. You know, Bill, I have always felt my special gift was making fun of Jim at a very sophisticated level. Writing about Trump is not nearly as enjoyable. Hopefully, I will be able to resume my real talents after November 3.

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  4. Excellent Sam! As a retired educator – and proud father of Mike McCall – I’ve sometimes flirted with faulting, at least in part, the institution of American schools and colleges for their role in failing to more successfully educate its students in the skills of critical thinking. I include myself in that suspicion. You adeptly point out in this blog a deep and vast vacuum in many of our fellow citizen’s ability to distinguish between objective data and propaganda…be it subtle or blatant. However, the clarity, objectivity and skill displayed in your persuasive blog represents, to me, the very best in our professional educator’s commitment and ability to instruct and model the intellectual development our democracy requires. (Of course, my objectivity “smells” with bias….LOL!!). Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Gordon, for your kind words. On many occasions I have had the great pleasure of sitting with your son and drinking Jim Bell’s excellent wines. I have gotten to know something about you and Bev in these exchanges. Suffice it for now to say that your son is every bit as proud of the both of you as you are of him!

      Your concern with the education system in the US is well-founded. The system of education, however, is the product of a deeper problem in society. The details of this problem would not be appropriate to examine here. The core of the problem, though, is the system of values that has come to define our culture. Not to get too Biblical here, but Jesus said quite clearly that it is impossible to serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). Our corporations and their lawyers have created a culture in which corporations are people and money is speech. It is hard to imagine greater heresy.

      The corruption of money has distorted our educational, religious, and political systems. When money defines a culture to that extent, it is possible for a man to be elected who has owed over $2 billion to a foreign bank that has already been convicted of laundering money for Russian kleptocrats. In the meantime, that which passes itself off as Christianity in the US has a leader of a self-proclaimed moral majority who used tax-exempt donations to fund sex orgies with his pool boy. Trump is the product of a fundamentally broken culture.

      The good news is that we can no longer carry any illusions about the superiority of our institutions. The rest of the world looks to us not for inspiration but with pity and dread. They will be there to help us much in the same way that we were there to help rescue them from an earlier megalomaniacal racist. The most inspiring factor, though, is the large numbers of young people whose energy and idealism are increasingly evident on the streets and in the various media. Among the most inspiring thing I have seen in the last few years was the response of the high school students in Parkland Florida to the mass shootings there. Many of my own students at Valencia High School have inspired me in similar ways.

      It is said that it is always darkest before the dawn. It is time to wake up and see the sunrise!

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      1. Great points, especially about the advocacy of the youth, educated by people like yourself.
        The problem of money, where do you start? Is it money, or is it capitalism? Has capitalism been too successful and thus less self reflective as it encourages us to drain Mother Nature’s garden and over populate the planet. The Black Lives Matter movement caused me to re-emphasize the continuity between imperialism and its exploiotative racism, which was so entrenched that three years after WWII ended, nobody blinked at the imposition of apartheid in South Africa.
        I hope that inequity is a problem that we can fix. We are in a kind of purgatory between eras and we may have to jettison our standard notions of capitalism and/or socialism as cures. The Cold war debate is so irrelevant now. The problem is that no new paradigm has emerged. The opportunity is now.

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  5. I have a bunch of observations, partly inspired by yesterday’s announcement that Trump has become a bit too intimate with Covid 19.
    First, much of the response to the virus is not particularly scientific. I have been teaching about the Black Death for years and now I find out that our treatment is more or less the same as the 14th century: quarantine and distancing. I also teach African history, and was surprised to learn that, by and large, Africa is handling the pandemic better than we are. It isn’t so much scientific knowleedge that we lack, it is the lack of discipline to do what works. Our fearless leader is the poster boy for lack of discipline, but I think it is a larger cultural problem. The Africans aren’t going to wait for a vaccine, in p “evidence -based socieytart because they have been repeatedly burned by pharmaceutical companies, but their communal sensibility leads them to work together. Trump is not off the hook, but I think we need to acknowledge our collective responsibility. We want to wait for the vaccine.
    Second, there is a tension between those who want to follow the science and those who are concerned about the economy. Ironically, both sides of the partisan war over this have the same objectives: ridding the world of the virus and rebuidling the economy. Yet we are incapable of recognizing the shared goals and instead maximize the differences which has the deleterious effect of screwing up both the management of the virus and the restarting of the economy. It is obvious that the economy cannot function while the virus is on a rampage. It is also obvious that the collapse of the economy could well be as deadly and disasterous as the virus. For the record, I believe that the virus needs to be dealt with first, but I am concerned that the inability of the two sides to even listen to each other magnifies the problem. The are probably a lot of reasons for this, but the most immediate is Trump and the Republicans politicising of the mask.
    Perhaps somewhere there is a study that looks at the correlation between the evangelical movement and the ant-science and conspiratorial audience. Right now US society is divided between a “belief” culture and an “evidence-based” culture. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to argue across the divide. Can’t there be a way to create a
    separate domain for beleif that doesn’t interfere with the scientific world. As Galileo put it, “the bible is a guide to how to get to heaven, but it doesn’t explain how the heavens work.” (paraphrase)

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    1. Thank you, Sam, for sharing your perspectives. Your observations on the African viewpoint are profound and exactly the kind of global standpoint that is so lacking in our media analysis. Whether its Fox or MSNBC, we rarely get reports from how other parts of the globe have more successfully engaged the pandemic. My essay had the bias of looking at only the “advanced industrial” societies. Your response provided an important corrective showing that wealth is not a measure of leadership on this matter.

      I also appreciated your reference to the role of religion as a barrier to understanding the science behind the pandemic. This seems to get to the heart of the matter in the US and raises the biggest dilemma. It is difficult to separate my contempt for Trump and all he represents from my feelings toward those well-intentioned people who voted for him. Many of these are people whom I like and even members of my family whom I love. Their faith is a large part of why they support him. It is hard to understand, but it does not make them bad people. In many ways, they are far more generous and moral people than me. I suspect, though, that their support for Trump is the product of the constricted media bubble that prevails in the US. We do a lot of navel gazing in this country. Social media has only exacerbated this.

      I have been trying to write a more formal response to your Unity post but have been frustrated in putting something together that seems appropriate. For one, it is difficult to write from the emotional state of anger and despair that prevails in my soul. While writing it might be therapeutic for me, it does not seem to have much to offer an audience of people who mostly agree with me already. Second, the events of the last week seem to have altered the political framework in a way that provides some basis for optimism. The “Proud Boys” moment in the debate as well as the “super spreader” event in honor of Amy Coney Barrett seems to have put Trump’s racism and Covid failure front and center in a way that is hurting him with many of his more reluctant supporters. I hope that on November 3, we can begin to heal from this experience and rejoin our place in the world in upholding Enlightenment principles of human equality, democratic government, and scientific rigor.

      Living in Orange County and having had a number of conversations with reasonable Trump supporters, I have drawn one major conclusion: people will not take Covid 19 seriously until it affects them directly and severely. The pandemic thus far, though, has hit hardest the aged, the poor, and the minority. Those in the bubbles of White privilege have opportunities to mitigate the dangers of Covid because they enjoy relatively safe work and home environments. The most dangerous places to be these days include packing plants, prisons, and convalescent hospitals. In other words, the pandemic has hit those communities hardest among those on the margins of society. The poorer you are, the more likely you are to actually know someone who has died from Covid. Herman Cain aside, many Trump supporters tacitly support some version of herd immunity (as part of their herd mentality).

      You and I have both spent a lot of time imagining what living in 1930s Germany must have been like – you far more so than me. We have read plenty about those “good Germans” who supported Hitler but were not ideological Nazis. My sense is that this included about the same portion of Protestants in Germany as Evangelicals in the US that support Trump. My sense is that this included about the same portion of German Catholics as White Catholics that support Trump. At the end of the war these Christians could claim with some degree of validity that they simply did not know what Hitler was doing to Jews and others in those remote parts of the Reich. Perhaps they did not know. Perhaps they chose not to know.

      I hate myself for doing this, Sam, but Martin Niemöller continues to haunt me. With apologies to you, the pastor, and the arbiters of banality.

      First they separated the families,
      And I did not speak out
      Because my family wasn’t separated

      Then they bombed the Yemenis,
      And I did not speak out
      Because I was not a Yemeni.

      Then they forced the immigrant workers back into the packing plants,
      And I did not speak out
      Because I was not an immigrant worker.

      Then they killed Black people
      And I did not speak out
      Because I was not a Black man

      I have often thought that not long after the Enabling Act, there were only three places a moral person in Germany could be: dead, in prison, or underground. I have been living in some degree of anxiety that November 3 might bring about our Reichstag Fire moment. I try not to dwell on it. I’m too old and stupid to go underground. The other two choices are pretty much the same. I hope that I am a moral person.

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    2. Sam, to me the problem with religion is that it promotes belief without evidence, and one-upmanship ( my religion is THE religion). It is by nature anti-science, and the religious person sees himself as separate from and superior to his fellow man and from nature itself. Spirituality, on the other hand, is about the oneness of it all, and the spiritual man is able to see and appreciate the divinity in scientific discoveries, and the wonder of the world around and his place in it. So yes, it is possible to “marry” science and spirit- but humankind has not yet evolved to that point yet. It will happen eventually, but much suffering may need to take place first.

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