I took a week’s break to celebrate the eight-day Biblical festival of Pesach (Passover). In Orthodox practice — i.e., in authentic Jewish practice — Passover outside Israel begins with two holy days that are observed with almost all the same rules as Shabbat (Sabbath), and it ends with two similarly holy days. The four days in between are quasi-sanctified, quasi-secular. (In Israel, the holiday instead is seven days, with the first and last days fully sacred and the five days in between quasi-quasi.) I took the week celebrating Indoor Passover. No guests, no kids, no family, just coronavirus-precautionary, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.
The unfortunate thousands who now count yourselves among my regular readers in The American Spectator know that I am not shy and see things pretty much in black and white. But I admit that I remain unsure about the best public policy to follow amid the coronavirus scourge. I can make a strong argument either way. I just don’t know which is wiser. I can argue that it was perilously wrong to shut down the economy and drive so many into bankruptcy, drive people onto government assistance, leave people facing eviction from homes because of mortgage or rent payments they never failed to make before. That it was wrong to print up billions and trillions of dollars in government payouts that we cannot afford amid our $25 trillion national debt. I can make the argument very persuasively that the demonstrators in Michigan and elsewhere are right to demand reopening their economies. In that argument, I can say that, c’mon, the people in danger and high risk are people over 60 and those with preexisting chronic conditions that impact especially their hearts, lungs, blood pressure, diabetes, and such. So, yes, it is they who should stay indoors — but, for goodness sakes, not everyone else. That we cannot let a generation of kids miss a term of school, college students miss a term of undergraduate studies, and the whole darn economy freeze and die when perfectly healthy people can be out there, working, providing services, and — worst comes to worst — they will get a fever, a sore throat, and some chills for three days. Big freaking deal. Just stay home for a few days, wash your hands, cough into your sleeves or a tissue that you throw out, and get sleep and vitamins. I can make that argument quite compellingly and comfortably.
But I also see the other side. First: It is fabulous that people in their 20s are not now in college. Let their heads clear for a few months. That allows them to grow up and to be spared six months of brainwashing and social-psychological intimidation into the terrible choice of (i) either you are for Bernie and communism or (ii) no one will be your friend — your comrade — and the girls and guys on your dorm floor won’t sleep with you. But there is far more to say than that in favor of the lockdown approach. People in their 30s, 40s, and 50s also have dropped like flies with this thing. This may be a virus and it may be a flu, but it is not “the” virus and “the” flu that we get every winter. This is something that comes once in a century. Boris Johnson, the rare Brit whom I really like — I still cannot forgive most of them for closing the Gates of Israel to refugees from Hitler in the 1940s — opted for the “herd immunity” approach: Just leave it alone, keep the economy and schools open, go to soccer games (as though life or any aspect of health ever would be worth sacrificing for soccer), go about your daily whatever, keep the pubs open. OK, some several thousands of people will die — sorry, but that is how it goes with any annual flu season. Still, soon enough, the far greater mass of coronavirus survivors will have acquired antibodies to assure a “herd immunity” that basically all but eradicates the disease from everyday life — kind of like the way we overcame chicken pox, the measles, and Elizabeth Warren’s presidential candidacy. As to the “old people” — i.e., seniors over 60, the immunocompromised, and those with high-risk chronic conditions — well, yes, they should remain home, indoors, safe, protected. But not the whole country.
So that was Britain’s approach. OK, fine. And it turned out that, while it sounded smart, the thing backfired so badly that Dear Ol’ Boris himself almost dropped dead. In no time flat, England joined the party and started closing down the economy, quarantining. Just like us, they also suddenly could not find Bounty paper towels or Kleenex toilet paper, suffering like us from the hoarding by maniacs that leaves us normal people with nothing but “earth-friendly” alternative products like toilet paper made of earth-friendly bamboo, which is akin to assuring one’s personal hygiene by using sandpaper. And what a job sandpaper does — a tush as smooth as that of a newborn baby. And just as much screaming. May Ocasio-Hyphen always use earth-friendly products on her orifices.
Look at the British approach by the headlines reporting on it:
One of the strongest impacts on me as I developed my own sense of the best public policy for coronavirus concerns was watching this 40-minute YouTube film regarding the misnomered 1918 Spanish Flu. It showed me that social distancing saved lives, and the lack of careful social distancing wiped out populations. Particularly striking was a “Liberty Loan” parade in Philadelphia that aimed to encourage patriotic Americans to support our World War I effort by buying bonds. While other cities were cutting back on packed public events, the mayor of Philadelphia was determined not to squelch the patriotic party. The parade was hugely attended, and the city emerged a few weeks later as the hardest hit in America, with between 12,000 and 20,000 dying. The deceased did not buy more bonds.
So I admit that I have been unsure on this as to ideal public policy. It is clear, in retrospect, that Italy screwed up majorly (if there is such an adverb). Italy did it to itself by allowing the people’s freely elected Communist Party leaders to enjoy enough governmental power to tie the country economically to China. Even after some of those communists were no longer in power, their damage continued, and China substantially owns large parts of the Italian economy. No surprise Italy had coronavirus carriers coming and going throughout the northern region, leaving them exposed as a country of peeking ducks.
In America, it seems New York messed up badly. How fascinating that the Left media, a branch of the Democrat Party, has elevated Andrew Cuomo as the Coronavirus Hero in contradistinction to President Trump! With literally half of all coronavirus deaths in America (27,674) stemming from New York (13,684), it seems pretty obvious that New York uniquely screwed up. Yes, the city and state are highly compactly populated. Yes, it is an international city that has visitors coming from and going to everywhere. Yes. And Cuomo and de Blasio uniquely screwed up. Liars can figure, but figures don’t lie. While others were socially distancing, de Blasio’s hand-picked Health Commissioner, Oxiris Barbot — remind me never to name any child of mine “Oxiris” — was urging New Yorkers to avoid the xenophobia of President Trump and to turn out in large masses for public events marking the Chinese New Year. I am Jewish, so I mark humankind’s new year at Rosh Hashanah time in September (and also the Jewish new year in April as the Biblical new month of Nisan begins). But I would not be surprised if this year’s Chinese New Year in New York was the Year of the Moron.
Here is what I know. At this writing we have 27,674 deaths in the United States from China Virus 2019. We have 5,668 flu deaths. And if we had not implemented social distancing and the economic shutdown, those coronavirus deaths by now would be exponentially more — 50,000 and maybe even 100,000. This thing is a kind of flu, but it is not the flu that kills 12,000–60,000 Americans every 12 months. There is no known vaccine. Large numbers of the population do not carry antibodies to it. And so many people in our expanded circles are dying; that never happens in a standard flu year.
No country really has this thing figured out yet. They all are doing it by the seat of their pants. They don’t even know how to treat it, really. Everyone is trying to acquire ventilators for sufferers, but 88 percent of coronavirus patients on ventilators in New York have died. So who knows whether or not the science has a clue on this one yet. Singapore seems to have better numbers, but they publicly beat the living daylights out of people with hard wooden canes if they do not do what they are told. Taiwan-Formosa, the China that America shamefully sold down the river under Jimmy Carter in 1979, has good coronavirus numbers, but they also fudge democracy and freedoms. So I compare America’s response and situation with that of Israel because the two societies are similar, have similar approaches to freedom and democracy, have had dynamic free-market economies (that are compromised by unfortunate socialist interferences), and have strong heads of government whom the media and Left hate with frenzied derangement and whom the political opposition wants to lock up. Yet each leader seems to know, as best as one can, what he is doing.
America and Israel have been following very similar approaches. The economies have been locked down, with the government leaders determined to reopen as soon as possible. People are hurting economically — really badly. A guy just killed himself in Israel because they would not let him reopen his fruit stand in the famous Machaneh Yehuda farmer’s market. Unemployment has gone through the roof in both countries. Small businesses are teetering on the edge. In America a run on paper products; in Israel an insane run on eggs before Passover. But they both have followed the same basic plan of closing down the economy amid social distancing. It is what it is. In Israel, the one or two unique demographic communities that, because of certain outlier reasons, did not immediately buy into the social distancing and lockdown rules have comprised half of all coronavirus cases and deaths. Now those communities are on the program. They seem to have gotten the memo.
Armchair quarterbacks have the luxury of opining. If proven right, they can proclaim: “Tolja so! Tolja so!” If wrong, they will defend with, “I never said that. I never said that.”
The reality is that, if Trump or Netanyahu or any such leader had closed down the national economy before the coronavirus scourge started killing people like flies, they would have been destroyed politically. No head of government dared — or could have dared … or should have dared — to close down anything early on. We all know that China sends us another international plague every few years — SARS, Avian flu/Bird Flu, H1N1/Swine Flu. The wet markets and garbage that they eat there — the bats, the snakes, the dogs … all often partly or fully alive — repeatedly bring these scourges to the West. They pollute food and food products with all kinds of toxins — lead paint, body hairs, poisonous chemicals that just slip in. Yet none of the prior recent China plagues has done this degree of damage. So there was no way for politicians to justify closing down economies in January. In America, Pelosi and her crew gleefully used the time to tie up the country with impeachment and then the guessing game of whether or not it would be brought to the Senate. Every fair-minded person knows this. It is only because democracy has a side of it that is ugly and disgusting, even though it is the best form of government that exists over the long haul, that we see liars and cynics among Democrats and their affiliated Media blaming Trump.
As if Hillary would have done better. She could not even see what was unfolding in Libya on her watch, while her diplomats were begging for more protection. Biden, meanwhile, has been wrong on each and every major issue on which he has opined for 30 years. The premise that any of them would have done better than Trump is absurd. The only thing they would have done differently is that they would have allowed the Dead Obama Economy to stagnate with 7-8 percent unemployment and the Dow Jones average at 20,000 before the coronavirus plague ever hit. Thus, with their equally unsuccessful effort in managing COVID-19, the economy would have been eradicated on their watch. We now would be economically somewhere between Gambia (major import: foreign aid) and Venezuela. By contrast, Trump stoked the economy so extraordinarily — the Dow at 29,000, unemployment at 3 percent, and all systems go — that there was room to absorb the blow.
American history’s greatest presidents have been those who encountered unbearable challenges that marked their tenure. Washington had the Revolutionary War and the need to create a viable free republic. Adams and Jefferson had to follow up, and both risked their very lives by standing for freedom from England. Andrew Jackson, who already had overcome adversity in battling the British in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans as part of fighting to preserve America’s independence, and in staving off Indian attacks in such showdowns as the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the First Seminole War, ultimately rose to the White House, where he successfully faced down South Carolina’s threat of secession, dismantled the Second Bank of the United States, became the only president ever to pay off America’s existing debt completely, signed the Indian Removal Act, and recognized the Republic of Texas. Lincoln had the Civil War. FDR had the Second World War. Reagan brought about the fall of the Soviet Union. These were the majority of the great ones. Theodore Roosevelt and James Polk were the rare greats who leveraged peace time to initiate history-changing developments, and they eventually had major achievements of their own: TR busted the trusts, regulated the railroads, launched work on the Panama Canal, brought forth the Square Deal, and won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Polk successfully fought wars with Mexico and expanded the country from ocean to ocean.
Thank G-d it is Trump and not Biden at the helm now. If we ever do have Biden at the helm, we will be at the mercy of those around him because, dear soul that he is, he barely knows where he is, what he is running for, or which female accuser he is running from. Now it is Trump’s moment for history. Trump faces a tough test because there truly are limited options. He has done magnificently on so many fronts for three years, but history may well judge and remember him for the last thing in the world he ever would have expected: how he handled the pandemic and how he got us out.