At times like this, it’s helpful to remember the last words of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick. The veteran general led the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac in Gen. U. S. Grant’s spring 1864 offensive in Virginia. After the Battle of the Wilderness, Grant’s army made a flank march to Spotsylvania Court House, where Sedgwick’s corps formed the center of the Union position. On the morning of May 9, the general went to inspect his front line, and some of his troops warned him not to expose himself to the incoming fire from Confederate sharpshooters. Because the Rebel line was about a half-mile away, Sedgwick scoffed at this caution: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at that distance.” He was wrong — a Southern rifleman put a bullet through his eye, and Sedgwick died instantly.
That’s an apt metaphor for my attitude about the coronavirus outbreak. Because liberals in the media are doing everything they can to incite panic over the disease, I consider it my duty as a conservative not to panic. This is like Gen. Sedgwick, who sought to give his troops an example of heroic fearlessness by his disdain of Confederate marksmanship. But my refusal to panic is not merely a political pose; I sincerely doubt the impact of coronavirus in the United States will approach anything like the worst-case scenarios being discussed on TV news. Worst-case scenarios seldom happen. To quote Calvin Coolidge: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”
My sanguine confidence, however, is tempered by the fact that some people whose judgment I trust — among them American Spectator publisher Melissa Mackenzie — are worried that conservatives are underestimating the risk of coronavirus becoming a real pandemic (see, for example, “U.S. Coronavirus Policy: Don’t Test, Don’t Tell,” March 6). Already, there have been 21 reported deaths from the virus in the United States, 16 of those deaths linked to a single nursing home in Washington State. More than 500 people in 34 states and the District of Columbia have tested positive for coronavirus, including one patient from New Jersey who attended the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Because I covered that conference, I might be at risk, along with the thousands of conservative activists who attended. Being “at risk,” however, is not synonymous with endangered or threatened. I haven’t bothered to get tested, because I don’t have any symptoms, and why should the health-care system be forced to deal with an otherwise healthy person merely because of a hypothetical risk of contagion?
While fear-stricken hypochondriacs are stampeding Costco to buy out all the hand sanitizer, I’m endeavoring to remain calm and doing no more than routine hygiene. What is the responsible thing to do? Am I supposed to be worried? Am I like Gen. Sedgwick, foolishly joking about something that might actually kill me? Germs are not bullets and, as dangerous as coronavirus may be, its lethality seems mainly limited to the elderly. Well, I’m 60, but still vigorous enough to feel confident that my immune system can cope with a virus (to which I may or may not have been exposed).
You know what’s bad for your immune system? Stress. You know what’s stressful? Being scared you’re going to die because you’ve been watching too many coronavirus updates on cable-TV news. So I try to ignore the coverage as much as possible, and figure that CNN and MSNBC are hyping up the coronavirus threat for the same reason they spent three years hyping up Russian “collusion” — they think it’s a way to damage President Trump. Last week, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace hosted a panel discussion that turned into a pep rally for coronavirus, as she and her guests expressed the hope that this would become a pandemic that would hurt Trump as much as Hurricane Katrina damaged George W. Bush’s presidency.
The numbers certainly don’t seem to justify such speculation. The total of coronavirus deaths so far are but a tiny fraction of the number who die from influenza in an average year (e.g., 34,000 during the 2018–19 flu season). And, of course, there are many other ways to die. In 2018, more than 40,000 Americans died in automobile accidents, and more than 16,000 Americans were victims of homicide. None of this is to dismiss the dangers of coronavirus, but rather to put it in perspective. Risk is a matter of statistical probability, and it makes no sense to worry about a relatively rare risk when so many other risks are more common. So far this year, 75 people have been shot to death in Chicago, and more than 300 others were wounded. Cable-TV news is trying to generate a nationwide panic over a disease that has killed fewer people than die of gunshot wounds during a typical week in Chicago.
The media hype surrounding coronavirus is, at one level, obviously inspired by political bias. It would make Trump’s enemies very happy if he could be accused of botching the official response to this disease, but so far the federal government seems to be working about as effectively as could be expected. Could Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders do any better? I doubt it, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. By the time Election Day rolls around in November, it’s unlikely anyone will be thinking about coronavirus. It is a disease that spreads like the flu. When is flu most common? In the winter. Spring is almost here, and we can therefore expect the number of coronavirus cases to decline in April and May. By June, it seems reasonable to expect, the scare will be over.
Well, that’s my expectation, anyway. It’s possible I could be dead by then, like Gen. Sedgwick killed by a Confederate marksman whose aim he derided. Little did I suspect I was at risk at CPAC, where, as is my custom, I spent a good deal of time in the lobby bar, joking that the Chinese communists had named this disease after my favorite beer. Indeed, I was exposed to many a cold Corona, with lime.
Maybe a virus will kill me sooner or later, but I refuse to be stressed about it. Stress is bad for your health. Cheers!