For anyone who is not a radical supporter of the current US president, it is next to impossible to understand how Donald Trump managed this past week to congregate thousands of people for two presidential campaign rallies in Oklahoma and Arizona in the midst of a national health crisis. Despite the fact that both events were hardly the blockbuster populist outpourings that Trump would have wished for (he was reportedly furious about the relatively paltry turnout) they still brought together a combined total of around ten thousand supporters in conditions that, considering the times we’re leaving in, were utterly insane—zero social distancing, practically no face masks, and an attitude demonstrated by the chief orator of derision toward the recommendations of those in charge of organizing the country’s fight against the worst pandemic since the 1918 worldwide influenza plague.
Largely as a result of the confusing, unsystematic, generally lax and basically capricious policies put in place by the Trump administration in the face of the devastating COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the US has garnered the dubious distinction of being, certainly, the Western nation that has worst handled this global health crisis at a federal level, and the country that has been worst affected by this modern-day plaque worldwide. Deaths as a result of the pandemic in the US have soared to nearly one hundred twenty-five thousand. Comparatively, that figure surpasses by nearly twenty-five thousand the combined total deaths of US military personnel killed in the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Iraq invasion and the War in Afghanistan. And it represents twenty-five percent of all coronavirus deaths worldwide, in a nation that boasts only a little over four percent of the global population.
These figures are a catastrophe by any reasonable standard. Especially since, as medical experts, including the Center for Disease Control’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, keep telling us, many of the infections and deaths that the United States is suffering are easily avoidable by following simple rules of what should be compulsory use of masks and the implementation of logical social distancing measures. Neither of those precautions was in evidence at the president’s populist-style rallies. Trump’s event organizers did offer masks to participants, which they rightly assumed the vast majority of attendees would not accept, due to their adherence to their leader’s contempt for this preventative measure. But offering them—like signing a waiver, which the organizers also required of those attending—let the president off the hook in case of potential laws suits based on the grave health risks to which his followers were being exposed.
And the risks were, undoubtedly, grave. A good indicator of this is the fact that the Secret Service agents who accompanied the president to the rallies have been placed on sick leave and preventatively quarantined. And several members of the point team organizing the event have tested positive for the virus, which, medical experts now know, can cause permanent damage to the victims’ lungs. Considering that the US is in the grip of a new and soaring peak in infections and death, the idea of holding this sort of indoor rallies, even if masks had been required, was nothing short of madness.
The non-use of masks is fast becoming a battle-cry issue among Trump supporters who take insistence that masks save lives to be an attempt to infringe on their freedom. There is no doubt whatsoever that they are taking their lead from their singularly powerful mentor, the president of the United States. Seeing the use of masks as somehow wickedly invasive is, of course, ludicrous. Requiring the use of masks in the midst of a lethal pandemic should be compared to using a seatbelt when driving a car or wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle. Except that in the case of masks, one is not only helping save one’s own life, but also the lives of others. People have come to understand that smoking in closed public places endangers the health and infringes on the rights of others. As such, prohibiting the practice is deemed valid under law, despite the protests of many smokers who complain that “their rights are being impinged.” One tenet of law is that my rights end where yours begin, and vice versa. But Trump and his most dogged supporters seem selfishly unwilling to accept the fact that their not wearing a mask in public violates the rights and health of their peers.
Having the access to sound information that the administration has at its disposal and still organizing ego-stroking campaign events like these latest ones is a criminally intentional act of mass harm. Those people who, in good faith, attended the events, to—for heaven only knows what illogical reason—lend their support to their president, trust him. We’ve even heard them in on-the-street TV interviews say, “If the president doesn’t think he has to wear a mask, why should I,” and “If the president isn’t worried, neither am I.”
Trump supporters argue that liberals are giving Trump a bad rap, blaming him for the disease. Not true. His critics are blaming him for not taking the hard and necessary measures to combat the disease, preferring popularity to efficacy. And it shows in the statistics. Three hotspot states this week posted the most alarming one-day rise yet in new infections with a combined total of more than seventeen thousand. No one is pleased to comply with quarantine, social-distancing and mask-wearing measures. But just as in the case of a hurricane, a tidal wave or a forest fire, it is the job of a real leader—like Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, for example—to impose emergency measures to ensure that people stay safe, and to save as many of their lives as possible, often in spite of themselves.
Even if they refuse to admit the imminent danger of this disease to the US population, Trump and his political advisers are in possession of the best scientific data available on COVID-19. They know the horrific danger that it implies. They know that there is absolutely no guarantee of “herd immunity” by simply letting the plague run its course, because immunity to it is, infectious disease experts now believe, short-lived and incomplete. They also know that, until there is an effective vaccine, only strict social-distancing, heightened hygiene, disease tracing and masks can keep the plague from spiraling out of all control. So if they refuse to recognize that the virus will run rampant through the US population if the measures recommended by Trump’s own administration’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) are not adhered to, then they are intentionally placing the country’s population in grave peril. And doing so can only be described, I repeat, as sheer insanity.
|James Jones, perpetrator of an historic|
The president’s staunchest and most stunningly naïve supporters, like those who are attending multitudinous rallies that he is insisting on holding, blindly believe their leader when he reassures them that there is nothing to fear despite the dire warnings of the nation’s disease experts. They trust him as many of them trust their evangelist religious leaders when the latter tell them that there is nothing to fear because if they are “saved” the virus can’t trump God. Those attending the most recent rallies obviously couldn't see the highly infectious viral disease swirling around them. But calling it a perfect storm is a good description of the risk to which they were effectively subjected in obeying their leader’s call to congregate. It was almost literally as if they had been asked to gather together and cheer the president in an ego-stroking exercise organized in the direct path of a hurricane.
In 1978, a hypnotically charismatic American evangelist and alleged faith healer known as Reverend Jim Jones managed to convince hundreds of his followers to take part with him in a mass murder-suicide pact in a commune-like island religious colony known as Jonestown. His most loyal followers ensured that all but a handful of survivors who managed to flee committed suicide by drinking grape Kool-Aid (actually a cheaper imitation called Flavor Aid) laced with cyanide, with many of those who refused being executed. The victims included scores of children, often fed the drink by their own parents who believed fanatically in Jones, who promised them that they had nothing to fear from death, that it was just the passing of the spirit from the body to a new and higher level of existence. Chillingly, Jones reportedly ran several dry runs previously in which he urged his followers to drink perfectly harmless Kool-Aid while telling then that it was poisoned and insisting that if they had faith in him and in God, they had nothing to fear.
|Jonestown shortly before the massacre|
The grim and horrifying event gave birth to the term “Kool-Aid drinkers”—popularized, ironically, to a massive degree by the president’s own favorite information outlet, Fox News—to describe hopelessly naïve individuals who blindly believe PR hype and celebrity proselytizers. Clearly, the rallies that Trump is organizing with no precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, risking not only the infection of hundreds of their number but also the spread of the disease to hundreds or thousands more, strike a parallel with the Jonestown mentality. They are yet another Kool-Aid-drinking moment in the unfolding history of the Trump Era, one that threatens to have devastating effects on an enormous segment of the American population.