FILE – This file photo provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a colorized transmission of the MERS coronavirus that emerged in 2012. Health officials on Friday, May 2, 2014 said the deadly virus from the Middle East has turned up for the first time in the U.S. (AP Photo/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases via The Canadian Press, File)
In his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered the famous words “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Truer words were never spoken. The problem with fear, FDR explained, is that it “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
FDR understood the power of fear – that it can strip us of hope and take away our defenses. When fear is removed, and replaced by perspective and clear thinking, solutions are revealed and action can be taken. Essentially, the President was telling Americans to calm down and pull themselves together.
The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, Jr. reminds us that, “In the U.S., influenza infects upward of 29 million a year, yet less than half of us bother to get a flu vaccine. We don’t wash our hands or take other precautions religiously, though we may do so now under bombardment of coronavirus warnings.”
Jenkins is not saying the coronavirus isn’t a threat. He is injecting some truth into the conversation. As the flu season approaches, Americans take precautions. Some get a flu shot, we wash our hands more often and stay home (self-quarantine) when we’re sick.
The CDC estimates that, on average, 56,000 people die from the flu or flu-like illness each year. Yet, as Jenkins writes, more than 29 million contract it. I would imagine those who actually die from the flu had underlying health issues to begin with. For most people who contract the coronavirus, it will present as a mild flu or cold.
On Saturday, a resident of Washington state became the first person in the U.S. to die from the coronavirus. This man was in his 50s and was said to be a “high risk patient.”
The coronavirus poses more of a challenge than the regular flu in that it has a longer incubation period. First thought to be 14 days, I’ve heard estimates that it can be as long as 27 days. Additionally, the coronavirus can be transmitted even when a person exhibits no symptoms.
It is a serious issue and should be treated as one. But it should not be portrayed as if a positive diagnosis were a death sentence.
There was more to FDR’s quote and it might help Americans to hear those words today as fear of the coronavirus sweeps across the globe. “In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
The majority of Americans may have been happy to give their support to FDR in the dark days of the Great Depression, but in the age of Trump, a large swath of Americans refuses to do so. Moreover, and this is the most damaging aspect of all, Democratic politicians and their publicists, the main stream media, have criticized every word and deed the President has said or done to address the situation. If President Trump makes a statement, he is excoriated. If a Democratic politicians says the same thing, it is perfectly acceptable.
Jenkins cites a recent example:
When President Trump said at his press conference Wednesday that the disease might or might not become a big deal, he was faithfully encompassing the scientific possibilities. The press shrieked that he was misleading the public, never mind that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was saying exactly the same thing. “We can really keep this thing contained,” he said at his own press briefing on Wednesday, and if a serious outbreak should occur, “we’ve got a long time to ramp up if we ever had anything like that.”
Ditto the governor of California, also a Democrat, whose state may have identified the first truly domestic case. He said one day after the president spoke: “This is not our first great challenge as it relates to public health. . . . These protocols have been perfected.”
The truth is that the Trump administration has handled the crisis very well. His early decision to impose travel restrictions was denounced by the left. ‘Trump is a racist,’ they cried. But it turned out to be a pretty smart move. Rather than stoking fear, the President has tried to dispel it. This is what leaders should do.
At a time when the best candidates the Democrats can offer have little chance of defeating President Trump in November, they’ve exploited Americans’ fears of the coronavirus and they’re using this as a political weapon. I suppose one could say that FDR was playing on Americans’ economic fears to facilitate his ambitious domestic agenda, but he wasn’t trying to incite a panic. He was trying to give them courage.
The point of all this is, if we can take fear out of the equation, the coronavirus, rather than being the apocalypse, is a manageable problem that America is well-equipped to handle.