There’s been a lot of talk the last couple of days by a finally-focused White House about “fighting” the coronavirus and defeating our “invisible enemy.”
While such rhetoric makes for riveting soundbites and politicking fodder amid an ongoing, albeit overshadowed, presidential race, it doesn’t quite capture the moment in which we all now find ourselves.
More on that later. But first ….
It also sets the stage for President Trump to declare himself a “wartime president” who’s leading the charge in the battle against coronavirus, even though he was downplaying the threat as recently as late last week and in February referred to it as a “hoax.”
“I look at it, I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president,” he said at Wednesday’s White House briefing. “I mean, that’s what we’re fighting.“
The fact of the matter is this president has been a “wartime president” since he took the oath of office in January 2017.
Mr. President: Remember Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the other conflicts raging around the world where U.S. forces put it on the line? You know, actual wars.
Back to my first point: What we’re facing down now is not a war. Wars are fought between rival nations, or more recently, hordes of extremists from a multitude of countries versus an increasingly alone United States.
You don’t go to war with a virus. As I wrote previously, the coronavirus cares not about borders. It’s not “attacking” us, hoping to get its non-existent hands on our natural resources. It just spreads — without notice of the havoc it causes and the lives it snatches.
What we face is not a war, but a test, a test of our ability as a nation, nee a species, to pull together so that we might minimize the death toll and perhaps along the way learn from past mistakes (thumbing our noses at scientific expertise when it contradicts political dogma is one that immediately comes to mind).
We do that and we just might emerge from this crisis a better brand of humans than we were before the outbreak. Now that would be something worth “fighting” for. Because we’re not fighting COV-19, or even its country of origin — no matter how many times the president calls it a “Chinese virus.”
The war posturing by the president is also not helpful because of the deep political divide in our country and that is quite apparent in Postindustrial America.
While his tweets of late implore Americans to be “STRONG & UNITED,” Trump’s previous three-plus years of hateful partisan rhetoric and news media bashing has sown greater animosity among Americans and pushed us to our internal breaking point.
I hope I’m wrong and that the magnitude of this moment and the subsequent hardships we face will open eyes on both sides of the political aisle. Because we are all in this together. And the only way we will come out of this in one piece is if we put aside our differences and get a handle on this thing.
Having said all that, the apparatus of war, namely the Department of Defense, is going to play an increasing role in our domestic lives. Two military hospital ships, the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy, will head for New York Harbor, as well as West Coast, to help with the expected mass influx of coronavirus cases, according to the president. However, Navy officials said on Wednesday that the ships are not quite ready to take on such a monumental task.
Military field hospitals are also another potential option to aid in treating cases that civilian hospitals can’t handle due to the exploding number of cases already taxing our healthcare system.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of U.S. military healthcare, I can attest to the quality of the medical personnel they produce. These measures and others by the Pentagon could prove vital in saving countless lives.
I just wish they were treating their own a little better. A Pentagon official I’ve known for many years told me that there are still folks working in the building who could telecommute without missing a beat, thus aiding our collective effort to stop the spread of the virus and keep the men and women, uniformed and civilian, tasked with protecting us, safe and healthy.
Some have already been sent home, though others who could work remotely are still going into the Pentagon despite the risk, said my exasperated source.
“We do that (let more people telecommute) for snow days and he (Secretary of State Mark Esper) hasn’t done it for a pandemic.”
His frustration is warranted. If we’re going to pass this test, we must not only “fight” hard, but smart and not unnecessarily jeopardize the health of those who are protecting the rest of us from harm, be they foreign enemies or, these days, something we can’t even see.
I have a feeling we’ll need their protection by way of supplemental health care for the foreseeable future. The least we can do is demand they get the care and consideration they need to keep doing that for the rest of us.
Carmen Gentile has worked for The New York Times and CBS News, among others. His book, "Blindsided by the Taliban," documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade while embedded with U.S. Army forces in Afghanistan.