INDIANAPOLIS — President Donald Trump pulled his pandemic task force out of mothballs Friday and put it on display for the first time in two months.
Trump didn’t appear at the briefing.
Vice President Mike Pence did.
The former Indiana governor tried his level best to put a happy face on America’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. He said the fact that all 50 states were reopening was a sign of the country’s success in battling the disease. And, somewhat bizarrely, he contended that the new numbers showing that many more young people were getting sick here than in any other nation was somehow a good sign.
The vice president had a tough sell to make and, not surprisingly, he failed.
It wasn’t entirely his fault.
Facts outran him, no matter how fast Pence tap-danced.
The truth is that more than half the states in the country have seen second spikes in their coronavirus numbers. Florida actually was hitting new highs in reported cases, blowing past the numbers recorded when disease raged in April and May.
Florida and Texas, in fact, were looking to reinstitute some lockdown measures, including closing bars and other crowded spots, because the coronavirus once again had run wild in those states.
President Trump has tried hard to pretend this problem doesn’t exist, but the sheer scope of the suffering has made his efforts untenable. His poll numbers have tumbled everywhere — including battleground states he desperately needs to win — in large part because of his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Trump, not surprisingly, has resisted assuming any accountability for America’s status as the nation that has dealt with the coronavirus crisis the least effectively.
And, in some ways, it’s not fair to blame Trump alone for this debacle.
This train wreck began long before he took office.
At least part of the reason the coronavirus wreaked havoc here in ways it didn’t in other countries is that many Americans somehow have come to feel that scientific principles and laws are in some way subject to the democratic process.
I’m not quite sure when this happened.
Maybe the idea took root when powerful forces with vast economic interests at stake waged campaigns that argued that acknowledging evidence regarding climate change was optional, not required. Possibly it’s a product of an increasingly widespread notion that living in a self-governing society means always asserting one’s individual rights without ever honoring one’s duty.
Regardless of how it started, we’ve come to a point now where a substantial portion of the American public thinks we can ask for a show of hands on the question of whether gravity exists. If the nays carry the day, these folks seem to think we’ll all be able to fly without the aid of airplanes.
It’s that sort of thinking that has produced the resistance to wearing masks and adopting any other common-sense measures to protect themselves and others.
I shop sometimes at a grocery store near my house. The store has tried to encourage social distancing by making the aisles one-way.
When I go there, mask on my face, I obey the one-way instructions, which are posted not just at the entrance but in every aisle with big, color-coded signs. The ones pointing out the right way are green, have an arrow pointing forward and say, “One Way.” The others are red, have a circle with a slash and say, “Wrong Way.”
It never fails that, when I shop there, observing the signs, I run into people without masks who travel the entire store going the wrong way up every aisle.
So far, I’ve resisted the temptation to ask if the problem is that they can’t read or is that their parents never taught them to show consideration for the needs and welfare of others.
Maybe it doesn’t matter which it is.
We’re in this mess now because folks such as them chose to be.
We can take all the votes we want on whether gravity or any other scientific reality exists.
If we jump off a tall building, we’re going to take a long fall and land with a painful thud, regardless of how the balloting went.
That’s pretty much the situation we’re in now.