Tom just can't keep living this way - and he doesn't think you can, either


When this thing first hit, I hoped (in vain) that the media—most notably the 24-hour cable news networks—wouldn't turn it into a Telethon of Death. I could see it immediately, the somber talking head, with the Death Ticker over his/her shoulder, reciting the numbers ad infinitum. "The death toll now stands at 24,673...oh wait, as I was reciting that number, our ticker clicked up a couple spots, so now the death toll stands at 24,675...oh wait..." Joseph Stalin, not normally remembered as much of a philosopher, had it right when he said, "The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million men is a statistic." It has definitely turned into a numbers game.

This is probably horrible of me to say, but if this pandemic had hit in the 1970s (before the 24-hour news cycle became a thing), the world wouldn't have shut down. We, as a species, would have taken our ghastly lumps, reached herd immunity, and moved on. But with today's chicken-and-egg pattern of news event, followed by breathless reportage of the event, followed inevitably by reportage becoming one with the event, everything is BREAKING NEWS!, all the time.

Bill Maher came up with the perfect phrase for how the media are failing us in this important time—panic porn. The press is stoking the flames of hysteria while displaying a stunning inability to focus on what's really important. And they allow so many outright lies to go unchallenged.

I do know this: I would gladly go the rest of my life without ever again hearing the phrases "flatten the curve" and "new normal." The latter really bothers me. I will consider it a testament to the resilience of people when you see how quickly we get back to the Old Normal. Until then, every time I hear one of those things, it's like Nosferatu dragging his nails across a brand-new chalkboard with the volume turned up to 12.

A friend of mine who used to be a Republican (he claims that he still is but that claim is specious, seeing as how he absolutely worships at the altar of the Orange Demon) challenged me to say something positive about Donald Trump. After some thought, I said that Trump is a master at making everything about himself. That's a skill that few of us have, and even fewer of us want to have. After screwing up as badly as he did at the beginning of the pandemic, you would have thought that he would have run away from the topic. Instead, he turned things around and began making daily campaign rally-style appearances that, with the help of a pathetically compliant media, actually boosted Trump's poll numbers (if only briefly).

The media should be fair, but they don't have to be overly so. After a month of daily public buffoonery in which Trump verbally assaults women of color, lies through his ass, and plays games with American lives, the media still broadcast the travesties live. They should film them, edit out the campaign shenanigans to be used later in political reporting, and then show the actual pandemic updates featuring the scientists and doctors.

Even then, media members need to ask better questions. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the little bulldog of an epidemiologist who achieved temporary rock star status, has also let us down. He's great at what he does, but what he does is, by definition, narrow and needs to be reported as such. He cares about lives, but I'm not so sure that he understands people. When he casually talks about the lockdown lasting into the fall, even the most caring and civic-minded individual is going to say, "Oh, hell no!" Eventually, we're all going to grow weary of being "another two weeks"-ed to death.

So far, it's only the lunatic fringe that is spilling into the streets—brain-dead redneck gun nuts wearing Trump hats and waving racist Confederate flags. They have been ordered by Trump to gather by the dozens in state capitals to protest the social distancing guidelines instituted by...Trump. (That sound you hear is the final nail being driven into the coffin that contains Irony.) They gather and wait for the aforementioned compliant media to show up. As soon as the camera lights go on, the Trumpistas start honking their horns and waving their Bring Back Slavery flags. And if they're asked a question, they try their darnedest to get the word "Constitution" in the response. (Although, damn it, there are a lot of syllables in "Constitution.")

I was wondering what had happened to the Tea Party, that gaggle of good Americans who had joined together to protest rising budget deficits following the Great Recession. It was budget deficits, right? It couldn't have had anything to do with the color of Barack Obama's skin. Donald Trump has been adding a trillion dollars per year to the national debt with nary a word of protest from the Tea Party. I guess they were saving themselves for something important.

Today is the last day of April, the day when restrictions are supposed to expire in many states, including ours. Everybody from Regina Romero up to Doug Ducey will be walking a tightrope. If they're crazy enough to utter "May 31," they'd better be ready for some serious crosswinds.

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