In a few weeks’ time, I was due to be on a much anticipated trip to the US. It was to be a highlight of the 2020 calendar.
Of all the things I actually am missing right now though, that particular trip has slipped down the post-Corona freedom list. When I watch and see what has been going on in that once great country since the advent of Covid 19, my appetite for visiting has seriously diminished.
Irish people have traditionally seen the US as somewhere to escape to when things got tough in the aul’’ sod, an economic supply line back home when emigrants sent money and suitcases full of clothes. But more recently it was the excitement of the J1 visa, or holidays in places like New York, Boston and San Francisco and the sense of endless possibility presented by “the land of the free”.
How free can you be when your leader is essentially a deranged, amoral, sociopath who advised people, in the most high profile way possible, to inject disinfectant as a way of treating Covid-19? Out of a wide choice, that was his lowest moment to date. But has it struck anyone else that we have become so inured to his malicious madness that we were shocked, yes, but not out of our skin?
No-one expected that this would signal the end of the Trump presidency – despite it being a piece of advice that could literally kill. You realised that even if proof was presented, say, that an entire family had died as a result of his words, he would still escape. This is in the same way that you can, at this point in his presidential proceedings, quite easily imagine him opening fire on a main street of a US city.
Afterwards you can imagine him returning unscathed to the White House later that day, to watch the cable channels and tweet out lies and abuse against his “enemies”, or to pick further fights with State governors.
There have been almost 74,000 confirmed Covid deaths in the US. It is not so long ago that in a time when the world faced something as frightening and overwhelming as a pandemic America would have been seen as a world leader, to be looked up to, relied upon; as a country to follow in the wake of in terms of public health advice and scientific research.
It has been tragic to watch how it has instead taken on an almost dunce-like position, with a President whose approach from the start has been all about protecting himself, his lackeys, and most importantly his chances of re-election. He egged on those anti-lockdown protesters in Wisconsin and Michigan – standing shoulder to shoulder and ignoring social distancing, some of them with guns.
They are seemingly too stupid to realise that their President, in downplaying the virus, is betraying them. Where is the care for each other, the common cause in the saving of each other's lives, of keeping communities intact?
In the 2016 presidential election Hilary Clinton was sharply criticised for her “basket of deplorables” statement, referring to Trump supporters. How could anyone argue with that assessment now?
As the days go by Trump is making it increasingly clear that his interest lies in saving the US economy, and his re-election prospects in 6 months time, rather than fighting the virus and saving as many lives as possible.
Jay Rosen, the well-known media critic, writer, and journalism teacher at New York University summarised the approach well: "The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible."
The evidence of Trump’’s inaction – actually in many cases his wilful actions – have shown that he has hindered rather than helped more of his citizens in need. Tens of thousands have died and there has been so much evidence presented by the media of the manner in which he has ignored warnings and advice on how to save American lives.
In the background of all of this, there is a depressing fascination in watching his opinion poll ratings. Not all that unsurprisingly at the beginning they went up, as Americans, along with the rest of the world, rallied around their leaders, at a time which was so frightening and uncertain.
But according to the FiveThirtyEight opinion-poll analysis website, his polling average estimate is at 43.5% approval, 51.3% disapproval. Even allowing for the partisanship of the US political system, it boggles the mind to think that over 43% of Americans still gave an approval rating to their President. Sure his prospects of re-election are looking far less rosy now than before the pandemic, but when historians looks back at this period, when the final death toll is known, surely these support figures will astound.
It will, of course take some time to realise exactly the Covid performance of the leader or government of each country, but the Trump performance has been beyond anything ever seen before; his nightly news conference meant that the madness was there for all to witness on primetime television. There was nothing hidden from view.
Even more stunning is the fact this his approval rating – with all the craziness that has gone on - is not even in the range of surprising. It has actually remained, throughout his Presidency, incredibly stable, in the 35 to 45 range. No one would rule out for sure, even at this point, that this man will not end up back in the White House for a second term as President of the US.
The Covid crisis has served to highlight in such a stark way the already-fractured society that exists in the US, not least in relation to healthcare. There was a much deserved win of the non fiction Pulitzer Prize this week by poet and writer Anne Boyer for “The Undying”, described as an “elegant and unforgettable narrative about the brutality of illness and the capitalism of cancer care in America.”
Boyer was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at 41. The single mother writes blisteringly of the healthcare system in the US – one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Her double mastectomy was considered an outpatient procedure and she was discharged “aggressively and early” from the hospital ward on the day of her surgery, not long after waking from the anaesthetic.
Ten days later she had to return to her work as a university lecturer because she was out of medical leave following her chemotherapy. She still had drainage bags for her wounds stitched to her chest. She gave a 3 hour lecture on the American poet Walt Whitman.
I always knew I never wanted to live in the US, but right now, even if it was a safe possibility, I don’t even want to visit.