I’m not worried about the guy coughing next to me. I’m worried about the ones who seem to be looking for Jim Jones.
Jones was the charismatic founder of the cult-like People’s Temple. Through fear-based control, he took his followers’ money and ran their lives. He isolated them in Guyana where he convinced over 900 of them to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced grape Kool Aid. Frightened people can be made to do anything. They just need a Jim Jones.
So it is more than a little scary that media zampolit Rick Wilson wrote to his 753,000 Twitter followers: “People who sank into their fear of Trump, who defended every outrage, who put him before what they knew was right, and pretended this chaos and corruption was a glorious new age will pay a terrible price. They deserve it.” The tweet was liked over 82,000 times.
The New York Times claims that “the specter of death speeds across the globe, ‘Appointment in Samara’-style, ever faster, culling the most vulnerable.” Others are claiming Trump will cancel the election to rule as a Jim Jones. “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity or Regan could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public,” opined the Washington Post. Drink the damn Kool Aid and join in the panic en route to Guyana.
The grocery store in Manhattan, just after the announcement of the national state of emergency, was pure panic. I saw a fight break out after an employee brought out paper towels to restock the shelf and someone grabbed the whole carton for himself. The police were called. One cop had to stay behind to oversee the lines at the registers and maintain order. To their credit, the NYPD were cool about it. I heard them talk down one of the fighters, saying, “You wanna go to jail over Fruit Loops? Get a hold of yourself.” Outside New York, sales of weapons and ammunition spiked.
Panic seems to be something we turn on and off, or moderate in different ways. Understanding that helps reveal what is really going on.
No need for history. Right now, in real time, behind the backs of the coronavirus, is the every-year, plain-old influenza. Some 12,000 people have died, with over 13 million infected from influenza just between October 2019 and February 2020. The death toll is screamingly higher (as of this writing, coronavirus has infected 60,653 and killed 819 Americans). Bluntly: more people have already died of influenza in the U.S. than from the coronavirus in China, Iran, and Italy combined. Double in fact. To be even blunter, no one really cares, even though a large number of bodies are piling up. Why?
The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency seven months later, the CDC was reporting that 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected, and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months, Obama had no HHS secretary or appointees to the department’s 19 key posts, as well as no commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no surgeon general, no CDC director. The vacancy at the CDC was especially important because in the early days of the crisis, only they could test for the virus (sound familiar?). Yet some 66 percent of Americans thought the president was protecting them. There was no panic. Why?
Of course, Trump isn’t Obama. But if you really think it is that black and white, that one man makes that much difference in the multi-leveled response of the vast federal government, you don’t know much about bureaucracy. Most of the people who handled the swine flu are now working the coronavirus, from the rank and file at CDC, HHS, and DHS to headliners like Drs. Andrew Fauci (in government since 1968, worked ebola) and Deborah Brix (in government since 1985, prior to corona was an Obama AIDS appointee).
Maybe the most salient example is 9/11. Those who lived through it remember it well, the color threat alerts, the jihadi cells around every corner, the sense of learned/taught helplessness. The enemy could be anywhere, everywhere, and we had no way to fight back. But because the Dems and Repubs were saying the same thing, there was a patina of camaraderie to it (led by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, where are they now?), not discord. But the panic was still very real.